Facebook's Avatars feature, which lets you customize a virtual lookalike of yourself for use as stickers in comments and Messenger chats, is today launching in the U.S. Essentially Facebook's version of Snap's Bitmoji, Avatars were first introduced last year and have been since made available in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Canada.
Based on early feedback, Facebook is also today expanding its range of Avatar customizations to include a variety of new hairstyles, complexions and outfits.
Avatars may seem a little silly, but they allow for a form of self-expression that extends beyond the capabilities of text and emoji alone. On digital platforms, using an avatar can be a helpful way to indicate the tone of your comment, so you're not misinterpreted. Plus, many people like having the option of crafting a digital character that actually looks like them -- meaning their candy-colored hair, piercings, glasses, goatees, sense of style or anything else doesn't come across when using just an emoji alone.
Initially, Facebook users will be able set up their Avatar from either the Facebook or Messenger comment composer. From here, you'll click on the smiley face icon that takes you to stickers. You'll then see a new option: "Make Your Avatar."
After completing your Avatar, you can return to edit it at any time from Facebook's Bookmark section (the three horizontal lines in the bottom-right of the Facebook mobile app.) You'll need to click on "See More," then "Avatars," in the list that appears.
Today, the Avatars can be used with Facebook comments and Messenger conversations, and they can be used on your Facebook Gaming profile. But soon, Facebook says Avatars will be able to be used in text posts with backgrounds.
The company isn't yet sharing any metrics on the feature's adoption, but did say Avatars have become particularly popular with the gaming community.
However, the source of inspiration for the feature, Bitmoji, has seen widespread adoption.
In January, Snap said 70% of its daily active users, or 147 million of its then 210 million, had made themselves a Bitmoji. The company first bought its way into the "digital persona" business back in 2016 when it picked up Bitmoji's parent company Bitstrips for $62.5 million. It more recently launched Bitmoji TV, a Snapchat show that puts users' Bitmoji avatars into animated situations.
Facebook hasn't yet detailed any grand ambitions to make its Avatars more of a platform or a monetizable feature. Instead, it seems to be playing a game of catch-up with its rivals.
Though Snapchat popularized the concept, many companies have since cloned the Bitmoji phenomenon. Apple in 2018 introduced a customizable persona called Memoji to complement its existing Animoji characters, for use in iMessage and FaceTime. Samsung and Google also rolled out their own take on Bitmoji in 2018.
But despite its delayed arrival, Facebook hasn't broken any new ground -- for example, by introducing Avatars created automatically from your Facebook profile photo or those that move and react as in the popular Gen Z app, Facemoji.
Facebook says its Avatars feature will roll out to the U.S. starting today. You may not see it yet -- as rollouts can take time -- but should soon.