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Summary:

Facebook’s Poke app, a copy of red-hot Snapchat rose almost to the top of the iTunes appstore on launch. A few days later it has tanked, making me wonder: can Facebook really invent any new Internet behavior or is it destined to be a copycat forever?

Mark Zuckerberg ringing opening bell
photo: Zef Nikolla

Remember last week? You know, the week when Facebook indulged in yet another act of wanton xeroxing and released Poke to compete with the red-hot insta-communication app, Snapchat. Well, a week later, the world has returned to normal. Snapchat, the insta-sharing app is once again among the most popular apps — at third place.

And Poke… Well, it is languishing at the 34th spot on the top free apps list, way behind Instagram, Messenger and the official Facebook apps. It is yet another example of why just because you can copy something it doesn’t mean it will become successful, even if you are Facebook who is doing the copying. It is not clear what kind of usage the app is getting, but I am pretty sure Facebook will announce any day some metrics that don’t quite measure anything.

poke logo

This quick decline in downloads raises some questions about Facebook’s ability to be kingmaker. It may have helped Zynga when social games and Facebook’s platform were brand new phenomena. Remember how their frictionless sharing was going to change everything, especially for media companies? Well, it didn’t change a lick. Washington Post’s Facebook socialreader is now on the open web.  Guardian is no longer interested in wasting its resources on the Facebook reader. Frictionless sharing might have made some video sharing services hot for a day, but the reality has been much harsher for them.

Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman writes:

In April, The Washington Post’s Social Reader had 12 million monthly active users. Now, it has about 600,000 according to AppData, a decline of 95 percent. The Guardian had nearly 6 million monthly active users of its Facebook app in April. Now it has about 2.5 million, a decline of about 75 percent. Most Facebook users didn’t want this, for all the reasons we’ve discussed before — thoughtless sharing means little to your friends, can lead to faulty assumptions about why you read something and have a chilling effect on what you choose to read.

Invent something

Actually, last week when everyone was getting excited and proclaiming the end of Snapchat, I was wondering to myself: How is that Facebook, which has some of the smartest folks in the room, can’t really invent any new single online behavior that would keep people addicted to Facebook?

Why does it have to look at others to come up with new user behaviors and new features? For instance, checkins came from Foursquare, while the short status updates were a direct response to Twitter. Facebook Answers were nothing but a variation on Quora’s offering. Poke is yet another example.

Sooner or later, Facebook and its think tank has to confront the harsh reality — if it needs to stay relevant and stay ahead of the curve, it needs to invent and reinvent. Doing otherwise could be fatal.

Updated: I have updated the post to reflect the change from SnapChat to Snapchat.

Screen Shot 2012-12-26 at 5.20.42 PM

  1. That’s what you call tanking? #30? LOL. This article has no basis.

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    1. TinyVox: Tape&Tweet Thursday, December 27, 2012

      Poor Will, poking nobody into eternity. Comedy gold!

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  2. But it will continue to drop. There’s no staying power. Snapchat has the staying power that Facebook does not have.

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    1. staying power in what regard? their app is a shell of what poke’s is, especially when you consider poke was built in 12 days. If the app is remotely successful FB has to commit only a few resources to it to keep it ahead of Snapchat in functionality/experience. FB did offer to buy snapchat mind you

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      1. maybe current or potential future users of snapchat aren’t looking for the baggage that comes with facebook and its 500 friends for a feature like snapchat. And given facebook’s history with privacy can you really trust it with these little mini apps that it releases?

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  3. As a strategy rapid following is the standard big corporate response. I have not heard of snapchat but a FaceBook add-on I might have stumbled across.

    One of my first employer’s adopted this approach and the fruits can be seen everywhere. Another trick was to put a lot of effort into Standards bodies and they ended up having the casting vote between the two big boys. The company is still going, just – THORN Lighting

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    1. I think I agreed with everything right up to the point you mentioned standards bodies,

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  4. Christ, it’s *Snapchat*. There’s no capital c

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    1. Sorry about that. I have fixed the spellings and apologies for making that error.

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      1. Snapchatter_reply Wednesday, December 26, 2012

        NP, thanks om

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      2. Om did you invest in Snapchat?

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    2. On what, self-entitled, zit ridden, adenoidal planet does that slip warrant that kind of reaction to a misplaced Uppercase c?

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  5. Zach Solomon-Beloin Wednesday, December 26, 2012

    I think it’s too early to call that Facebook is unable to invent. They released new features to the site every year, such as timelines, subscriptions, lists, etc. Although these are small features, I find them extremely beneficial. I would like two things from Facebook: improve engagement and tying the web together in the grand scheme of things. I’m not a fan of its new EdgeRank algorithms; I find it broken and not tailored to me, which hinders engagement. I think that Path has done a better job importing feeds from multiple platforms in a much better design.

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  6. Linkedin same deal. Copy copy buy.

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  7. Because Zuck has spent so much time focusing on hiring “geeks”, that he hasn’t bothered to hire any visionaries. At some point you have to value people that can come up with really great ideas, even if they can’t personally bring their idea to reality. Don’t get me wrong, some geeks are visionaries, but that’s crazy rare, and at facebook they’re likely spending all their time working on making the existing infrastructure better – not focusing on coming up with new ideas.

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    1. awww did someone not get through the hiring process?

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  8. It’s partly a branding/jobs-to-be-done issue. To some degree consumers don’t expect or perhaps even want Facebook to innovate (see Coca Cola’s New Coke); we’ve hired Facebook to power our general social graph, not to enable new types of experiences. Likewise, we’ve hired Coca-Cola to sell us soft drinks, not water – there’s a reason “Dasani” is not called “Coca-Cola water”.

    Users have hired Snapchat to communicate in a fun way that’s free from the broadcast medium of Facebook. And as Coca-Cola can fund Dasani, Gatorade, Quaker Oats, etc., Facebook can help to power Snapchat and other messaging apps (including my own: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4958997) via Facebook Connect, empowering others to perform and take risks in innovation.

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    1. good points. So maybe a google ventures type model wherein facebook setups a lab/funding mechanism retaining ownership of created products to the mothership might be better for facebook? The products created will have their own branding but the ownership and data will flow back to facebook.

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  9. Surely, in a digital economy the finite resource is people’s attention and for new products, the attention of a particular group of early adopters.

    For a company such as Facebook to compete with a product with traction, such as Snapchat, they need to create a product which will capture users away rather than just compete alongside.

    To do this requires a product with different features to improve upon the original and lure people away. But Snapchat is incredibly minimalist so this task is almost impossible.

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    1. they should have dumped the unnecessary game elements like the self destructing photos and focused on what people were asking for in the reviews on itunes app store. #funhi

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  10. Lindsworth Horatio Deer Thursday, December 27, 2012

    Sending naked Pics of me having sex or even a video of me banging my girl on FB’s Poke? Poor Privacy the concern. Why use it if my pics might wind up in the hands of the CIA

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    1. Not necessary – We already have them

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