New app promises to spice up your Instagram Stories

New app promises to spice up your Instagram Stories
Copyright 2019 CNN
Chroma Stories gives users more tools to spice up their Stories for Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and more.

The lead developers behind social media tools like Instagram Stories and Boomerang left their jobs to build new features for the very tools they created.

A group of former Instagram and Facebook employees have rolled out a new app called Chroma Stories that capitalizes on social media trends at a pace far faster than what’s rolled out by Instagram and Facebook. Flagship social platforms can notoriously take months or even years to push new features to the mainstream.

Yet more and more, users are looking for additional editing tools to spruce up their content beyond filters and clever captions. This has made way for a cottage industry of apps that help Stories, or photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours, stand out.

Chroma Stories is among these new apps, offering a variety of fonts and other special effects to help users jazz up their Stories for social platforms, including Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, which pioneered the concept of Stories. It’s free to download for more than 150 templates and 20 fonts — that’s compared to Instagram’s five font options for Stories and nine for Snapchat. Chrome Stories users can pay up to $30 a year for additional layouts, backgrounds, fonts and other features.

The app also allows users to edit photos, create multiple slides for a Story and add Boomerang-like video effects before posting to the platform of their choice. (Boomerang hasn’t been updated since its 2015 debut).

One of the concept’s cofounders is John Barnett, a former product manager at Instagram who was behind many of the site’s popular filters, including “Lark” and “Juno,” which haven’t been updated since their debut. (Instagram has since added new filters for Stories, but the filters for posting to the feed have stayed the same).

He also helped develop Boomerang, Instagram’s tool that makes videos loop back and forth, and Stories, a feature he later brought to Instagram’s parent company Facebook. Stories has over 500 million active users each day on Instagram. YouTube, Skype and others have since rolled out their own versions of Stories.

But more than a year ago, Barnett, along with former colleagues Joshua Harris and Alex Li, left Facebook to create something new; an appealing opportunity to move faster on features with their own startup. The new app employs six full-time staffers, including two other former Instagram engineers. In December 2018, the company raised seed funding from firms including Index, Combine, Sweet Capital and others, for an undisclosed amount.

“As a startup, we can move even faster,” Barnett told CNN Business. “We can go and ship [a feature], try it out and get that to people a week or two later. If it’s a totally new product, that can take sometimes months, if not years, depending on what technology it involves [at Instagram].

Bigger companies like Facebook have a road map for the next 12 months, or even for many years, which “can make it harder to try something new,” he said.

Startups generally have the ability to grow faster than a large organization and can put out a new product faster because the focus is typically more narrow, according to Eleftheria Kouri, an analyst at ABI Research.

“They don’t have internal delays,” she said. “They don’t have multiple boards, and all these things that can delay a decision.”

Chroma Stories is also working with influencers and popular content creators to build layouts for the app, including Brandon Woelfel, a photographer with over 3 million Instagram followers. The layouts include options with bright-colored borders and ways to add multiple photos to one Story post, a tool Instagram doesn’t currently offer. Another photographer, known as @Bryant on Instagram, inspired layouts that make photos look like they’re part of a retro roll of film.

Li, a cofounder of the app who also helped build Stories at Instagram, said Chroma Stories has a different business model than Facebook, which is driven by advertising and time spent. Chroma Stories, which doesn’t plan to feature ads now or in the future, hopes users find enough value in the app to splurge for a subscription version.

“Many people would argue that the current social network business model is not well aligned with the people using it and the people providing the service,” Li said. “We’re in a business where that’s not the case, and I feel good about that.”

To date, Chroma Stories has been downloaded 533,000 times, according to data from Apptopia, a firm that tracks mobile apps. But other apps, including StoryArt and Unfold, which offer similar layout options, photo editing and more fonts, have been exceptionally popular, too. In October, Unfold hit over 1.2 million downloads in October, while StoryArt reached over 1.4 million. VSCO, a filters app which has been a favorite among Millennials and Gen Z, has surpassed 4.3 million downloads, according Apptopia.

Although ABI Research’s Kouri said it’s been a smart strategy for these companies to tap into the large user bases on social platforms, others argue these apps may appeal only to a niche group of social media users.

“It’s really for people who care very strongly about what they look like online, and how they are perceived online,” said Randi Priluck, a marketing professor at Pace University who studies social media. “Most people will just use the tools already available [on Instagram].”

While there’s nothing stopping Instagram or another platform from copying any of Chroma Stories’ popular features, the app said it will protect against this by continuing to create more of what resonates.

“We’re going to come up with the next thing. They can copy or take or whatever and it’s okay,” said cofounder Harris. “We’ll just keep adding to that awesome toolbox.”