Conventional wisdom suggests timing is everything, but money and power certainly sway things as well. Being first only matters until it doesn't.
This is the case in the world of social media, at least, where volatility, control and varying degrees of scrambling rule the day. It's an industry in which copycatting might be flattering if it weren't so rampant and seemingly impossible to avoid.
The big social platforms each carved out their unique niches thanks to defining features, characteristics or dominant behaviors, and there will always be crossover — but the overlap is often by design and driven by fear.
Today, it's rare for an established social platform to introduce something genuinely new or innovative. More often than not the major players are at least a couple of steps behind the curve, and they're frequently weighing the tried and true options of locking out, acquiring or otherwise squashing competing services.
Twitter swallows Periscope, stifles Meerkat
The past five weeks demonstrate how quickly things can change in social media. The concept of live streaming video on social sites wasn't even a serious thought, or a realistic desire, until last month. Now people apparently can't get enough of it.
It started at South by Southwest, where Meerkat, an app that lets you broadcast live video streams and share them on social sites, seemed destined to be the next breakout hit, based on its steady stream of media coverage. The attention around Meerkat didn't go unnoticed by Twitter, which was sharpening its knives behind the scenes.
First, Twitter cut off Meerkat for exceeding API request limits, and the service was soon blocked from Twitter's social graph as well. Then, on the same day Meerkat raised $14 million in new funding, Twitter launched Periscope, a strikingly similar app built by a company it acquired only a month prior.
"Twitter probably fast tracked things internally quite a bit to get their own product out into the marketplace," says Carmen Sutter, social product manager, Adobe.
Twitter did not develop Periscope, or the popular video service Vine, but it acquired both companies and their apps before they were publicly released. So for all intents and purposes, Twitter has always controlled both apps.
Acquisitions, and the evolution of social
Twitter's Vine and Periscope acquisitions came from a position of strength, rather than one of weakness. Indeed, Twitter's decision to acquire Periscope early on seems par for the course, and it's hard to imagine what the state of live streaming would look like if Twitter hadn't been prepared for Meerkat.
Users still tend to think of social platforms in terms of single features, and they identify services with their specific individual strengths. "As much as it is about popularity and buzz, it is features that you're known for," says Adam Kleinberg, CEO of the interactive agency Traction.
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