Rip offs ranked: A look at social media Stories clones

Twitter’s new Fleets feature has a lot of people on my feed complaining, and very few people uh … fleeting? Posting Instagram Stories except on Twitter? Hardly anyone I follow is using the feature.

The company assured users Fleets were a success in a condescending post that also was not well received. If brands had feelings, perhaps Twitter would feel sad. Alas, it can neither think nor feel.

It also proved that it can’t innovate its platform, but that topic has been well explored by other people. (If you search “social media innovation” on Twitter right now you get scores of near-identical tweets on the topic.) Even Instagram caught flak four years ago when it blatantly ripped off Stories from Snapchat. Not long ago I complained about its most recent rip-off feature.

You know what hasn’t been done though? Rating these shameless xerox copies of a social media feature from best to worst. That’s what I’ll be doing today with six platforms’ Stories. (WhatsApp has a story feature too, Statuses, but I’m not covering it because I don’t use that app. I understand it is fine though. Plus, it gets bonus points for not naming it Stories.) This is obviously subjective, so let me know if you strongly disagree. Call me out in an Insta Story or something!

6. Facebook Stories

Since Snapchat and Instagram put Stories on the map, I’ve heard myriad complaints from people about who had viewed their content. “Seriously, this guy I went on a couple dates with watches all my Stories! I’m going to have to hide them from him,” is one example of what I’ve heard. Imagine how it must feel to get read receipts on every post from someone you haven’t talked to since Grade 7. Or grandma. She doesn’t need to see that video of you dancing to WAP while taking shots with your roommate.

Facebook is the site where your content is seen by the greatest number of people with whom you don’t want to interact. It’s the platform no millennials want to use, but they do anyway to keep in touch with old friends and family. It’s where you go to be fed misinformation about viruses, vaccines and elections. I don’t see the benefit of a story feature here. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the uptake seems to be low. I have more “friends” on Facebook than anywhere else, but only a couple of them regularly post Stories.

The interface is nothing special. There are relatively few customization options, although that could be because I was using the browser option (I refuse to use the Facebook app). It does allow you to post text-only Stories, which is a feature I appreciate. I don’t see myself ever using this, and I fail to understand why Facebook felt the need to implement it.

5. LinkedIn Stories

The fact LinkedIn has Stories is much more egregious to me than Twitter’s version and yet hardly anyone talked about it. I can’t fathom who thought this was a good idea for the platform. Certainly not its users. I joked that few people I follow on Twitter have been using Fleets, but I have literally never seen a LinkedIn Story. And it’s not for lack of using the app. I use it daily because I’m between jobs, and it’s the best site for networking and finding job postings. Clearly not the best for Stories.

LinkedIn comes in higher than Facebook for a few reasons though. First, if you are a LinkedIn influencer or a company, the feature probably has more mileage for you than it does for a regular user like me. I imagine it could be a good way to access your most active followers. Though it’s well known that LinkedIn users will engage with long posts. In fact, I’ve seen social media marketing sites recommend you aim for longer content on LinkedIn that you would elsewhere. A short, ephemeral video seems out of place.

Second, I messed around with the feature and was blown away by the number of stickers available to slap on your Stories. I counted 132, which is 132 more than Twitter’s Fleets. And those stickers are relevant to the platform, communicating messages such as “I’ll review your LinkedIn profile” and “productivity hack.” The fact there was a Happy Diwali one implies at least some rotate from time to time.

Still, even with those features I fail to see the point. Why not make work-related posts on a semi-professional profile on a platform where people are looking out for short video content in the first place?  

4. Twitter Fleets

Fleets are rip off Stories that add nothing to the form. A fleet is just whatever photo you use and whatever text you use. There are no stickers, no filters and not much editing. At least you can add colours or boxes (even coloured boxes) to the text and move your image mostly off screen for some reason. You can also go text-only like on Facebook.

