Newly released e-mails from April 2012 show that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives were frustrated by slow internal prototyping and considered the benefits of fast copying and duplication instead of smaller applications such as Pinterest.
The news chain begins with Zuckerberg arranging a meeting with the founders of Renren, a Chinese social networking application. “China has such a strong culture of cloning things and building a lot of different products,” he wrote. “When I see all this and the pace that new mobile applications from other companies seem to be coming out, I think we are moving very slowly. … I wonder what we could do to move much faster. “
The reports were released Wednesday as part of a House Judiciary Committee probe.
Other employees, some of whose names have been changed, have agreed that “copying is faster than innovation,” although they fear it would give Facebook a bad reputation in the industry. “We spend a lot of time on products and iterations of products that are not used,” said one person. “If you instructed from top to bottom, copy e.g. Pinterest or game dynamics on Foursquare … I’m sure [a] a very small team of engineers, a [product manager]and the designer could do it very quickly. “
“I would like to be much more aggressive and agile when copying competitors at the interface / last mile level,” said another. “Let’s ‘copy’ (aka super-set) Pinterest!”
The last e-mail in the chain compared this approach favorably with the slow development of two internal products known as “Snap” and “Roger”. There isn’t much information about them, but Roger was clearly a messaging system comparable to WhatsApp that Facebook acquired in 2014, and Snap was a potential competitor to Instagram. “We spend a lot of time ensuring that our designs conform to conventions or environments that will be guaranteed in the future. … I noticed that this is something that slowed us down in the case of Roger and other projects, “said the e-mail. “Startups have the best of both worlds: [they] siphon our chart to build a new system … and allow them to create a different product experience. “
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) suggested at yesterday’s hearing that Facebook used the threat of cloning products to push smaller competitors to sell, including Instagram, which was obtained days after the emails were sent. “Did Facebook ever threaten to clone another company’s products and at the same time try to acquire that company?” She asked. “A congressist, not that I remember,” Zuckerberg replied.
Facebook has since developed a reputation for cloning applications. In 2016, a series of app features were launched that replicate Snapchat features, including Instagram stories. It released, then recently closed, a TikTok-inspired app called Lasso and a Hobbi app called Pinterest. This exchange clarifies some of the possible reasons for these decisions and describes an alternative approach that Facebook has decided does not work.