Facebook has launched yet another service in its bulging platter of offerings, this time aimed squarely at the mobile end of its equation.
Facebook Camera is for those who just want the pictures. Whether that’s cruising those of your friends or uploading some of your own is the user’s choice, but what you won't find are the status updates, quizzes, polls and extraneous apps that can get in the way of the main desktop experience.
For some, the idea of Facebook coming up with an app where you can take a photo; apply a nice 35mm-look digital filter and upload it to its social network seems to be a little bit strange. After all, this is the same company that is in the process of buying Instagram - a service that does exactly the same - for the princely sum of $1 billion in cash and stock (not that the stock is worth quite as much these days). So, why bother with all the man hours and cost on top of that to create something more or less identical?
Well, Facebook would argue that Facebook Camera is different from Instagram. The ability to browse just the snaps and comments of your friends from the comfort of your mobile screen is not something that Instagram does quite as well or, certainly, is less well known for - but what’s more pertinent is that there is another cult and rapidly growing social network that does.
Path - as we reported some time ago on Pocket-lint - is a mostly mobile-based social network start up which began life fairly quietly in November 2010 posing little threat to anyone. But just one year, a serious injection of funding and relaunch later saw the app's user base rocket from 30,000 members to 300,000 within the space of a month.
Just like Facebook Camera, Path lets you take pictures, apply digital filters and upload them to your stream where your friends can comment and like and all the other things that social folk enjoy doing. At the same time, you can flick your way through your buddies’ paths and see what they’ve been up to as well. In fact, the only difference really worth noting - and of little surprise that Facebook didn’t choose to ape it - is that you can only follow a maximum of 50 people. The idea behind that is that you have a close circle of friends to encourage users to share on a more intimate level.
It might not be that Facebook brought out something identical to this potential competitor in order to drive it out of business. Path’s numbers are impressive but they’re a drop in the ocean compared to the 900 million or so active on Facebook and, more importantly, they pale still further when compared to the 30 million that Instagram could boast at the time of the purchase.
With more of a focus on social networking than the camera filters, Path might not have been something that could be as easily assimilated and repurposed. What’s more, after the $1billion just laid out on a prime piece of purchase, creating Facebook Camera seems a lot cheaper and more effective, especially now that it has Instagram's far larger user base along with the technology, and rights to ideas and design.
What is clear is that Path has had its toes well and truly trodden on by the biggest feet on the block, and it's not the first time Facebook has done it either. In similar move, the company launched Facebook Places back in August 2010 neatly adding an interesting service and wiping out Foursquare’s unique selling point in one fell swoop.
The good news for Path is that Foursquare is still going and has 20 million users on its books. Doubtless, that number would be considerably higher if Places, and the might of Facebook behind it, had never come along but perhaps the bigger blow is that such an operation is much harder to sell when a huge competitor steps into the ring.
So, the moral of the story? Don’t try to start a social network? No. Start one. Just cash it in before you’re big enough for anyone to take notice.