Lately, Facebook has been making a lot of defensive moves.The social network which once wowed us with product launches like Timeline and News Feed now seems to be scared of fast-growing startups, and it’s losing focus.
The clearest example is Snapchat, a startup that’s exploded to millions of users in a little over one year. More than 50 million photos are shared over the mobile app every day — that’s higher than Instagram’s daily upload number.
What may frighten Zuckerberg most about Snapchat is the fact that it’s Facebook’s polar opposite, and it’s wildly popular. Instead of uploading and sharing photos with the world, Snapchat lets users share private photos with small numbers of people and it deletes the images soon after they’re sent. They’re never uploaded to a website and they can’t be viewed more than once by the recipient.
Facebook tried to flex its muscles and kill the app by copying it. It made an exact replica called Poke, which burst to the top of the app store just after its launch, only to face the wrath of Snapchat’s loyal users. While Snapchat is still the #5 free app in the App Store, Facebook’s Poke has fallen out of the top 100.
Snapchat isn’t the first product that’s made Facebook veer off course. Consider:
- It purchased Instagram for $1 billion because it was a better mobile photo sharing experience that could have syphoned users away from the social network.
- There were rumours that Path, another fast-growing social network, frightened Zuckerberg too. (It’s notorious for buying startups just to shut them down.)
- Just before launching its Snapchat ripoff, Facebook made another defensive play. It had to issue a public apology after enraging Instagram users over a change in the app’s Terms Of Service.
- And it halted testing of a new mobile app ad network, an obvious hole in the Facebook revenue portfolio.
- There’s also no sign of the long-rumoured off-Facebook web ad exchange.
Those two latter projects are the easiest ways for the company to bolt on new sales dollars without changing the user experience. Yet they don’t exist, even though they’re old news at competing media.
Notable venture capitalist Fred Wilson recently called it an “institutionalized copycat,” that rips off “everything.” That’s harsh, but companies don’t control their own reputations.
The company appears to be at a crossroads. It is becoming known more for its privacy scandals and copycatting than for its innovation.
Is it a company worthy of ruling the tech world through innovation or a defensive corporate giant that avoids risk?