Newly released emails from April 2012 show that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives were disappointed by the slow internal prototyping and instead weighed in on the benefits of quick copying and iteration on a small app like Pinterest.
A series of messages begin with Zuckerberg concluding a meeting with the founders of the Chinese social networking app Rainer. “China has this strong culture of quickly cloning things and manufacturing different products,” he wrote. “Seeing all this and seeing that new mobile apps are coming out of other companies, I think we are moving very slowly. … I wonder what we can do to move very fast. “
The messages were released on Wednesday as part of a House Judiciary Committee investigation.
Other employees, remade some of their names, agreed that “copying is faster than innovating,” even though they worried it would give Facebook a bad reputation in the industry. “We spend a lot of time on those products and iterate on products that are not used,” one person said. “If you have placed a top-down order to go ahead, for example copy on Pinterest or Gaming Dynamics on Foursquare… I’m sure [a] Very small team of engineers, A. [product manager], And a designer will be superimposed over it quickly. “
“I would love to be more aggressive and agile in imitating competitors at the interface / last mile level,” said another. “Come on” (aka super-set) Pinterest!
The final email in the series compared this approach against the slow development of two internal products, called “Snap” and “Roger”. Not much is known about these, but Roger apparently had a messaging system comparable to WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired in 2014 and was a potential competitor to Snap Instagram. “We spend a lot of time making sure that our design fit conventions or settings are future proof. … I have noticed that this is something that has slowed us down on Roger and other projects, ”the email said. “Startups have the best of both worlds: [they] Siphon our graphs to create a new system … and it lets them create a different product experience. “
Pramila Jaipal (D-WA) suggested in a hearing yesterday that Facebook used the threat of cloning products to sell to smaller competitors, including Instagram, which was acquired days after these emails were sent. “Has Facebook ever threatened to clone another company’s products while trying to acquire that company?” He asked. “Congressmen don’t remember me,” Zuckerberg said.
Since then Facebook has developed a reputation for cloning apps. It launched in 2016 a series of app features copying Snapchat functions, including Instagram Stories. It was released, then recently discontinued, a Tiktok-inspired app called Lasso and a Pinterest-like app called Hobby. This exchange gives some possible arguments behind these decisions and describes an alternative approach that Facebook simply did not work.