By Enrique Dans
Facebook’s systematic copycat strategy, which the markets have greeted with a 6% share price increase, is among the tactics the U.S. Congress’ antitrust subcommittee documented last week as potentially harmful to competition. Facebook tried four times to clone Snapchat, finally using Instagram as an umbrella and achieving its goal. This time, after failing with Lasso, it’s opted for direct integration with Instagram, a strategy that that has worked so well in the past.
This is precisely what antitrust legislation is supposed to prevent: competitors so powerful and with unlimited resources, that when faced with any initiative that could be considered as competition, they simply buy it or copy. With TikTok being fought on multiple fronts, competitors were bound to try to fill the gap with clones, but Facebook’s strategy is simply based on replicating a rival’s very successful product, and from a position of clear and undoubted leadership. If that’s not a case of predatory competition, then nothing is.
Beyond the possible consequences of applying antitrust legislation to its activities, Facebook risks turning Instagram into a ragbag that is increasingly hard for users to navigate. What started out as a great app to improve your photos and publish them in a few clicks, now requires users to understand how to post photos and videos, convert them into a Story that is displayed for 24 hours and then disappears or moves into the background, link them to make a longer video, or now, make a Reel, which in turn has several additional possibilities lifted directly from TikTok. This complexity is likely to discourage people who are simply not comfortable with so many options.
There are limits to these kinds of umbrella strategies of bundling features into a successful product and Facebook could have reached them with Instagram. Next time you try to upload a simple photo and find that the app now offers you several more alternatives, some longer, some shorter, some ephemeral, some permanent and some a combination thereof: don’t worry, you haven’t suddenly turned into a technophobe. It’s what happens when an app that was originally simple and well-thought out becomes an umbrella used to cover all kinds of tools copied from others. It’s a strategy that may have worked in the past, but that has surely passed its sell-by date.