模仿: Facebook 是如何试图壁 Snapchat
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Just before Facebook went public in 2012, Mark Zuckerberg had a bound red book titled Facebook Was Not Originally Created to Be a Company placed on every employee’s desk. The book, written by Zuckerberg himself, ended with an urgent, even ominous rallying cry:
If we don’t create the thing that kills Facebook, someone else will. “Embracing change” isn’t enough. It has to be so hardwired into who we are that even talking about it seems redundant. The internet is not a friendly place. Things that don’t stay relevant don’t even get the luxury of leaving ruins. They disappear.
Consciously or not, Zuckerberg was channeling another book that is practically holy scripture in the cult-like startup world: The Innovator’s Dilemma, a 1997 volume by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. He wrote it before “disruptive innovation” was a punchline on the HBO comedy 硅谷, and it has managed to maintain its revered status for two decades.
Which brings us to Snapchat, a company that perfectly embodies the business dynamics Christensen laid out in The Innovator’s Dilemma: a new player in a market makes a product or service that is so far beneath what the big players are offering that it at first seems silly—why would they waste their time down there? Who cares about a sexting app? But the entrant fills a need, as teenagers prefer using an app where the messages disappear after a time. Then the entrant gets better (adding more features like video sharing and geofilters) and moves upmarket (adding Snapchat Stories and moving into the social networking), attracting a bigger share of the market (passing Twitter in daily active users) and better customers (older, more affluent users, and celebrities and media companies signing on as publishers).
Zuckerberg is hyper-aware of this potentially lethal threat from startups; he builds separate teams at Facebook to create new apps and snatches up the best new companies by making aggressive and successful offers for hot startups like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus Rift. But that approach didn’t work with Snapchat. When Facebook tried to buy it in 2013, Snapchat founder and CEO Evan Spiegel turned down the offer—reportedly more than $3 billion. For Zuckerberg, Snapchat became the one that got away. And Snapchat kept moving up and up, attracting more users and stealing more photos and videos that users formerly posted to Facebook or Instagram.
But that makes it sound like all the social media services are somehow converging or become indistinguishable from one another. Not so. They differ radically in their cultures and customs—what users value and how that plays out in their actions. If you compare Facebook and Snapchat right now, you 可以 do the same things on Facebook and Instagram that you do on Snapchat: post photos, message friends, send money, read articles, watch celebrities’ videos. But you don’t do the same things because the different apps were built in different orders for different audiences. They have different aesthetics and different customs.
Those difference are even more stark when you look at the people who work for the two companies. From the beginning, Snapchat’s ethos was so directly antithetical to Facebook’s that anyone who chose to work at the latter would struggle to understand the former. It wasn’t merely arrogance that promoted this misunderstanding, though that was the case in the beginning.
Rather, if you believed in the mission of connecting the world through a permanent online social network, believed so strongly that you chose to spend your time working on that network, how could you ever fully appreciate the long-term potential of an app like Snapchat, where everything disappeared every 24 hours? It became an ideological holy war. You were part of the Facebook-Instagram religion, with its belief in permanence and data, or you were part of the Snapchat religion, which had placed its faith in ephemerality and reliance on a small group of executives who made decisions without data. You couldn’t believe in both.
Meanwhile, Zuckerberg had no intention of allowing the one that got away to be the one that pulled an Innovator’s Dilemma on Facebook. In the summer of 2016, he told company employees at an all-hands meeting that they shouldn’t let their pride get in the way of doing what is best for users—even if that meant copying rival companies. Zuckerberg’s message became an informal slogan at Facebook: “Don’t be too proud to copy.” And it certainly wasn’t.
Snapchat had proven there was an enormous market for its ephemeral approach. Thus, undaunted by his failed attempts to buy Snapchat, Zuckerberg set out to attack Facebook’s biggest threat on multiple fronts.
Facebook copied Snapchat’s Stories feature, which let users post photo and video slideshows that disappeared after 24 hours, wherever it could—in its Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram apps. Facebook also added impermanent messaging options to Instagram and Messenger and began testing face filters that were extremely similar to Snapchat’s lenses.
In Brazil and Canada, users who opened their Facebook app would see an open camera window—similar, again, to Snapchat opening directly to the camera—that let them apply Brazilian- or Canadian-themed face paint to cheer on their country in the Olympics. They could also add geofilter lookalikes on top of their photos that said “Team Canada” and “Team Brazil.”
