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I would love to go back in 2011 and have been a fly on the wall at Facebook HQ during the unveiling of Google+. Was Mark Zuckerberg nervous? Amused? Angry? It’s hard not to think of that comparison in light of Facebook’s latest product announcement. Consider this New York Times story about the launch of Google+:
At first, Google+ looks like a shameless Facebook duplicate. There’s a place for you to make Posts (your thoughts and news, like Facebook’s Wall); there’s a Stream (an endless scrolling page of your friends’ posts, like Facebook’s News Feed); and even a little +1 button (a clone of Facebook’s Like button), which may be where Google+ gets its peculiar name. But there’s one towering, brilliant difference: Circles.
Compare that to this Verge piece about Slingshot, Facebook’s new Snapchat competitor:
At first, Facebook’s new ephemeral messaging app, Slingshot, feels like yet another Snapchat clone. The free app, available now for iPhone and Android, lets you take a quick photo or video, mark it up with some colorful drawings, caption it with big white text, and then fire it off to a bunch of friends. But then you receive your first message, and you realize this is something completely different.
I promise you, I did not alter a single word in either quote. They sound the same because both products share an origin story: their parent companies need them to exist, not because there is some sort of consumer need. That is why both slavishly copy the products they are challenging, plus, of course, some random new feature that theoretically makes sense but in practice adds complexity; after all, both Google+’s Circles and Slingshot’s pay-to-play mechanic are quite literally complexity for complexity’s sake (or, as Google/Facebook would characterize it, “differentiation”).
More broadly, back in the day when businesses were the primary market for technology, a fast-follower strategy made a ton of sense: channel and distribution matter more than anything in those markets, and market leaders could leverage their assets in those areas to successfully bring rip-offs to market. Things are much different in the consumer market, though, especially if you are dealing with network effects. I cannot think of a single example of an incumbent company successfully displacing a startup’s social network; Facebook was onto something when they decided to simply open up the wallet for companies like Instagram and WhatsApp.
Probably the optimal strategy for incumbents, as pointed out by Hunter Walk on Twitter, is something more like Google Ventures: let startups do their thing, get an early view into what is going on, and then buy what looks promising. I suspect it’s not entirely coincidental that Goole tripled their annual investment into Google Ventures in 2012, at which time it was already clear that Google+ was a failure as a social network (as I’ve noted several times, it was still a great success as a unified identity system).
Anyhow, I’m looking forward to the upcoming onslaught of “Remember Slingshot” snark. In fact, let me go first: “Slingshot is so ephemeral it made itself disappear!”
Sorry, that was weak.
The full list of topics covered this week in the Daily Update include:
- Bitcoin Breached
- China to Crack Down on iMessage
- Amazon’s PR Runup
- Box Acquires Streem
- Priceline Acquires OpenTable
- Privacy is Dead Follow-up
- Facebook Launches Google+
- Praising Adobe
- Facebook Wedge
- Intel to Offer Customizable Chips
- Fire Phone Follow-up
- T-Mobile Test Drive
- Adobe’s New Business Model Part 2
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