Newly released emails from April 2012 show that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives were frustrated by the slow internal prototyping and weighed the benefits of fast copying and iteration on smaller applications such as Pinterest.
The chain of messages begins with Zuckerberg, who recounts a meeting with the founders of the Chinese social networking program Renren. “There is such a strong culture in China to quickly clone things and create many different products,” he wrote. “Seeing all this and the pace that new mobile apps seem to be coming from other companies makes me think we are moving very slowly. … I wonder what we could do to move much faster. “
The reports were released on Wednesday as part of an investigation by a committee of the House of Judiciary.
Other employees, some of whose names have been edited, have agreed that “copying is faster than innovative”, even if they fear it will lead to a bad reputation for Facebook in the industry. “We spend a lot of time on products and iterations on products that are not used,” said one person. “If you gave the order from top to bottom, copy, for example, Pinterest or game dynamics on Foursquare … I’m sure [a] a very small team of engineers, a [product manager], and the designer would do it very quickly. “
“I would like to be much more aggressive and agile in copying competitors at the interface / last mile level,” said another. “Let’s” copy “(aka the super-set) Pinterest!”
The latest e-mail in the chain favorably compared this approach against the slow development of two domestic products known as “Snap” and “Roger”. There isn’t much information about them, but Roger was obviously a messaging system comparable to WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired in 2014, and Snap was a potential competitor to Instagram. “We spend a lot of time making sure that our designs meet the conditions or parameters that protect the future. … I noticed that this is something that has slowed us down in Roger and other projects,” the statement said. “Startups have the best in both worlds: [they] encrypt our schedule to create a new system … and it allows them to create a different product experience. “
Rev. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) suggested at a hearing yesterday that Facebook used the threat of cloning products to push smaller competitors to sell, including Instagram, which was acquired a few days after the emails were sent. “Has Facebook ever threatened to clone another company’s products while trying to acquire that company?” she asked. “Congresswoman, not what I remember,” Zuckerberg replied.
Facebook has since built a reputation for cloning apps. It launched a number of app features that replicate Snapchat features, including Instagram Stories in 2016. It released and then recently closed, a TikTok-inspired app called Lasso and a Pinterest-like app called Hobbi. This exchange outlines some possible considerations for these solutions and describes an alternative approach that has decided that Facebook simply does not work.