Is it just me, or is Facebook incapable of original ideas? As I think back through the history of the most popular social network (and website) on the planet, every “new” change that I can think of which they have installed involves someone else’s ideas. The only original changes which jump to mind are the never-ending additions and subtractions to their mostly controversial privacy policies. I guess when the very origins of the site are still in question to this day (whether or not Zuck stole the idea from his college classmates), it shouldn’t be too surprising that each new feature added seems oddly reminiscent, if not downright copied, from another social site.
In All Fairness
I shouldn’t be quite so hard on Facebook, I suppose. Most social sites are “borrowing” each others’ ideas in the frantic race to control the social space that is fast becoming the center of the internet universe. Sure, Facebook has now added clickable hashtags to its feature list for the site, but they aren’t the first to implement Twitter’s incredibly popular idea. Google +, Pinterest, and Instagram have also ported the hashtag motif over to their networks. Actually, Facebook is a little late to the game with adding them, maybe because they thought it wouldn’t be quite as blatant if others had already started using them. This is even worse when you consider that hashtags are on the way out, not a new and climbing innovation. They used to serve a great function in searching Twitter posts, but Twitter’s updated search feature make them fairly irrelevant, and businesses now use social media management software which yields better results in more efficient ways
But I ask again, where is some originality? It wasn’t all that long ago (although in internet terms it would seem like eons) that Zuckerbergs monster copied another idea from Twitter, and a fairly core idea at that: the idea of following. When it added the “subscribe” button to it’s layout, there were cries of copycat as well, not to mention that the subscribe feature was rolled out right after another eerily familiar feature was released. The “improved friends list” came with pre-populated “smart” lists for friends, family, etc. This was a great idea, except that it was Google’s idea. Google+ pretty much debuted with its Circles feature as one of the prime differentiating factors from both Facebook and Twitter.
With so many social sites copying each others’ features these days, it’s getting harder and harder to see the difference between them. In the long run, this could be either a huge positive or the final death-blow negative for Facebook. Familiarity and apathy keeps the loyal base from switching, and since they took an early lead in building the community, that switch is less likely to happen in the short term. The parents and grandparents who use FB to keep up with their families are not tech-savvy bleeding-edgers who want a better network. Unless the whole family switches over and the grandson spends hours setting up their account and teaching them how to use the unfamiliar layout, there are large groups of users who Facebook can count on as loyal posters.
On the other hand, when you start talking about big pictures, almost every time Google looks like the long-term winner. It can’t be denied that for many Google and the internet are interchangeable terms, and that’s likely to become more pervasive, not less, as Mountain View continues to integrate new services and explore new options. Sure, Facebook has Instagram and some stolen, albeit popular, features. But Google owns search (the number one activity online), videos (YouTube, anyone), mapping and location-based features (Google maps), and mobile technology (Android). Not to mention that they have a fleet of self-driving cars, Google Glass, their own high-speed fiber network, shall I go on?
If Facebook wants to remain relevant, they’ve got to be innovative. This petty feature-borrowing will only go so far. Granny and Mom will eventually pass on, and the younger generations will be much more likely to use what is integrated into their mobile phones – their Android powered mobile phones. Let’s not forget that Facebook just had another big flop with Facebook Home. Oh well, I guess they can always see what Pinterest is up to today to get some new ideas.