44 Comments

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

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

    1. Poor Will, poking nobody into eternity. Comedy gold!

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

    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

      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?

  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

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

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

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

      1. NP, thanks om

      2. Om did you invest in Snapchat?

    2. David Galbraith (@daveg) Snapchatter Thursday, December 27, 2012

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

  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.

  6. Linkedin same deal. Copy copy buy.

  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.

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

  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.

    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.

  9. David Galbraith (@daveg) Thursday, December 27, 2012

    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.

    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

  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

    1. Not necessary – We already have them

  11. I think their inability to form a trusting relationship with their users adds to this problem.

  12. Exactly, ask Randi Zuck

  13. Well, Zuck didn’t even invent TheFacebook concept remember? Just stole it from the twins…

  14. I hadn’t heard of Snapchat until yesterday when a co-worker was bragging that his teen son uses it to exchange lurid photos with local girls. I doubt teens would trust a Facebook app with something so private — after all there has been one Facebook privacy issue after another. You never know when Facebook would decide that your Pokes should end up on your wall for all the world to see. So the difference is trust.

    Facebook might have the smartest folks in the room, but it doesn’t have many true geniuses. True geniuses create something new. Really smart people simply steal an/or buy, and try to make a profit from it. “Work smarter not harder”.

  15. The biggest issue is I cannot poke an android user.

  16. They should have built an application that would work cross platform. iOS was the wrong OS to limit it too. Early adopters tend to be Android users.

  17. is there a point at which a social network becomes big, has shareholders, suddenly has to justify the nerf guns and segways (or whatever) and … jumps the shark? We saw the early examples go that way (AOL, CompuServe) followed by Tribe and similar communities, then the Web2.0 darling MySpace went Zombie and now… Facebook might have retained it’s clean blue logo/white background/black text look but it’s strategy is firmly embracing the tag as it becomes more complicated and convoluted as it tries to evolve.
    I’m using Twitter more than 12 months ago I’m using Email more than 12 months ago. I log onto Facebook every now and then to catch up on the antics of people I don’t want to share my email address with…

  18. The picture you chose for this post is genius. That IPO was a logical end to risk and innovation at FB.

  19. who wants to send pictures of their penis with their name attached to it. Come on anonymous perving is the only useful thing about this app.

  20. Great article, Om. My synthesis is that Snapchat owes its popularity to Facebook and other juggernaut social networks. If ‘thoughtless sharing’ is the social reader phenomenon, then Snapchat is a kind of ‘accountability-less sharing.’ Snapchat is like flashing someone electronically.

    It reminds me of disappearing ink too. Spy style!

    Because the appeal of Facebook and Snapchat are at a kind of odds, it follows that Poke would not do as well as the original.

    The concept in these two apps is a new communication tool. But can someone enlighten me and tell me a non-porn Snapchat use case that is actually valuable to the user? Someone sending a picture of their SSN?

  21. I’d argue that remaining king of the ocean trumps becoming king of a wave. Facebook is inventing everyday; with a blockbuster product already in play, the onus is to retain a great user experience. And so that’s their channel for invention: smart, often subtle UI and UX tweaks that, with users in the hundreds of millions, have immense unseen impact on collective preferences that continually propel the social markets.

  22. Think of all the “Big Data” Facebook has on it’s billion plus users. It should be able to pick out online behaviors that it can pander to, and create great apps. Clearly, it’s not asking the right questions of the data.

  23. They should have come up with a different name. The well established poke feature on facebook bares no resemblance to what the Poke application does. Snapchat is self explanatory.

  24. toomanyairmiles Thursday, December 27, 2012

    You raise a good point, but I don’t think it’s fair to say FB don’t invent. Much of the actual innovation coming out of Facebook isn’t in the core consumer product it’s in things like the Open Compute Project server design, HipHop, HPHPi-HHVM, Folly, Thrift, and Corona. Basically stuff for doing things at unheard of scale, and I really don’t think FB and Zuck get enough credit for open sourcing this stuff.

    The absence of privacy, and therefore ability to obtain unique insight, really was the underlying business model for FB, but I don’t think Zuck really saw the consequences of that running at a truly global scale. Once FB had to reverse engineer privacy into the network, they lost the business model and still haven’t found a successful new one to replace it.

    Anyhow, the real question is do they NEED to do anything really new or can they just keep on keeping up. Microsoft worked on the buy/copy business model for 20 odd years, mainly because there was no alternative, FB is now in the same market position. I don’t like FB’s view of privacy, I think there may be better networks, and I don’t trust FB but it’s usefulness as a tool IMHO is in it’s all consuming global reach and therefore I can’t go anywhere else even if I wished to.

  25. ….and Facebook changed it’s photos, allowed post editing, and created friend lists as a ripoff of Google+

    The ‘hacking mentality’ at Facebook just means implementing someone else’s idea…

  26. 最终冰器红豆 Thursday, December 27, 2012

    Facebook’s success contribute to hitting the right spot at the right time, i.e. academy and alumini market. Other than that, it is not that spectacular as a technology company.

  27. Mayuresh Gaitonde Thursday, December 27, 2012

    Om , for a tech blogger , you should know that it its normal to have more than one app based on the same theme or doing the same thing . Search the IOS market and show me one app that is unique. If a company sees a potential opportunity at expanding user base and engaging more users , it will jump into the foray head on ( just as Google did with android and samsung did with its phones ) . Do we label them today as copycats that lack innovation ? I think not . Also , being a tech writer that focuses a lot on consumer products, you should also think like one. Users like competition. They like being able to choose from different products rather than being monopolized. Snapchat has a few flaws and Poke does build upon the concept in other innovative ways that snapchat lacks.
    Lastly , a company’s true strength is not entirely showcased by innovation alone , but also by the ability to capture existing markets. A company like FB only needs to leverage its existing user base , and the features that you have very conveniently labeled as “copys” are actually innovative ways in which FB is doing exactly that.

  28. Isak Ranksouls Friday, December 28, 2012

    It’s become a nation. Nations are slow to change, especially democratish(!) ones. People learn to live within something bigger than themselves and expect stability / safety. How’s that app.net doing? Anyone?

  29. Check-ins, not “checkins”.

    And Facebook can’t even design a competent display of messages and other communications. How could anyone think them capable of designing applications?

  30. Who really cares anyway? I’ve been using Facebook since…’08, I believe, and I liked it as it was and the reason it was made for, I liked, and, even tho’ all my kids/grandkids live or lived within 1 or 2 miles, it was really the only way that I was able to keep up. Heh. And in loving color…with video, even. Seems any alleged ‘improvements’ (not dissimilar to this one), have been unwanted or confusing or Timeline…and certainly not necessary.

  31. VisualCandyApps Sunday, December 30, 2012

    This is silly. Large companies acquire or put out a competing product. Google bought Android…does that mean Google can’t invent? What about their purchase of Motorola…

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