How can a service that is only photos and text rank higher than one that gives you access to fun stickers to customize your posts? Context. Twitter is all about short-form content. It’s not out of place to see a short video there. And the of-the-moment nature of tweeting gives the platform an ephemeral nature, even though what you post stays there forever. If Twitter had ripped off Snapchat back in 2016, it might have gone over okay.

The problem is it ripped off Snapchat in 2020. People who want to make short videos that disappear have options already. They’re already doing it elsewhere. I expect Fleets will mainly be reposts from other sites, if anyone makes them at all. Though if Twitter spices them up a bit with interesting stickers or filters, maybe that will change.

3. Snapchat Stories

Snapchat’s Stories were actually innovative, it invented them after all, and they changed the way people used the platform for the better. Sometimes you wanted everyone to see your snap, so you went through and clicked send to literally all your contacts. It was time consuming and annoying. But it stopped in Fall 2013 when Snapchat rolled out Stories. Now, one click was all it took to give everyone the chance to see your post, and the post eventually self-destructed just like the regular snaps you would send.

But again, context matters here. Snapchat’s user base was stagnant for a long time, and it remains somewhat stagnant in North American and Europe. I deleted my account because almost no one I knew regularly used the platform anymore. If you’re like me and most of your friends left Snapchat, you probably won’t be posting your short-form videos there. You’ll probably go to Instagram, where you can be sure people will see them.

It’s not that Snapchat Stories are bad. In fact, I remember them having tons of customization options, and those options would routinely update and change. But you have to be among a group of people, teenagers apparently, that uses the platform or else you’re posting that video for almost no one.

2. YouTube Stories and Short Videos

Okay, hear me out on this one. What better social media platform is there for Stories than one already dedicated to videos. Snapchat Stories were great because users already wanted them before they existed. YouTube Stories are great because they expand the options available for creators who are already working with visual content.

You’re on set filming a video that you’re going to post in a day or so. Why not bust out your phone and film a quick teaser to get people hyped up? Or upload a short behind-the-scenes video that wouldn’t make sense on your channel, but that your fans may be interested in seeing. I’ve seen creators use these as a sort of Q&A too. These offer a look at the person or people behind the channel and humanize the content, which in turn can deepen relationships between the creator and their audience. This is the right platform for Stories, and they’re doing something different here than they do elsewhere.

The one minor downside is that it only makes sense for creators to make them, sort of like how LinkedIn Stories seem to be more for influencers and brands. That’s not much of a drawback since the platform is set up with a demarcation between viewers and creators in mind.

1. Instagram Stories

Earlier I mentioned the flak Insta got for being the first to rip off Snapchat, but that was four years ago. Since then, Insta has taken over as the top platform for Stories. I follow far fewer people on Insta than I do on Twitter, and I even have more “friends” on Facebook. Yet Insta Stories are the only ones I have to check multiple times a day if I want to see them all. It usually takes so long to view what’s there that by the time I reach the end there’s more new Stories to see. And while I don’t post a whole lot of Stories, any time I do make one it gets a ton of views. Meanwhile, six people looked at my Fleet.

Insta’s filter, sticker and customization options are unparalleled and make the platform’s Stories much more enjoyable to create. If you’re not happy with the photo you took, just bedazzle it. Look, I don’t have to tell you any of this. You probably watch a ton of these, even if you’re like me and you rarely post your own.

These Stories give you the most options, they’re seen by the most people and they’re on an app where short videos make sense. Insta’s success is thanks to the fact it did innovate the format, even though another app created it. Fleets and most other Stories are simply cheap imitations. Even YouTube’s Stories are just an imitation that works better than others given the context. Instagram went above and beyond, so they take the top spot on my list.

Story time is over

Insta’s Stories offer a lesson to other platforms on how to implement new (or stolen) features and succeed. It’s a lesson other sites refuse to take. Oddly, Insta itself seems to have abandoned it in favour of the good old Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V method for its Reels feature.

I’ll keep holding out hope for an emergent social media site that puts this lot out of business. Until then, let me know if you’ve ever seen anyone use a LinkedIn story. Or where you think WhatsApp’s Statuses would fit on this list. Give me your own ranking if you feel so inclined!

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