Just released emails from April 2012 showing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives were frustrated by slow internal prototyping and weighed the benefits of fast copying and iterating over smaller apps like Pinterest instead.
A chain of messages begins with Zuckerberg recounting a meeting with the founders of the Chinese social networking app Renren. “In China there is this strong culture of cloning things fast and building different products,” he wrote. “Seeing all this and the pace that new mobile apps seem to be coming from other companies makes us think we’re going very slowly. … I wonder what we can do to move much faster.”;
The messages were released Wednesday as part of a probe of the House Judiciary Committee.
Other employees, whose names have been redacted, agreed that “copying is faster than innovative,” even though they are worried it will give Facebook a bad reputation in the industry. “We’re spending a lot of time on products and iterations on unused products,” one person said. “If you gave the order from top to bottom to move forward, copy e.g. Pinterest or the dynamics of gaming on Foursquare … I’m sure [a] A very small team of engineers, a [product manager], and a designer gets it done super fast. “
“I like to be much more aggressive and nimble when copying competitors at the interface / last mile level,” said another. “Let’s ‘copy’ (also known as a super-set) Pinterest!”
The final email in the chain compared this approach favorably to the slow development of two internal products, known as “Snap” and “Roger.” There’s not much information on these, but apparently Roger was a messaging system comparable to WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired in 2014, and Snap was a potential competitor to Instagram. “We’re spending a lot of time making sure our designs match conventions or settings that are proof of the future. … I noticed this was something that slowed us down on Roger and other projects,” the email said. “Startups have the best of both worlds: [they] siphon our graph to build a new system … and let them create a different product experience. ”
The Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) suggested at yesterday’s hearing that Facebook used the product cloning threat to push smaller competitors in sales, including Instagram, which was acquired a day after these emails were sent. . “Has Facebook ever threatened to clone another company’s products while also trying to acquire that company?” asked her. “Congresswoman, not what I remember,” Zuckerberg replied.
Since then Facebook has developed a reputation for cloning apps. He launched a series of app features that copy Snapchat functions, including Instagram Stories in 2016. Released, then recently shuttered, a TikTok-inspired app called Lasso and an app like Pinterest called Hobbi. This exchange sets out some of the possible reasoning behind these decisions and describes an alternative approach that Facebook has decided would simply not work.