- Historically, Zuckerberg has responded aggressively to competition.
- It looks like Facebook is now at war against Snapchat — "Carthage must be destroyed!"
- Facebook needs to peel off very few users to severely dent Snapchat's growth.
- That's why it doesn't matter if Facebook's copycat features aren't as good.
Imagine two speeding cars racing each other down the road. One car is being driven by Mark Zuckerberg, the other by Evan Spiegel. Suddenly, Zuck throws out a box of tacks onto the road behind him, and they puncture the tires on Spiegel's car.
It's obvious what Zuckerberg is trying to do — slow down Spiegel's vehicle.
Now imagine that the only spectators along the roadside are tech bloggers. They'd likely look closely at the tacks, to see how well they are designed, and conclude, "Hmm these are low-quality nails. Not very sharp. And they look ugly. It's embarrassing that Zuck believes these bargain-basement tacks are worthy of the job!"
But Zuck doesn't care about their quality. He doesn't need those nails to build a new house. He only cares that Evan's car now has a flat tire.
That, pretty much, is what has just happened between Facebook and Snapchat.
After Snapchat filed for its IPO on February 2, Facebook introduced copycat features into Messenger (Messenger Day) and WhatsApp (Status) that replicate Snapchat's Stories function. Facebook has previously copied Stories for Instagram:
BI Graphics/Mike Nudelman/Statista
The reviews have been unkind.
My colleague Alex Heath called Facebook's copycats a "confusing mess" and made this status update to demonstrate his point (image below).
But ... the gracefulness of Facebook's new Snapchat-like functions are not the point.
The metrics are the point.
- Snapchat has 158 million daily average users.
- Facebook, by contrast, has 1.2 billion DAUs.
- Instagram has 400 million DAUs.
- WhatsApp has about 840 million daily users.
Zuckerberg only needs a tiny percentage of all those users to be on his copycat functions and he will have severely damaged Snapchat. Its user-growth is already slowing. But otherwise the product looks healthy and exciting. They compete for ad dollars — so Snapchat remains a threat to Facebook.
Consider how Zuckerberg responds to threats.
In 2011, on the day Google launched Google+, a direct competitor to Facebook, Zuckerberg switched on the red neon "Lockdown" sign at the Menlo Park HQ campus and held an all-hands meeting. He told them, "Carthage must be destroyed!" — a reference to a Roman senator's call for war, which Zuckerberg remembered from a class he took at Harvard.
Zuckerberg's people worked seven days a week to fight off the threat. Posters went up around Menlo Park that said, "CARTHAGO DELENDA EST" — the war cry in Latin.
A former Google exec who worked at Facebook at the time, Paul Adams, was told his non-compete agreement was now over and interrogated by his new colleagues for everything he knew, according to Antonio Garcia Martinez, who worked at Facebook at the time.
"Facebook was not fucking around. This was total war," Garcia Martinez later wrote of the experience.
Google+ was eventually defeated.
So now Facebook's desire to provide multiple alternatives to Snapchat across all its properties makes more sense: Carthage must be destroyed!
10% of Snapchat's user-base (16 million DAUs) is equivalent to just half a percent of Facebook's combined DAUs (3.3 billion if you include duplicates) on its three major apps.
Zuck only needs half a percent of his users to prefer his copycat tool and he will have deprived Spiegel of 10% of his potential future users. That's a serious dent.
So while you might think that copycat functions like Messenger Day and WhatsApp Status are tacky, that is not the point.
The real point is that they're tacks.
- Marketers are unimpressed with Snapchat compared to Facebook and Google
- Facebook Messenger has perfected its Snapchat clone
- Snapchat has opened a new storefront for Spectacles in Los Angeles