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For years, Twitter has rolled out new features to make its service more like Facebook. Images in the tweet stream. Profile pages. Video. A more robust ad platform. It’s as if the Twitter board of directors has spent the last two years pining to be as big as Facebook, and has consistently concluded that mimicking elements of that platform will unlock that secret code.
It’s a strategy that simply has not worked, and partially resulted in the ouster of Dick Costolo and the return of the Prodigal Jack (who – one would assume – has a vision for Twitter that’s something other than “Facebook light”).
But here’s why even a Jack Attack might not save the company from eventual MySpace-ization:
Facebook is slowly strangling Twitter at every turn. (highlight to tweet)
Nearly every time Twitter rolls out a differentiated feature or related service, Facebook quickly releases its own flavor of the same idea, muting Twitter’s edge. This tactic has been ongoing for years, and is very much accelerating today.
An Incomplete History of Facebook Strangling Twitter
1. Twitter rolls out Vine. Facebook buys Instagram, which becomes far larger
2. Twitter launches lead generation advertising cards. Facebook answers with its own version.
3. Twitter launches a one-click buy button. Facebook does the same in a back-to-the-future twist after shelving F-commerce and Facebook coins years ago.
4. Twitter buys Periscope and builds it into a popular service. Facebook launches Facebook Live, and makes it initially available only to verified accounts, ensuring that influencers will experiment with it.
Facebook also tunes its News Feed algorithm to show Facebook Live videos at a high ratio, guaranteeing that early users will find success with the tactic. (Note, based on this scenario I’ve launched a new Facebook LIVE video podcast and game show called Who’s That Hater. Here’s a sample episode.)
5. Twitter doesn’t own Medium, but the relationship between the two services is quite cozy at the strategic and technical levels. Not surprising, given that Twitter co-founder Ev Williams is the founder of Medium. Just as Medium was starting to get some real traction outside its tech and entrepreneur core, what does Facebook do? A rollout of a totally overhauled Notes feature, which now looks and acts remarkably like Medium.
6. Jack’s first major announcement since changing the locks on the boardroom door was the rollout of Moments, a slick and inspired way to use topical tweets as a de-facto news source. It’s trending topics packaged for easy consumption. It’s good. Very good. Days later, Facebook announces plans to launch Notify, an in-app avenue for real-time news. It is fundamentally the same thing as Moments.
Is Facebook the New Microsoft?
Twitter is struggling with user growth and ad sales. For the first time, there is real weakness and uncertainty (even layoffs) at Twitter. And Zuckerberg and friends will continue to claw at those wounds. Each time Twitter innovates Facebook mimics it, starving them of oxygen and any real novelty that may attract the casual users Twitter desperately needs to keep growing.
This series of mirrored moves is right out of the Microsoft playbook of the 80s and 90s. No coincidence perhaps that Microsoft owns 10% of Facebook.
History tells us, however, that the “match and suffocate” strategy can work for a long time, but perhaps not forever. A combination of the right innovation, market timing, and miscalculation by your rival can change the balance of power. The rise of the iPhone and iPad while Microsoft essentially ignored mobile computing, is just one example. Perhaps Tesla will be another?
Thus, while Facebook’s enormous financial and engineering resources, combined with their agility and cutthroat approach doesn’t bode well for Twitter to become the Apple to their Microsoft, I’m not ready to wholly bet against it.