Commentary

Must We Be Bitmoji? Snapchat Says Yes

One could make a reasonable argument that the evolution of social media over the last few years has basically been the story of Facebook copying Snapchat again and again, but now the roles appear to be reversed: for once Snapchat seems to be taking a page from Facebook’s, um, book – by suddenly introducing a feature that nobody wanted without consulting its users.

Specifically, Snapchat has made users’ personal bitmoji cartoons (half avatar, half caricature, all creepy) into their main profile pictures, replacing actual photographs in the Snapchat ghost icon in their Snapcodes.

The change only applies to users who have already created a bitmoji cartoon for themselves on the platform, and users who haven’t done so are able to keep their photo profile pics.

Still, the rollout of the new images has all the hallmarks of the often high-handed approach followed by Facebook in dealing with its own unwashed masses.

Probably hoping to get maximum value from its acquisition of Bitmoji last year, Snapchat made the switch with little fanfare earlier this week.

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The move comes as Bitmoji seemed to be gaining traction on its own: among unique visitors over the age of 18, Bitmoji’s popularity skyrocketed by 5,210% from early 2015 through the end of 2016, according to comScore.

Social media companies are always introducing new features, but what’s troubling is the way Snapchat went about it this time, offering no explanation or details on how users can change their profile pic back to a photograph – simply dropping it in their laps, like they either wouldn’t notice or care, or (more plausibly) like it doesn’t care whether they do.

It’s bad enough Snapchat is listening to Facebook’s dark Kermit when it comes to introducing new features.

Even worse, however, there are some very simple practical problems, as reflected in the social media backlash against the Bitmoji Snapcodes: for one thing those avatars, cute as they are, can look pretty similar, making it hard to distinguish different users on the service (no, all your friends did not just turn into American Girl dolls).

In addition to shoveling new features on to its users like Facebook, Snapchat probably also figured out the other open secret of social media: users kvetch about new features they don’t like for a while, but nine times out of ten they get used to them and stop complaining.

And for that tenth occasion when you really piss them off, a charmingly self-deprecating message beginning “We messed up!” or some such piffle will usually serve to placate them.

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