Facebook wants to rule the internet. Then again, so does Google, Amazon, and a variety of other major companies. As the battle rages on various fronts between the giants however, small, pesky startups keep throwing molotov cocktails from the sidelines. Facebook's response to these innovative interlopers almost always comes in one of two ways: A) buy them or B) copy them. And if they refuse your offer to buy, then default to plan B.
Instagram, Vine, and the Rise of Image Dominance
Case in point is the one-two punch of Instagram and Vine. As image-based apps grew to dominate both the desktop and mobile space online, Instagram became an insta-hit, and thus a threat to Facebook's dream of keeping everyone on their site, for everything, all of the time. So, of course, they bought Instagram and integrated them into their app arsenal, and voila - Facebook became the king of picture sharing.
Then Vine showed its face, taking the next step in image evolution by allowing the sharing of six-second video clips. It's hard to get bored in six seconds, unlike, for instance, with a twenty-minute YouTube video. Unfortunately, Twitter won the battle of Vine, so Facebook had to default to plan B. Since they already had an app with a built-in following of millions, it became an obvious play to add video clips to the Instagram platform, which they did quickly and with much fanfare.
To go an extra step and one-up the Twitter acquisition, they bumped the time limit for the video clips to 15 seconds. Innovative? Not really. Effective? Of course. Then the creators of YouTube launched MixBit, which in terms of features and possibilities completely obliterates both Vine and Instagram. And although MIxBit is by far a superior product, almost a year later very few have even heard of it. Such is the power of Facebook's draw.
When Snapchat developed the latest evolution in image sharing, Facebook immediately saw the potential and the buzz it would create. Last year Zuck and friends offered $3 billion for the startup, which was flatly rejected by Snapchat. In this humble writer's opinion, that was a mistake. More directly put: " You turned down $3 BILLION?? Are you guys out of your freaking minds?" See, technology will always have glitches, quirks, and fierce competition, so if you can develop an awesome idea and then take the money and run off to your own island, it's never a bad idea.
Will Snapchat Snap Back or Get Its Back Snapped?
Facebook being what it is, after Snapchat's hand to the face they decided to create their own version, Slingshot, which is currently in the works. The timing is pretty good as well, since Snapchat is currently in the wake of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that it deceived its customers. The service is supposed to be 'the erasable internet', where pictures and videos sent from one user to the next become non-existent after a preset amount of time which is limited to 10 seconds or less. Unfortunately, that wasn't really the case all the time. The recipient devices stored the videos, unencrypted, on the device indefinitely. They could be viewed at any point after that just by connecting the device to a computer and browsing the files. Yeah, that NSFW stuff that you sent to your (now ex-) boyfriend is still on his phone, ready for publishing online. Whoops.
Will it Be Better, or Will it Even Matter?
Facebook has another reason to mimic the Snapchat idea as well as adding something more to their arsenal. They are losing teen users in droves, and Snapchat has been snapping them up. Facebook wants to be the ubiquitous, quintessential website that everyone uses - from teens to grandma and grandpa. Losing the young crowd means eventual obsolescence.
The biggest question is whether or not the original idea that drew everyone to Snapchat will be a priority for Facebook: non-permanency. There's no historical evidence to suggest that Facebook would ever want to have erasable content, but then what's the point in copying Snapchat? (it was supposed to be erasable, that was the allure) The big picture is an interesting conundrum. Facebook makes its money by profiling everyone through their shared content and then targeting advertising at them. An anonymous or temporary data set would be counterintuitive to that model. At the same time, the anonymous/temporary side of things will likely draw more people toward it, possibly draining from the revenue side.
However things shake out, if Facebook successfully follows through with SlingShot it will be a winner just because it's on Facebook. Except for teens, no one leaves Facebook. It's the internet equivalent of Hotel California. Which means that for businesses, it's another opportunity to connect to potential clients through your social media dashboard. Since it's unlikely that Facebook will ever allow complete anonymity or anything to be temporary, Snapchat may survive if they can get their issues fixed with their reputation still in intact. And since few end users pay much attention to any news, that seems more likely than not.