The company’s Twitter clone will be a guaranteed loser
Meta has been deploying this strategy for years, going back to Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, perhaps even further back, with Facebook being a copy of Myspace and Friendster).
In sum, the strategy plays out like so:
- If you can’t copy the product (likely a competitor), copy its best features to prevent your user base from leaving.
- If your copy fails, and users prefer the young pretender, attempt to buy it.
- If they refuse to be bought, do everything you can to destroy them.
In documents reviewed by an Antitrust panel investigating whether the takeover should have been allowed to happen, Zuckerberg suggested in emails that Instagram was a threat. His app was failing to match the features of this new kid on the block. The answer? Worried about competing with it, Facebook decided to buy it.
In 2013, Facebook was worrying about the rise of another social media app, Snapchat. Disappearing messages? Short-form video? Zuck sensed a shift coming, so he rolled up with his truck full of bucks and offered founder and CEO Evan Spiegel a reported $3 billion. He turned down the offer. (Absolute insanity.)
When Facebook-now-turned-Meta fails to buy a competitor, the company turns to plan b. Zuckerberg invites his top brass to a secret meeting room, where he shouts, “initiate the cloning device!” like some tech-mogul Bond villain. When they launch copy mode, the company hopes its knockoff version can supplant the original, i.e., kill off the competition. Some do; most don’t.
There are countless examples of the strategy;
- In 2016, Instagram added a new feature called ‘Stories,’ a nearly identical copy of Snapchat’s feature called… stories. A success? Probably. But a 0/10 for creativity.
- Also, in 2016, Facebook launched Marketplace. It was the latest company to attempt to produce a ‘craigslist-killer.’ According to stats from this CNBC article, Zuckerberg said that Marketplace had 800 million monthly users in 2018, compared to the 55 million visitors Craigslist had. This copy was one of the few genuine winners.
- In 2017, Facebook had what is, in fairness, a good idea. It wanted to take the concept of Tinder and add it to the mass of Facebook profiles and data. Facebook Dating was born. Years later, it’s barely used.
- In 2018, Facebook launched a standalone app called Lasso. It was a direct competitor to TikTok. It failed and was shut down in 2020 to make way for Instagram’s next move (see next point.)
- 2020 was a busy year for bad imitations. After existing for four months, the company shut down Hobbi, its kinda-copy of Pinterest. Then there was Neighbourhoods, a NextDoor clone, which the company shuttered in late 2022, and Super, a Cameo copy, which was shut down in Feb 2023.
- Also in 2020, Instagram added a ‘new’ feature called Reels. It was another attempt to copy the success of TikTok (desperation that continues to this day.) Again, likely a winner, helping the app maintain its huge user base, but another 0/10 for creativity.
- During the pandemic, Meta suffered a serious case of video call FOMO — who didn’t? It launched Messenger Rooms, its ripoff of Zoom. The company has had some success with this, especially when it incorporated the service into its Portal device.
- When Clubhouse was hot for a minute — a literal minute — Facebook was one of many companies to try and milk the trend. It started promoting ‘Audio Rooms’ at the top of its app. It was a bust, though the competition didn’t fare better, with Twitter Spaces also a dud.
- It also launched a few podcasts alongside, which, surprise, are being pulled back on.
- Facebook recently ripped up its entire Newsfeed to emphasize video content to compete for airtime with TikTok and YouTube. The Newsfeed is an abomination, so this is likely to fail.
- It created a Substack copy called Bulletin, which was, well, exactly like Substack, with a few ‘Hail Marys’ like creators keeping 100% of revenues thrown in. But the effort was a half-hearted afterthought, and it was never given a shot of succeeding. It’s meeting the chopping block in the early part of 2023.
Failure, or at the very least underwhelm, is the recurring theme with the Copy-Acquire-Kill playbook. As the dust settles, a familiar outcome comes into view.
It didn’t manage to copy it.
It didn’t manage to acquire it.
And it didn’t manage to kill it.
And yet, time and time again, rather than put its unquestionably talented employees and teams to work designing innovative, groundbreaking features and products — some will shout, “hey, heard of the Oculus?!” but I still think the jury is out on whether headsets will fully integrate into society — it wastes them on building subpar, minimal-effort clones in panicked efforts to keep people in the Meta ecosystem.
When Musk arrived at Twitter HQ, sink in hand, he went through the company like a wrecking ball. In those early weeks, there were rumors that it was already facing bankruptcy, advertisers were pulling out in numbers, mad right-wing users were unbanned, and management and employees were ruthlessly — and randomly — cut.
Meta sniffed a possible opportunity in the chaos.
According to Business Insider, employees met as early as November to discuss building a Twitter competitor and what that would look like. (My guess? The same, but in Facebook Blue.) The idea has been gathering momentum, and news broke on March 10 that the project, currently called P92, is being worked on.
In an email to Platformer — you should subscribe — Meta said, “We’re exploring a standalone decentralized social network for sharing text updates. We believe there’s an opportunity for a separate space where creators and public figures can share timely updates about their interests.”
Further details on the project are non-existent. Users will log in through their Instagram credentials, which is already a considerable roadblock to anyone against sharing their data with Meta. Also, is that still decentralized, then? That word seems very un-Meta. It’s pretty likely the platform will offer everything Twitter offers, perhaps with a few features designed to appease those who hate Twitter’s new direction. But, by the definition of decentralized, will users be able to create their own servers and, within them, their own rules? And, if data is not the reward for Meta, how would it be monetized? As Platformer points out, “no one has yet built a profitable, global-scale decentralized network.”
Will Meta’s version of Twitter come to fruition? Probably. Meta has enough resources to pursue it. Will it work? Probably not, unless Twitter completely folds and the door swings open for someone to suck up the market. I’d bet that whatever it turns out to be, it fails to deliver and ends up being jammed into Instagram and Facebook as a new feature.
It’s said that Zuckerberg referred to the mission of killing a competitor as going into “destroy mode.”
Meta is a great acquirer, but it’s a poor imitator and, in recent years, an even poorer innovator.
And as more and more attempts to beat rivals at their own game fail — time will tell if we’ll add a Twitter clone to the list — the only thing he’s coming close to destroying is his own company.