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They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. And that’s probably never been truer than it is today. It’s no surprise that people are communicating less and less through text these days – and more and more through visual means on mobile messaging apps and social media platforms in particular.

Instagram may have kick-started this trend a few years ago on social media, but Snapchat dragged it into the personal messaging space and other platforms have followed suit, so much so that now, rather than using digital imagery as a way of simply documenting and presenting our lives, we actively use visuals to communicate in the place of text. Snapchat has been the poster child of this movement over the last 3 years or so, tripling its daily active users to over 160 Million. Not content at being left behind, Facebook has copied pretty much every visual messaging feature that Snapchat has popularized on each of its four platforms – Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook.

While facial lenses and basic image editing have become a bit of a commodity on social messaging channels though, both platforms are trying to branch out from this to a more ‘augmented reality’-style future where users can actively overlay digital elements onto whatever they are looking at in real-time. Think Pokemon Go, although much more interactive and responsive to your actual surroundings. Snapchat describes it as “painting the world with 3D experiences”.

Snapchat may have been the catalyst for this trend, but it seems that Facebook are innovating at faster speed. At the company’s recent F8 event Mark Zuckerberg launched a host of new 3D camera effects, highlighting a renewed focus on creating a ‘camera platform’, an onus on the camera not simply being a tool used just to capture images, but to communicate too. He even went as far as to say that the camera needs to be more central than the text box in all of their apps.

This is a way for Facebook to fully insert itself into the real world, to become the link between your smartphone and everything you see around you. Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Zuckerberg expanded on this approach, “Facebook is so much about marrying the physical world with online. When you can make it so that you can intermix digital and physical parts of the world, that’s going to make a lot of our experiences better and our lives richer”.

Demoing these new 3D camera effects, one Facebook engineer pointed his phone at a table and a 3D propeller plane appeared on the screen, flying around a water bottle on the table top. Another used his phone’s camera to turn the room into a planetarium, with planets and stars spread out across the ceiling. Another took a normal photo of a face, then manipulated the expressions into a smile and then a frown.

Facebook also showed off various 3D scenes created entirely from a handful of 2D photos. The scenes had real depth to them, allowing viewers to tilt their head to see behind a bed in a room, or peer around a tree in a forest. Users could dim the lights in the image of a room, flood it with water, or even leave a digital object in the room that would still be there for someone else to discover at a later time.

The ultimate idea here is to turn the real world into an extension of Facebook itself. While Zuckerberg highlights examples like using Facebook’s camera to view pieces of digital art affixed to a wall, or to play a digital game overlaid on a table-top, you can see the long game here – dragging elements that would normally appear in your feed, for example, into the real world. But as well as pieces of content from your friends and family, surely this means ads too. As the traditional Facebook Newsfeed takes a back seat to messaging apps, this could be one way of keeping this type of content relevant going into the future, as well as expanding their ad inventory in the process.

But what will this mean for brands when consumers are living in an augmented world, constantly interacting with and visually manipulating their surroundings? And what happens when we are all wearing AR glasses or contact lenses 24/7? Visions of a Minority Report-esque world where ads bombard us at every turn spring to mind, but surely there must be another way. I guess we’ll have to just wait and see.

This article was published first in the Campaign Middle East magazine.

No one wants to be the next Kodak. A company that was the indisputable leader in its field until the future arrived and it refused to adapt. It stood as an example of exactly what not to do in business, and while many companies still stubbornly refuse to plan for their own obsolescence, many others have taken the lesson to the heart.

Instagram, for example. When Vine’s share of the social media market began to grow, Instagram fought back by adding its own video feature. And now, as Snapchat’s popularity reaches a peak with an estimated 100M daily users, 65% of whom actively post content, Instagram has adopted its rival’s key feature with Instagram Stories.

Which, on the surface of things, makes unquestionable sense. A free social media app’s revenue relies on being able to serve ads to its user-base, meaning that constant engagement with the app is imperative. Any barriers to that interaction must be removed. According to Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s co-founder and CEO, the Instagram feed was treated with a certain reverence that ran counter to regular active engagement. This led to the trend of the ‘Finstagram’: secondary accounts that are created — usually by young women — to act as a more intimate space in which to share more regularly, and with less concern for presentation.

In short, Instagram Stories was created because Systrom and his team needed to circumvent some of the unwritten rules that caused users to post so infrequently. So a function that borrows so heavily from the laissez-faire inclinations of Snapchat allows users to — in the words of Systrom,

“…experiment with a bunch of different creativity in this new format…If Instagram is built around highlights, we’re filling in the space in between…We’re capturing all the world’s moments, not just the best ones.”

Which might just be the problem. On the one hand it addresses an issue: That of a decreasing number of average posts per user. But on the other, it may solve this problem at the expense of Instagram’s core appeal. This is an app that rose to prominence because its users could rely on it to provide beautiful, perfectly curated images from professional and amateur creative minds alike. This is an app that, with the help of numerous filters, allows anyone with a smartphone to feel like — and maybe even become — an artist, a photographer, a model. There is something highly aspirational about the app.

Stories, though only one feature, could be the beginning of a slippery slope. It could mark a shift towards Instagram becoming a constant stream of banal content. In the long-term, this could alienate Instagram’s core users.

But all of this is very much conjecture. It’s worth noting that this is hardly the first time the product has seen a fundamental shift in its features. It was originally called Burbn and was predominantly a location check-in app, but after observing the way its users interacted with the service, the team noticed something interesting. People weren’t using the check-in, but they were utilising the photo-sharing function. And so that became the foundation upon which Instagram as we know it was built. So perhaps this latest change will merely be a reflection of that initial shift.

At the end of the day, people are fickle, and love for a social media app can very quickly turn to disdain and then indifference. Bebo has long since been relegated to a forgotten corner of the internet. Myspace’s failure to capitalise on the strength of its music function, led it down a similar path, even with the much-publicised backing of super star Justin Timberlake. Even now, the two pillars of modern social media are suffering: Facebook is still dealing with a reported great youth migration, and Twitter’s growth has stalled, sending a ripple of panic through investors. And many of the new kids on the block, such as Ello, and Medium are contending with their own troubles.

With all this in mind, we’re left with a simple question. Is it better to adapt, in an attempt to attract the widest possible user-base? Or should the emphasis be placed on developing the things that saw you rise to prominence in the first place?

I guess we’ll just have to wait to see how this story turns out.