Facebook goes after Snapchat’s younger users

Facebook scoops up silly face-swapping app Masquerade

Facebook is upping its Snapchat rivalry with the acquisition of a mobile face-swapping app.

Masquerade Technologies, a start-up also known as MSQRD, lets users add special effects to faces in photos or videos.

Want to sport an Iron Man helmet in your latest selfie -- as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did in a video announcing the deal -- or virtually don a panda outfit or wear actor Leonardo DiCaprio's eyes?

With Masquerade, you can.

Soon, you'll also be able to do all that within Facebook properties.

"At Masquerade, we've worked hard to make video more fun and engaging by creating filters that enhance and alter your appearance," wrote Eugene Nevgen, CEO of Masquerade, in a post on the company website. "Now, we're excited to join forces with Facebook and bring the technology to even more people. This is a scale of audience we never imagined was possible."

Nevgen noted that while his company is merging with Facebook, the app will stay up and running. The company even plans to continue to add features to it.

Neither Facebook nor Masquerade reported a selling price.

The Masquerade acquisition is largely being seen as Facebook adding another weapon in its arsenal to take on Snapchat, an app that lets users share photos and videos that then self-destruct.

The app is a hit with younger users -- those under the age of 25 -- which is a demographic that Facebook has had a hard time pulling onto its site.

Facebook took on that issue by buying Instagram, a mobile photo and video-sharing service, for $1 billion in 2012. Instagram is extremely popular, pulling in a lot of teens and 20-somethings who tend to think Facebook is for their parents.

Now the question will be whether being able to add goofy faces and special effects to photos and videos on Facebook and Instagram will be enough to pull younger users in -- and away from Snapchat.

"Snapchat recently introduced a filter that allows you to switch faces with someone. It's pretty hot right now," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, who talks about Snapchat with his kids. "Snapchat, as a whole, has been siphoning off people from two Facebook properties, Facebook itself and Instagram."

He added that the Masquerade acquisition looks like a defensive move -- an attempt to stop the siphoning.

Moorhead, though, isn't so sure how well this will work.

With teens and young adults hooked on Snapchat, it may take the next hot new thing to lure them away. And as the largest social network in the world, Facebook is not the next hot new thing.

"No way. I expect kids to continue to spend most of their time on what comes next," said Moorhead. "They have a foot in Facebook but are spending most of their time in Snapchat these days."

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, said Snapchat should keep an eye on what Facebook is doing but there's no need to worry at this point.

"Users like integrated apps much better than solo ones, but Snapchat has a healthy lead right now," he noted. "Masquerade itself won't enable Facebook to over take Snapchat but Facebook could go out and add other pieces to create a greater Facebook experience."

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