Hidden inside the code of Facebook’s Android app is an unreleased feature called Facebook Avatars that lets people construct personalized, illustrated versions of themselves for utilize as stickers in Messenger and comments. It will let users customize their avatar to illustrate their skin color, hair style and facial features. Facebook Avatars is basically Facebook’s version of Snapchat’s acquisition, Bitmoji, which has expended years in the top-1 0 apps chart.
Back in October I wrote that ” Facebook severely needs its own Bitmoji ,” and it seems the company concurs. Facebook has become the identity layer for the internet, to make it possible to bring your personal info and social graph to other services. But as the world moves toward visual communication, a name or static profile pic aren’t enough to represent us and our breadth of feelings. Avatars hold the answer, as they can be contorted to convey our reactions to all sorts of different situations when we’re too busy or camera-shy to take a photo.
The screenhots arrive courtesy of eagle-eyed developer Jane Manchun Wong, who found the Avatars in the Facebook for Android application package — a set of files that often contain features that are unreleased or in testing. Her excavating also contributed to TechCrunch’s reports about Instagram’s music stickers and Twitter’s unlaunched encrypted DMs.
Facebook confirmed it’s house Avatars, telling me, “We’re looking into more ways to help people express themselves on Facebook.” However, the feature is still early in development and Facebook isn’t sure when it will start publicly testing.
In the onboarding flowing for the feature, Facebook explains that” Your Facebook Avatar is a whole new style to express yourself on Facebook. Leave expressive comments with personalized stickers. Use your new avatar stickers in your Messenger group and private chats .” The Avatars should look like the images on the far right of these screenshot exams. You can imagine Facebook creating an updating reel of stickers proving your avatar in happy, sad, confused, angry, bored or excited scenes to fit your mood.
Currently it’s unclear whether you’ll have to configure your Avatar from a blank starter face, or whether Facebook will use machine vision and artificial intelligence to generate one based on your photos. The latter is how the Facebook Space VR avatars( previewed in April 2017) are automatically generated.
Using AI to start with a decent lookalike of you could tempt users to try Avatars and streamline the creation process so you just have to make small corrections. However, the AI could creep people out, make people angry if it misrepresents them or produce monster visages no one wants to see. Given Facebook’s recent privacy scandals, I’d imagine it would play it conservatively with Avatars and just ask users to construct them from scratch. If Avatars grow popular and people are eager to use them, it could always introduce auto-generation from your photos later.
Facebook has expended at least three years trying to figure out avatars for VR. What started as generic blue heads evolved to take on fundamental human characteristics, real skin tones and more accurate facial features, and are now getting quite lifelike. You can see that progression up top. Last week at F8, Facebook revealed that it’s developing a way to use facial tracking sensors to map real-time expressions onto a photo-realistic avatar of a user so they can look like themselves inside VR, but without the headset on.
But as long as Facebook’s Avatars are trapped in VR, they’re missing the majority of members of their potential.
Bitmoji’s parent company Bitstrips launched in 2008, and while its cartoon strip creator was cool, it was the personalized emoji avatar feature that was most exciting. Snapchat acquired Bitstrips for a mere $64.2 million in early 2016, but once it integrated Bitmoji into its chat feature as stickers, the app took off. It’s often risen higher than Snapchat itself, and even Facebook’s ubiquitous products on the App Store charts, and was the No. 1 free iOS app as recently as February. Now Snapchat lets “youre using” your Bitmoji avatar as a profile pic, online status indicator in message threads, as 2D stickers and as 3D characters that move around in your Snaps.
It’s actually surprising that Facebook has waited this long to clone Bitmoji, given how popular Instagram Tale and its other copies of Snapchat features had now become. Facebook comment reels and Messenger threads could get a lot more emotive, personal and fun when the company eventually launches its own Avatars.
Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said that visual communication is replacing text, but that’s forced users to either use generic emoji out of convenience or deal with the chore and self-consciousness of shooting a quick photo or video. Especially in Stories, which will soon surpass feeds as the main way we share social media, people need a quick route to convey their identity and emotion. Avatars let your identity scale to whatever impression you want to transmit without the complications of the real world.
For more on the potential of Facebook Avatars, read our piece calling for their creation :
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