How Not To Innovate: Trying To Create An Exact Replica Of Another Service

from the gotta-go-beyond-that dept

We’ve talked in the past about the importance of copying what other companies do as a business strategy (and just how common it is throughout history, despite the pejorative terms associated with it). But one of the key factors in making “copying” a successful strategy is in knowing how to improve upon what you copy. It’s why Apple has been so successful over the years. Yes, it builds on the ideas of others, but does so in a way that improves them and makes them more usable.

Yet, we always hear of people fearing companies copying one another (sometimes mistakenly calling them “thieves” or decrying their unoriginality). And yet, it seems pointless to worry about such things. Even as people always seem to be afraid of big companies with big budgets copying others, history has shown time and time again that this almost never works. That’s because merely copying what someone is doing not only takes you “where the puck has been” rather than “where the puck is going,” but also has you focused solely on the outward, superficial aspects of what makes another product or service successful. What’s missing is an awful lot of details in the background — the knowledge of why certain things work and don’t work, as well as how users and customers actually interact with the product. Such copying almost inevitably fails.

With that said, it seems like Samsung’s plan to make its own Facebook, using the rather telling code name “Samsung Facebook” seems destined to fail for exactly that reason. The very fact that they’re internally calling it “Samsung Facebook” shows that they’re already aiming at a target in the past, rather than the future. It’s the exact wrong approach and almost guarantees that whatever comes out of it will be seen as pointless by the time it launches. Learning from what others do is a useful strategy. Copying what others do can be a very important business strategy — but it has to be done with the goal of exceeding where those others are heading, not in replicating what they’ve already done. That’s a recipe for expensive failures.

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Companies: facebook, samsung

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Comments on “How Not To Innovate: Trying To Create An Exact Replica Of Another Service”

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Danny (profile) says:

Re: Fails for a different reason.


You mean apple does just fine after copying the iPhone from Samsung, Nokia, LG, etc, etc.

The iPhone was not new or unique when it came out, lots of similar phones had been out for ages. Its just that apple sells to a lot of people that like things because they are made by apple, fanboys if you like. And said fanboys believe that nothing came before the iPhone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Fails for a different reason.

Similar, not same. The iPhone is unique in that there was not a phone *exactly* like it.

Agreed with the point you’re trying to make though.

It’s funny to see pro apple folks talk about how *everyone* copies apple while being blind to the fact apple copied FROM *everyone*. That’s how competition works.

Andrew F (profile) says:

Re: Fails for a different reason.

Samsung copies the iPhone but adds stuff to it — super AMOLED,different processors, larger screen, Android, etc. And it’s selling at a different price range.

Not sure what Samsung can add to Facebook.

That said, I think the takeaway might be less about copying and more about playing to your strengths. If Samsung had a reputation for building great software, I’d be curious. As it is, Samsung’s Touchwiz software is definitely the weakest part of its phones. And I don’t have a lot of confidence in Samsung’s ability to build its own social network.

Anonymous Coward says:

Disagree, unless the copy is an exact duplicate, there could be any ammount of things why one would choose the new over the old, it would depend on what an individual prioritizes when they buy their products
One thing one person prioritizes in choosing a new product/service, might not necassarily mean that everyone else will too………..i.e. if there are two services offering near identical services, but the “copy cat” service runs so well on my cmputr, and the other a resource hog, guess what, im not gonna go for the one that lets me cook my eggs in the morning.
How many casual buyers prioritizes that?

The only copy i detest is the minute detail to detail copy, the only time i would support company like apple in a litigation, if a company steal your code set up shop use their unmodified code and call themselves apple, then yeah, they’ve got grounds, but, THATS THE ONLY FUCKING TIME litigation over copyright/patent right is acceptable in my mind……….otherwise we’ll just end up in a world with people making excuses after excuse, on why we should take it further and further, all the while rationalizing to me why a kick up the ass is good for me

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

But this is HOW to innovate. Why bother doing R&D, studying the market, looking for niches and all of that very expensive research, when you can let someone else do it for you, and just reap the rewards? Oh yea, patents. Not completely evil are they?


Point being: if you just copy YOU DON’T REAP THE REWARDS, because no one gives a shit about someone who just does a direct copy.

This has nothing to do with patents.

Anonymous Coward says:

Facebook would be the last company I’d want to copy right about now. Having been long term AOL and MySpace users, I saw the slow dissatisfaction creep into those service that I now see growing among many Facebook users. I also see Facebook, for the most part, blithely ignoring that growing dissatisfaction and doing things the way they want to do them just like AOL and MySpace did.

Just as AOL was dominant ten years ago and MySpace was dominant five years ago, it seems like just a matter of time before Facebook’s sun sets as well (if they continue down the path they are headed).

Instead of trying to emulate Facebook, a company would be better served keeping their ears open and building a service with features people say they want and just wait. With each passing week I see more and more people on Facebook shopping around for a new service (G+ might have a chance if they’d just be patient and stop trying it shove it down people throats).

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