Here in Germany, we’re having early access to a new Instagram feature. Together with Brazil, France and India, the TikTok “inspired” Instagram Reel is already available.
Inspired into quotes, because in all honesty, it looks to like pretty much a TikTok carbon-copy. Judge for yourself, that’s me vertically swiping in an extremely lo-fied GIF (and please, don’t judge me by the feed. This is what I’ve got without any prior interaction with any Reel content).
And for comparison, here’s a TikTok screen recording.
Pretty close, uh? Down to the marquee effect on the synced song title.
That would be a “wow”, except that it is a deja-vu. Because, you know, this is not the first Instagram feature launch that was seen elsewhere before. In many cases that elsewhere was Snapchat.
- Direct - Disappearing messages, pulled from Snapchat.
- Instagram Stories - Videos and photos posts that only last 24 hours. Also from Snapchat and with the same name. They even put stories on WhatsApp, although nobody really uses it…
- Face filters - Rabbit ears and other weird modifications of your face. Also Snapchat.
(and this is ignoring all the mayor acquisition Facebook did, including Instagram itself, WhatsApp and Oculus).
Now, putting aside the business value and the legality of this feature-inspired approach (I’m sure the first is high and the second is well addressed by legal departments), my judgment is one of taste.
And this is not about believing in the myth of a lonely genius inventor that come up with never seen before products. Taking other ideas, evolving and misusing them into a new thing is what really bring new original products to life.
Consider for instance one famous controversy in the history of computers: the argument that Apple Lisa GUI was taken from Xerox PARC’s Star computer. Sure, Steve Jobs visited the Xerox research center and brought back what he saw to Apple. But if you look close enough the Apple Lisa GUI didn’t look like anything like the Xerox’s Star. The Apple team that made Lisa, took the general concept of the GUI and made it tick with a large number of features and improvements.
Now compare it with Stories on Instagram, or to the Reel feature, or to Lens. For all those cases there is a practically unchanged idea taken as it is and slapped in the Instagram UI. And even more unnerving (especially for Snapchat, I guess) is to see how popular their ideas got in somebody else’s product, like for the case of Stories, driven by the network effect’s flywheel of 1+ billion monthly active users of Instagram.
Steve Jobs liked to quote Picasso saying that good artist copy and great artist steal: Facebook’s approach is definitely of the former kind. And as somebody excited by innovation and the future of products, I cannot really love a company whose “inventions” seem to have mostly been done elsewhere. You see, my heart has to be also elsewhere.