Facebook is the world's most successful social network — but it shows you an abject failure every time you open its app.
One month in, no one's using "Stories," the Snapchat clone that sits on top of your News Feed on the mobile app. Facebook wants this to be the place where you "show friends what you're up to," but it's amounting to bupkis, a worthless void taking up a prime slice of the internet's most important real estate.
It's possible this is by design. (Is Facebook intentionally watering down the "Stories" feature to diminish Snapchat's relevance? Perhaps!) But it's not a good look for the social network, which has struggled with its image in the past year after a series of high-profile missteps. Think of it this way: At a time when Facebook is particularly invested in making sure users want to use its app, the first thing it broadcasts when you tap in is that no one is using a marquee feature.
Stories looks like this:
If someone you know has updated theirs, their profile picture will light up, and you can tap on it to the view the precious content.
By all accounts, you won't have a lot to choose from. Facebook didn't respond to a request for usage data — obviously — but our experience suggests Stories is a wasteland. At most, I've seen two friends with live stories at once, out of a pool of 955. This is essentially what I heard from my coworkers at Mashable, and then I turned to Twitter:
— Matthew Hughes (@matthewhughes) May 1, 2017
I also reached out to a teenage relative:
Plus an older one—a 34-year-old—who was confused:
And my mother-in-law:
This isn't the world's most representative cross-section of people, sure, but they each have hundreds (sometimes thousands) of Facebook friends around the world — with few Stories to be found between them.
What does it mean?
Facebook's mission is to be a product that people share personal content on, but it's flailing. This is now the second major product launch in the past year or so that users are scratching their heads over — the first being Facebook Live, which the company spent millions of dollars marketing and is now best known as the thing that murderers and bullies use to document their crimes.
Live video, at least, has the benefit of being a tool rather than an app-shaping feature. If you're in a situation that demands to be streamed in real time, Facebook gives you the ability to make that happen, but live video doesn't necessarily dominate a chunk of your News Feed every time you open the app.
Stories does. It's right there at the tippity-top of your feed, signaling that Facebook can't quite figure out how to get people to share more than status updates, links, pictures, and pre-shot videos on its main platform.
In fairness, that's a lot of stuff! But it's the same stuff we've been seeing for years and years. Facebook's big, successful, and steady, but with more competition than ever for your eyeballs — even from the likes of Apple's iMessage, which feels like a robust social network of its own with iOS 10 — it needs something better than Stories if it ever wants to be exciting again.