The competition between different social media outlets is perhaps one of the most intense battles of the 21st century. Today, if anything has the potential for world domination it is probably something that was born in Silicon Valley that bares the guise of a social media company. In fact, there is increasing reason to believe that it might also go by the name of Facebook.
Facebook is the biggest dog in the game. They are tirelessly territorial and their tactic is either to buy out any threats or attempt to mimic them into insignificance. Most notably both Instagram and WhatsApp were engulfed as soon as they began gaining substantial attention. Instagram cost Facebook a mere $1 billion in 2012. WhatsApp was far tougher to cajole but they eventually resigned themselves to Facebook’s collection of consumed companies in 2014 for a hefty of $21.8 billion. There are a couple of other icons, which reside as staples, on our IPhone home screen that Facebook is still unable to grab; Snapchat and Twitter are holding their own. Although Twitter may be beyond them, Facebook tried to snag Snap Inc. in 2013 with an offer of $3 billion but was unsuccessful.
It’s no secret that Facebook then resorted to copying Snapchat’s ideas through Instagram. Instagram now has a “stories” feature which replicates Snapchat. Many believe that reproducing the self-deleting stories has taken away, from Snapchat, their most appealing feature. Instagram stories now have more daily users than Snapchat’s do. Snapchat’s user growth is slowing. Their shares have plummeted this year and their value is now half of what it was initially. Snapchat could have only ever been a mere thorn in Facebook’s side, yet Facebook did not hold back from using one of their recruited companies as a pawn to reek havoc for their future.
The copying that goes on in Sillicon Valley appears to be a huge part of their culture. WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram now all have “my story” features, Facebook chat and WhatsApp chat basically do the same thing and Snapchat now puts news and magazine articles on an app which was originally meant for the exchange of personal images. These apps are morphing into multifunctional attention hogs which all resemble each other. Soon the only thing that sets each apart on our phone might be shape of their icons.
Many view all of this copying as no big deal; it’s accepted as the norm. You wouldn’t have guessed it but Facebook didn’t invent the like they took it from FriendFeed and Twitter didn’t invent the Hashtag, that idea began at Google. It’s been going on for years. Instagram’s President, Kevin Systrom, compares social media replication to multiple companies producing cars. “Someone invents the car, it’s really cool, but do you blame other companies for also building cars that have wheels and a steering wheel and A.C. and windows?”
Systrom makes an interesting point but his analogy perhaps doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head. The idea of producing a car can only really be used to represent producing a basic social media site. That is the fundamental tool which all of these companies are providing. But the additions and adaptations, which they proceed to create, are the things that make them stand out as unique and useful in their own right. We like to have choice when buying our cars because one size doesn’t fit all; some of us want a mini while others might fancy a Range rover. It’s not practical for a car company to make their cars fit for every purpose. It works for them to specialise; they gain respect from customers for having their own area of design expertise.
However these principles just don’t apply to the immaterial world of social media. There are no logistical limitations online, which means that copying can be done to no end and wielded as a weapon, by large, well known, tech monopolies, to drain the attention away from any newly hatched innovative start-ups which venture a little too close into their territory. Facebook is not really embracing the culture, suggested by Systrom, of different companies all providing their own variations of a car. It’s doing the opposite; it’s pushing to be the only provider.
You may still be of the view that there is nothing wrong with Facebook’s behaviour. As one of the pioneering social media companies, and the inventor of the newsfeed, a now seemingly fundamental element of almost every social media outlet, it is somewhat understandable that Facebook feels entitled to nick a thing or two from their competitors. Also, perhaps some may like the idea of only needing one multipurpose social media app, which they can use to reach out to everyone, because everybody has migrated there.
However it must be remembered that market competition is good for the consumer, for obvious reasons. One reason, which particularly applies to social media outlets, is moral accountability. We should appreciate the fact that when we found out Volkswagen was lying about it’s Diesel emissions, two years ago, we had plenty of freedom to then purchase our car from one of many alternative companies, at least until they straightened up their act. It’s easy to find scandals online about Facebook. Facebook has a huge power over our communities and when the company behaves inconsiderately the consequences can be severe.
There is hope, and that hope remains with a little blue bird. Twitter could be the only mainstream site left standing, which is similar enough to Facebook to challenge them, popular enough to hold their own, yet distinct enough to be a worthwhile addition to our home screens. They sit in the Goldilocks zone. The reason that Twitter are yet to suffer a similar fate may be because they are only two years younger than Facebook. So their gigantic rival wasn’t quite gigantic enough at that stage to suck away the company’s initial resources.
It’s a relief that Twitter grew too big before Facebook had a chance to cast their net but now Facebook have ventured into a different pool. They belong to another league, which some refer to as “fang”, it stands for Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google. These are what Wall Street has dubbed the biggest players in the tech world, based on soaring share prices.
The members of Fang, like our favourite social media outlets, are beginning to branch into overlapping domains, albeit less abruptly. Three years ago Google introduced, the social networking site, “Google plus”. It is yet to blossom, and is doing a good job of making family friendly Facebook look young and hip again. Amazon and Netflix, whom fancied a taste of Hollywood, are competing over Oscars and all four of them are quickly adjusting themselves to become players in the world of Virtual Reality. Some new market competitors for Facebook are beginning to shape up; so it isn’t game over yet.
My original article was published with Blu-Digital. Find it here