Written by Nick Heer.

The Audacity of Copying Well

Instagram announced on Monday that they had blatantly copied Snapchat’s “Stories” feature. It’s called Instagram Stories, because they’re clever like that, and Ben Thompson is actually rather impressed:

Still, cloning isn’t enough. The fact features don’t offer useful differentiation does not remove the need for differentiation: the key is figuring out what else can be leveraged. Google, for example, may have largely copied the iPhone’s UI, but the key to Android’s success was the search company’s ability to leverage their advertising-based business model to offer it for free. On the hardware side Samsung leveraged their manufacturing might and long-established distribution channels to dominate the otherwise undifferentiated Android market, at least for a time. And, in perhaps the most famous example of this strategy, Microsoft embraced web standards with Internet Explorer, extended their browser’s capabilities with features like ActiveX, eventually extinguishing the threat when Netscape couldn’t keep up.

This is why it is so fascinating that Facebook is leveraging Instagram in this way. For all of Snapchat’s explosive growth, Instagram is still more than double the size, with far more penetration across multiple demographics and international users. Rather than launch a “Stories” app without the network that is the most fundamental feature of any app built on sharing, Facebook is leveraging one of their most valuable assets: Instagram’s 500 million users.

Unlike Google leveraging their massive user base to try to compete with Facebook, Instagram didn’t try to get clever with their Snapchat clone. It is shockingly — brazenly — similar. And, in a perverse way, that’s probably one of the main reasons it seems to be working so far.

Update: As though Thompson’s argument wasn’t abundantly clear, Instagram just sent out an email newsletter announcing Stories. One of the headings in the email? “Your Friends Are Already There”.