Emails show Mark Zuckerberg feared app startups would build faster than Facebook in 2012

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Newly released emails from April 2012 show that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives were frustrated with slow internal prototyping and evaluated the benefits of fast copying and iteration over smaller apps like Pinterest.

A chain of messages begins with Zuckerberg recounting a meeting with the founders of the Chinese social networking app Renren. “In China, there is a strong culture of quickly cloning things and making many different products,” he writes. “Seeing all of this and the pace at which new mobile apps seem to be coming out of other companies, I think we’re moving very slowly. … I wonder what we could do to move forward much faster.

The messages were released on Wednesday as part of an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee.

Other employees, some of their names redacted, agreed that “copying is faster than innovating”, although they feared it could give Facebook a bad reputation in the industry. “We spend a lot of time on products and iterations on products that aren’t used a lot,” one person said. “If you gave the descending order to continue, copy for example Pinterest or the game dynamics on Foursquare… I’m sure [a] very small team of engineers, a [product manager], and a designer would do it very quickly. “

“I would love to be a lot more aggressive and nimble to copy the competitors at the interface / last mile level,” said another. “Copies” (aka super-set) Pinterest! ”

The channel’s latest email likened this approach favorably to the slow development of two in-house products, called “Snap” and “Roger”. There’s not a lot of information on this, but Roger was apparently 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 our designs match conventions or parameters that stand the test of time. … I noticed this was something that slowed us down on Roger and other projects, ”the email read. “Startups have the best of both worlds: [they] Siphon off our graphic to create a new system… and it allows them to create a different product experience. “

Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) suggested during a hearing yesterday that Facebook had used the threat of product cloning to push smaller competitors to sell, including Instagram, which was acquired days after the posting. of those emails. “Has Facebook ever threatened to clone another company’s products while trying to acquire that company? ” she asked. “Member of Congress, not that I can remember,” Zuckerberg replied.

Facebook has since developed a reputation for cloning applications. It launched a series of app features that mimic Snapchat functions, including Instagram Stories in 2016. It released, and then recently shut down, a TikTok-inspired app called Lasso and a Pinterest-like app called Hobbi. This exchange exposes some of the possible reasoning behind those decisions and describes an alternative approach that Facebook simply felt didn’t work.

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