Jul 6, 2023 - Technology

Meta's copycat machine

Meta's <span style="color: #086ABF">acquisitions</span> and <span style="color: #FF4E1F">shut downs</span> of rival apps and features
Data: Axios Reporting; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Meta's new Twitter copycat app, Threads, may seem like an attempt to undercut Elon Musk while he's down, but it's also a continuation of the company's long-standing "clone and conquer" product strategy.

Why it matters: Most of the time, Meta's copycat experiments have failed. But a small number of cloned or acquired features that have worked out, like its TikTok copycat Reels and its Snapchat copycat Stories, have paid off handsomely.

Details: The new app, which functions almost exactly like Twitter, allows users to share text-based posts up to 500 characters long in addition to links, photos and videos up to 5 minutes in length.

  • Existing Instagram users can use their login credentials to log in. Instagram’s existing suite of safety and user controls will be available on Threads.
  • CEO Mark Zuckerberg called the app "an open and friendly space for conversations."

The big picture: Meta has a deep history of launching apps and features mimicking its rivals' offerings, only to shut them down after a few months.

  • Most copycat apps or features launched by Meta that have shuttered lasted less than two years.
  • Meta has tried everything from dating apps to fitness trackers and news readers. While some of the failed products were small losses, others — like Facebook's stand-alone Gaming app that shut down in 2022 after two years — required heavier investment.

Yes, but: Meta typically copies apps or features that are rising in popularity, while Threads is launching as Twitter struggles with product flubs and fleeing advertisers.

Be smart: Regulators have cited Meta's copycat strategy as a point of possible antitrust concern.

  • Lawsuits filed by the Federal Trade Commission and dozens of U.S. states in 2020 allege that Meta, then called Facebook, has long engaged in a "systematic strategy" to eliminate threats to its monopoly, which includes buying and cloning rivals to box them out.

What to watch: It's unclear when Meta will launch Threads in Europe, where it faces even more regulatory scrutiny.

Go deeper: Meta launches Instagram Threads, its Twitter rival

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