Facebook never takes a defeat lying down and doesn’t allow any app or service on the internet to go unchallenged. For every major web-based service you can think of, there’s a Facebook-built alternative, and that includes TikTok.
So far, the Chinese-made video-sharing app has evaded every attempt Facebook has made to eat into its share of the market or replicate its popularity, but Facebook isn’t done yet. After appearing to briefly back away from the idea of taking TikTok on the head to head, the company is coming back for another try – and this time, they’re bringing all the power of Instagram with them.
The first attempt Facebook made to counter the popularity of TikTok came in the shape of a standalone video-sharing app called “Lasso,” which was trialed in selected territories and pushed to Facebook users as TikTok equivalent. “Equivalent” wasn’t a strong enough word for many critics, who saw it as less of an alternative and more of an outright copycat creation.
The young target audience that Facebook wanted for the new service failed to materialize, and Facebook called time on the concept a little over a week ago. If TikTok thought that would allow them to continue unopposed, though, they’re wrong. In place of Lasso, Facebook is pushing the “Reels” feature on Instagram even harder – and it may soon be available to American audiences.
In basic terms, “Reels” is another TikTik clone, albeit one that only exists inside Instagram. The feature allows users to create short videos and post them either as stories on the Instagram platform, or messages sent to friends. “Reels” is a very appropriate name for a service-cloning Facebook venture, as they’ve also been looking to make money from the reels of online slots in recent years.
Presumably inspired and surprised by the billions of dollars that Yggdrasil casino makes in revenue each year, the company came up with its own Facebook-specific online slots casino in 2018, allowing players to spin the reels without leaving the social media website.
The connection between those reels and this “Reels” feature probably doesn’t go any deeper than the name, but it’s a reminder that Facebook has a finger in every digital entertainment pie you could possibly imagine.
The reason you probably haven’t heard of “Reels” yet is that it’s not available in most of the world. The initial trial of the feature began last year in Brazil, and after making slow progress, it was then made available in Germany and France.
It might even still be at the trial phase, but it’s been given a shot in the arm by the fact that TikTok has recently been banned in India, along with a whole host of other Chinese-made apps and websites.
India was a major market for TikTok, and with access to the service suddenly withdrawn and millions of Indian web users bereft of a video-sharing app, Facebook has rushed to make “Reels” available there. Indian users reportedly started receiving the feature as part of an Instagram update within the past seven days.
Should “Reels” prove to be popular in India – which seems likely given the fact that it has little to no competition in the enormous country now – it will be given the green light to expand to the rest of the world and eventually become available in the USA and the UK – both of which are major markets for TikTok.
Breaking the stranglehold that TikTok has over its particular niche won’t be easy – and we’ve already seen Facebook try and fail to dislodge Snapchat in a head-to-head battle with “Slingshot,” – but if the app is already used widely around the world, it ought to give the company a better fighting chance.
This won’t be the first time that Facebook has attempted to use a variation on the “Stories” feature to eat into a rival company’s market share. The whole concept of “Stories” on Instagram was thought to be a response to the creation of Snapchat, with many commentators at the time noting the similarities between the two services.
Quite what “Reels” offers that the existing “Stories” feature doesn’t is unknown because we haven’t had the opportunity to play with it yet, but if we had to guess, we imagine that it has more filters, an emphasis on sharing, and more ‘fun’ content aimed at a younger audience.
That in itself might bring problems, though, because, since late 2019, Facebook has been (nominally at least) trying to ensure that people under the age of 13 don’t have access to any of its platforms. While some of the highest-profile TikTok users are celebrities, the majority of its userbase is young, and under-13s make up a substantial slice of that number.
What this will probably come down to – as is often the case with Facebook products – is trust and ease of use. Facebook has been conscious that its users are getting older for some time now, and they’ve been trying to appeal to a younger demographic for the past three or for years.
Most of their endeavors in that respect have failed, not helped by the negative PR that’s followed the company around recently. To younger people – and Generation Z in particular – Facebook is a dated platform that belongs to their parents, and they’re not interested in joining it.
Just because TikTok-like facilities and features exist on a Facebook-owned platform doesn’t mean that those young users are any more likely to come looking for them. Perhaps this will be the change that bucks the trend for Facebook – or perhaps it’s destined to go the same way as “Slingshot” and “Lasso.”
One thing in all this is clear, and that’s the fact that Facebook isn’t going to stop trying to diversify its range of supply alternatives to any popular apps and websites. Given that the company already has more than two and a half million regular monthly users, it may already be at saturation point, but Facebook still wants more users, and it especially wants younger ones. Today it’s TikTok. Tomorrow it will be the next craze. Facebook will continue to come up with an answer to everything – and if it isn’t “Reels,” it will be something else.