Silicon Valley has become synonymous with innovation, assigning the highest value to original and groundbreaking ideas. With that, copycatting is thought of as a cardinal sin; a dirty, get-rich-quick scheme that rarely makes a company look good.
But copycatting happens more often in Silicon Valley than many would like to admit. The latest case -- between social media rivals Facebook (FB) and Snap (SNAP) -- has played out on a public stage over the past several months, kicked off by the launch of Instagram Stories last August, which was instantly labeled as a clone of Snapchat Stories.
Snap has been adding fewer new users to its platform in the past several months (five million new users were added in the fourth quarter vs. 15 million in the third quarter) and Instagram Stories is widely considered to be a primary reason for the slowdown. Facebook's growing competition with Snap is also a major factor behind Wall Street's predominantly bearish stance on the stock.
More recently, there's been WhatsApp Status, Messenger Day and Facebook Stories, all of which capitalize on Snap's idea of sharing ephemeral photos and videos, a feature that's disrupted traditional avenues of communicating. Facebook first appeared to copy Snapchat when it introduced Poke, a feature for sending disappearing photos and messages, back in 2012, as well as Slingshot, an app that allows users to draw text on photos or videos, in 2014. Facebook eventually killed off both Poke and Slingshot.
Facebook is hardly the first tech behemoth to clone another company's ideas. Microsoft (MSFT) famously derived its game-changing Windows 98 operating system from Apple's (AAPL) original Macintosh OS, an idea that Steve Jobs himself conceived after a visit to Xerox's (XRX) Palo Alto Research Center.
"If you want to destroy your competitor, [copying is] what you do," said Johnny Won, founder of tech consulting firm Hyperstop. "These are the ways that Microsoft became Microsoft, by using the same [copycatting] tactics."
"Alphabet's (GOOGL) Google has done the same thing for years and Snapchat will eventually do it, too," he added.
Issues of copying appear more obvious among mobile and social networking companies because they develop direct-to-consumer applications, said Chi-Hua Chein, managing partner at venture capital firm Goodwater Capital. Companies are also pushing out similar products at a faster rate than in the past because they don't necessarily have to copy a bunch of complicated code to copy rivals' features.
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