Tech, Now + Beyond

I forgive you, Snapchat – but you still have a lot to work on

I'm officially impressed.

Snapchat just announced the launch of Bitmoji Deluxe, which will give users hundreds of new ways to customize their Bitmojis.

They’ve expanded their skin tone options from 25 tones to 40 and their hair color options from 25 colors to 50. Additionally, there are more hairstyles, accessories, clothes, and feature shapes. TechCrunch notes that this means there are 1.999 septillion different combinations of Bitmoji. With Bitmoji Deluxe, you can take a selfie to guide the creation of your Bitmoji. When you change up your avatar’s features, you get to preview it easily.

What all of this means is that it’s easier than ever to make your Bitmoji look like you, even if you have unique features like violet eyes, ombre hair, and an unusual hairstyle. They have more realistic, stylish clothes and better accessories. Bitmojis finally look a little more like actual people and a little less like they’re all variations of Emma Stone.

Bitmojis were first propelled into the limelight when Bitstrips became popular in 2013. Bitstrips were customizable comic strips, where one could design an avatar and place it in a social situation with their friends’ avatars. These were shared widely on Facebook until the Bitstrips trend died out. After this point, Bitstrips focussed on creating customizable avatars, or Bitmojis, instead of creating more comic situations.

Fast forward to 2016, when Snapchat acquired Bitmoji. Snapchat smartly integrated the avatars into their filters and stickers. Now, Bitmojis are one of the most important features on Snapchat.

Snapchat was the first major social network to introduce ‘stories’ into our lives. In 2013, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerburg attempted to buy Snapchat, but he was refused. Since then, Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp – all owned by Facebook – have added ‘stories’ to their features. Instagram and Facebook have both included ‘filters’ in their stories. Reports suggest that this was all part of a deliberate plan to take down Snapchat.

One of the only unique Snapchat features is Bitmoji. Facebook hasn’t invested in a similar avatar technology. The adorable little avatars are one of the few things that make Snapchat worth downloading. It’s pretty smart of the underdog to invest in improving this single differentiating factor.

For those of us who are still feeling a bit salty about Facebook’s latest algorithm change – which is likely to reduce the traffic to news publishers – it’s good to see Snapchat fighting back and outdoing Facebook in one aspect.

Avatars aren’t only super cute. They actually have a deep psychological effect on those who create and use them. In one study, researchers discovered that we moderate our behavior based on our avatar’s appearance. When we use taller avatars, for example, we act in a more confident way because we subconsciously perceive taller people to be more confident.

Another study monitored people who exercised alongside their avatars. The study found that participants who had avatars who looked like them were motivated to exercise more. Those participants were also likely to exercise after they no longer had access to their avatar.

The bottom line? Avatars matter. The more customizable the avatar, the more they look like you. The more they look like you, the more they affect you. Bitmojis are fun, but they’re certainly meaningful to many people.

There’s also the matter of representation. Snapchat has come under fire for having filters that are whitewashing. Certain filters, particularly those that are meant to look attractive like the flower crown filter, made the user look like they had lighter skin and whiter features. Although they haven’t made amends for this, it’s good to see that they haven’t whitewashed Bitmojis in the same way. They offer a number of darker skin tones, and they don’t only offer white-appearing features. It’s not 100% inclusive, but it’s a start.

When you’re a marginalized person, it’s hard to find stickers, emojis or even cartoons that look like you. The idea of Bitmoji expanding so widely is exciting because it could be ushering us into a world where diverse avatars are the norm. Hopefully, Snapchat continues to expand Bitmojis customizable options, making it even more inclusive for their users.