Three years ago, L.A. tech mogul Evan Spiegel, the founder of disappearing-photo app Snapchat, made waves when he turned down a $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook’sMark Zuckerberg. On Wednesday, Facebook announced it was buying Masquerade, a super-popular app whose technology lets users virtually swap faces and apply other special effects to their selfies and videos, much like the filters available on Snapchat.
Facebook is no stranger to creating features that appear to resemble other apps: it launched aSnapchat clone called Slingshot in 2014 and, in 2015, a feature called “On This Day” that surfaces your old Facebook posts and seems to resemble an app called Timehop. Like Twitter, Facebook now features a “Trending” section on its homepage, showing users personalized collections of trending headlines and stories. Facebook C.O.O. Sheryl Sandberg has started referring to Facebook as the new “town hall,” which doesn’t sound all that different from Twitter’s self-description as a “global town square.”
And Facebook isn’t alone in taking cues from the competition: Twitter recently announced it would experiment with algorithmic, non-chronological timelines—which could make your Twitter feed more like your Facebook News Feed and less like a real-time list of updates. Instagram, which Facebook bought for a cool $1 billion in 2012, is reportedly building out its mobile advertising strategy to resemble Facebook’s.
None of this is meant to implicate one specific social-network giant in copying another. In fact, Silicon Valley is experiencing a moment of social-media convergence. Every three months, these companies have to report their earnings. Shareholders and investors want to see growth across the board—not just revenue, but user acquisition, an increase in daily or monthly active users. If one tactic or feature seems to be working particularly well for one company, another may latch onto it to see if it works for them too. But in the end, users flock to Twitter for one specific experience they can’t get elsewhere—as they do with Facebook, or Snapchat, and so on. If these tech behemoths all start to resemble one amalgam of features, it could ultimately cost them.
The Oversharer: He has a lot on his mind, and even more on his home page. He is a veritable stranger to the words “delete” and “oops.” He’s like a chatty cabdriver who has exchanged the orientation “geo-political” for “highly personal.” He’s able to saddle any Facebook comment or conversation with an exciting update about his crush on Helen Mirren. He has recently posted a video of the domestic dispute that took place next door to him. He has a photo album called “My Large Intestine.” He is typing even as we speak.