This was a multi-front war. By adopting all of Snapchat’s features in different parts of its empire, Facebook and Instagram could slow Snapchat’s growth. Hundreds of millions of people use Facebook and Instagram but don’t use Snapchat. If they started enjoying silly Facebook lenses or recognized the appeal of impermanent Instagram Stories, they might never bother downloading Snapchat.
In a 2016 interview with techcrunch’s Josh Constine, Instagram founder Kevin Systrom was refreshingly honest about copying Snapchat:
“Instagram deserves all the credit for bringing filters to the forefront. This isn’t about who invented something. This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it,” he said. “I don’t believe [Instagram and Snapchat] are substitutes, and that’s OK.”
Instagram Stories became a massive success. Just two months after its launch, it had 100 million daily active users, a number that doubled to 200 million by April 2017 and 250 million by June 2017, figures that dwarfed Snapchat’s 166 million daily active users.
Throughout the end of 2016 and early 2017, I remember friends commenting on how many more views they got on their Instagram Stories than on their Snapchat Stories. And that made sense: Instagram had more than 700 million daily active users, compared to just 166 million for Snapchat, and most users had more friends and followers on Instagram than they did on Snapchat. The thrill of seeing how many people were watching your story—the endorphin spike that Snapchat had tapped into—was now spreading through Instagram’s larger user base.
But here’s the thing: Snapchat was never meant to be a place where you had thousands of followers and strove for the most possible views of your story. After all, is chasing story views that different from chasing likes and retweets? But the way Spiegel envisioned Snapchat wasn’t conducive to growth. Instagram is far more tailored for it, as the app suggests friends to follow and makes it much easier to find and follow accounts you might like.
Still, companies sometimes need to be careful what they wish for. By fueling such massive growth, Instagram may be merely recreating the early 2010s Facebook that led to Snapchat’s popularity in the first place. High story views and follower counts are a sugar rush now, but they lead to bloated feeds and a deep lack of intimacy.
ESPN reporter Kate Fagan wrote about this lack of intimacy in her 2017 book, What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen, which tells the story of 19-year-old Maddy Holleran, who committed suicide in 2014. Fagan’s insights about the pitfalls of social media are worth quoting at length:
Perhaps the most important distinguishing feature of a social account is its public nature, the understanding each user has, from the moment of launch, is that everything is for public consumption. But perhaps we are overstating the effect of this distinction. If in private, most of us allow ourselves to say or write certain truths we otherwise wouldn’t, then perhaps the reverse holds true. Perhaps we share things in public that we couldn’t offer in private. If we’ve accepted that we are different in private, is this not also true for how we reveal ourselves in public? And which version of ourselves is more real?
As young people, we are trying to find our voice. Trying out who we are, again and again, until something feels more accurate than the previous thing . . . We believe what we see. And we can’t be what we can’t see. We are so credulous when we assume that everyone else must be the version of themselves they portray in public, even if we are hardly the people we present ourselves as.
We put time into our social media because we believe it affords us the unique opportunity to fashion our own identity. We care about the images we post and the lines we write underneath those images, because it’s all part of reflecting who we are and constructing who we want to become. Would you put more time, or less, into a post if you knew it was your last? Would you want the image and words to be perfect, an ideal, lasting representation of you? Or would you quickly recognize the futility of the pursuit, that the whole thing was a mirage merely reflecting distorted images of the real world? And would you instead, spend your time absorbing the world itself?
Ultimately, absorbing the world itself is what Snapchat wants to empower its users to do. But this is often at odds with users’ short term desires and Snapchat’s goals for growth and profit. The more intimate a platform’s experience is, the harder it is to place advertisements there. So while Snapchat messaging may be more raw and unfiltered than glamorous Instagram shots, Snapchat Stories posts are growing more and more staged and similar to other social media feeds.
Some young people in Snapchat’s core demographic have addressed this by creating second Instagram accounts to share more authentic, personal photos and videos with their closest friends. Dubbed “Finstagrams,” short for Fake Instagrams, they restrict their following to a few dozen of their closest friends, or perhaps even fewer, and abandon the typical social norms of Instagram. They post multiple pictures per day—mundane photos, screenshots of text conversations, silly selfies.
Nonetheless, it’s telling that these users decided to create second Instagram accounts to foster this sense of intimacy versus using Snapchat more. And while Spiegel may not want to make Snapchat a social network focused on the number of views your posts get, those high numbers attract more advertising dollars.
Facebook tried to copy Snapchat a million times. But the failures didn’t matter—only the success would.