Feature Overlap is Ruining Social Media
Just a few years ago, quite a bit of our social media “experience” was reasonably disparate. Facebook offered a way to have more reliable contact with your friends, from those you saw every day to people who had slowly drifted from your life due to random circumstance. Instagram allowed you to share pictures and create digital memories. Snapchat created a venue through which to share quick, spur of the moment photos that permanently disappeared seconds after being opened. Twitter gave us a venue for bursts of thoughts and ideas, as well as the most up to date (albeit not always accurate) commentary and news. Although certainly not the only social media options, as arguably the biggest players in the social media sphere, these options encompass the vast majority of most individual’s social media use. For a brief period of time, the remained in this almost harmonious state.
However, almost immediately, the crushing demands of capitalism resurfaced. It was quickly (if not immediately) realized that there were users to be taken by combining features.
Facebook has intensely, aggressively begun copying Snapchat features and implementing them in it’s competing app, Instagram. As briefly discussed earlier, Snapchat and Instagram were almost entirely dissimilar at the start. Instagram was arguably primarily used for heavily curated, often manipulated/processed images, posted in perpetuity for all to see. Snapchat, almost inversely, was disposable. Quick, 1–10 second photos or videos that had very basic editing options within the app, and were largely shoddy, meaningless, yet enjoyable content. Anecdotally, I used the two apps on a daily basis, but for entirely different reasons. In 2017, however, Facebook begun lifting Snapchat features and bolting them on to an increasingly bloated Instagram. In August of 2016, a “stories” feature was added to Instagram, allowing users to post temporary pictures or videos to a “story”, identical in function and name to a previously existing core Snapchat feature. Shortly after, in 2017, the face filters that Snapchat had become mildly famous for were shamelessly added to Instagram as well. A feature allowing users to send temporary, self-deleting photos to other Instagram users was added recently as well. In essence, the bones of the Snapchat experience have been cloned and crudely attached to Instagram. Snap‘s (formerly known as Snapchat) CEO Evan Spiegel recently suggested that Facebook’s blatant attempt to copy their feature-set was meaningless, stating that “at the end of the day, just because Yahoo has a search box, it doesn’t mean they’re Google.”
This isn’t to say that Facebook/Instagram are the only one’s guilty of diluting their social media offerings. Snapchat itself has an option for users to message eachother through text, adding yet another messenger option to an already crowded market. Google itself offers an almost laughable twelve messaging platforms, competing with services including but not limited to:
- Facebook Messenger
- Instagram messaging
- Silent Phone
This list represents a fraction of available and popular messaging applications.
None of this feature creep makes it’s respective platform better. At all. It dilutes the core experience, often at the detriment of user understanding and engagement. Anecdotally, some of my most social media-minded friends actively avoid updating their applications so as to avoid user interface changes and unnecessary bloat. From a messaging perspective, the problem becomes even worse. Which application should one use to contact friends? If they don’t reply to a text, what is the preferred platform? Messenger? Allo? Kik? Many of these services fail to provide a compelling reason for existing at all, with identical features and smaller userbases. Fragmenting an already shockingly fragmented ecosystem in a desperate bid to turn a profit is detrimental to us all.
If current social media experiences focused on refining a core experience and providing a compelling, unique reason for users to engage with their platform, it seems likely that overall interest would increase, and development costs would go down.