Facebook is quietly working on plans to clone Snap's Bitmoji

Jane Manchun Wong/FacebookA Facebook avatar found by Jane Manchun Wong.
  • Facebook is testing avatars that look very similar to Snap’s Bitmoji.
  • The test, named ‘Facebook Avatars,’ was uncovered by hawk-eyed developer Jane Manchun Wong and could change the way people interact with Facebook content.
  • Facebook said it is “looking into more ways to help people express themselves” in a statement to TechCrunch.

Facebook is planning another assault on Snapchat – this time with the help of cartoon versions of its users.

The company is quietly testing personalised avatars that look strikingly similar to those users create in Snap-owned Bitmoji. They could change the way people interact with Facebook content, building on its existing range of reaction emojis.

The plans, known as ‘Facebook Avatars,’ were found in Facebook’s Android application package by Jane Manchun Wong, a hawk-eyed developer with a history of spotting interesting nuggets in app code.

Wong spotted Facebook trialling a resumé feature last year, and found hidden code in Instagram’s Android app that lets users add music in the background of their Stories. Finding these gems requires “reverse engineering” often “cryptic machine code,” she told us.

According to the material she uncovered, Facebook Avatars is a “whole new way to express yourself on Facebook.” It will allow people to “leave expressive comments with personalised stickers,” as well as use them in Messenger group and private chats.

They will look like the avatars at the right of the pictures below. It’s not clear how users will create these. It is possible that people will be invited to build their own, like on Bitmoji, or Facebook may inject its photo recognition technology into the process.

Facebook avatarsJane Manchun Wong/FacebookFacebook Avatars in action.

Facebook is yet to respond to Business Insider’s request for comment, but told TechCrunch: “We’re looking into more ways to help people express themselves on Facebook.” TechCrunch added that Facebook Avatars is still in the early stages of development and there is no date yet for public testing.

Facebook is, of course, not new to avatars. Last year it launched Facebook Spaces, an application that enables much of Facebook’s service within virtual reality using avatars. And it’s certainly not the first time Facebook has mimicked Snapchat, having taken on its rival social network with services such as Instagram Stories.

Snap acquired Bitmoji’s parent company Bitstrips for $US64 million in 2016. Since 2015, Bitmoji has seen a 5,210% increase in unique visitors over the age of 18, according to measurement and analytics firm comScore. It is also consistently among the top 10 free apps in both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.


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