To Copy or Not to Copy. That’s the Question

18 May,2021

 

By Bhuvi Gupta

 

Bhuvi GuptaHave you ever used any of the short video apps that sprung up after the ban on Tik Tok?

 

At first look, you couldn’t differentiate between the apps. They have similar if not outright identical user interfaces. The differences only start peeping in when the ‘satisfaction’ achieved after some scrolling doesn’t quite match up to what was achieved with TikTok due to their much-praised algorithm.

 

While the apps did receive some flak for not investing into development, innovation, and design despite having the resources to, the logic, which I believed trumped, was user familiarity that accelerated migration.

 

TakaTak is designed to be mistook for TikTok

 

Feature Replication has become a common practice for digital products. Snapchat’s success with stories was very quickly replicated across all platforms as was TikTok’s short videos. Substack and Clubhouse are the the latest digital groundbreakers whose formats are being replicated by tech giants or already have been launched (Twitter’s Spaces)

 

So should brands copy? Or innovate? I think the right answer is to copy, but  innovatively like Apple. Apple has never launched a product category. What it has done and brilliantly, is to innovate on user experience and design on what already existed. This is true for its vast product line, be it the personal computer, the iPod or even their latest success, Airpods.  This is the holy grail of imitation.

 

Why Copy? The answer is Network Effects

 

All social media networks have largely been governed by Metcalfe’s Law, which states that the value of a network is 2x that of the total users using it. Metcalfe’s Law governed the success of the telephones and explains the dominance and success of all digital social networks today. By replicating popular features into their pre-existing interfaces, digital networks try to make best use of their critical mass, which helps to stem migration to other platforms.  Also, great for creators which to take advantage of monetization and different audiences often come to the legacy imitator social network.

 

The Art of Imitation

 

Beware though; blind replication without paying attention to brand and objective will lead to deterioration and debacle. Something, which is happening with LinkedIn. LinkedIn has tried replicating Facebook’s newsfeed and Snapchat’s Stories but both have been done without much thought and adequate content moderation filters. As a result, LinkedIn has moved away from its primary objective of a robust professional network to somehow straddle a reality that is now part social. Stories on LinkedIn are another such misfire. Stories, which by their format, are fun and frivolous, do not fit with the brand ethos of a professional network that LinkedIn is.

 

This is in contrast to Instagram, which copied Stories from Snap but modified them to suit their audience rather than replicate all features of Snap. As a result, Stories has now become a useful addition to Instagram, and more successful than the original.

 

Apple, which understands its brand positioning and accordingly creates products in pre-existing categories, is also able to get away with charging a sizeable premium for copycat products.

 

Copying today is essential for survival for social media networks. One is already seeing the mass migration of people from Facebook to other social networks. If it was not for products such as Groups and Messenger, the platform would have been long dead. Hence, all the Snapchat-inspired features and now a Substack copycat product have ensured that Facebook has not gone the Orkut way.  Hence, it is safe to say that the copycats in the digital world are here to stay. They will live long but prosper only if they copy smart!

 

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