The trend of copying ideas has existed since innovation itself existed. Picasso once said “Good artist borrow, great artist steal.” But this year the debate of ethical copying (if there is anything like that) has been on top of the list of debates in the tech community and you can guess why. Instagram has been on a rampage lately, cloning almost all of Snapchat’s features starting with its stories and this has raised a lot of eyebrows in the Silicon Valley.
At the Techcrunch Disrupt in New York, Instagram VP of product Kevin Wiel was pretty clear on his stance on the matter. “I think it would frankly be silly of us if we were to say ‘Oh, see that good idea over there that’s actually fulfilling a need people have to share more moments of their life? Because one person did that we can’t even go near that idea,'” he said. Copying or to put it differently, seeking inspiration from another product and incorporating it in your own is not something new in the Silicon Valley. Hell, if not for this kind of inspiration Apple would have been the only one making smartphones. In truth, this is as necessary in the industry as ingenuity and innovation itself. It drives competition, it drives the creators to be better than they ever were and most of all it results in the creation of technology that was better than before regardless of whether it was copied or genuinely innovated.
Take the Tablet for instance, although the tablet was envisioned and manufactured far before Apple released it, but its iPad revolutionized the device and the end result was other manufacturers releasing the same kind of devices. In the same manner, Google’s drive is a blessing for android users. Well, it was not an ‘original’ idea. Heard of Dropbox? Yup, that’s where the idea came from, but Google mastered it to make it what it is today.
The trend of stealing ideas comes hand in hand with the growth of an industry. There is always a better way to do something and sometimes somebody other than its creators find it, make it better and make it their own. “If we are being honest with ourselves, this is the way the tech industry works and frankly this is how all industries work. Good ideas start in one place, and they spread across the entire industry. Kudos to Snapchat for being the first to stories, but it’s a format it’s widely going to be adapted across a lot of different platforms,” added Wiel.
Instagram released their version of stories 9 months ago and since then have released a slew of Snapchat like features in it. Most recently, they released their face filters feature which is very much like Snap's own augmented reality feature, Face Mask. The argument made by Wiel is that stories is a format and he is very much correct. Facebook invented the newsfeed but now that feature exists in a lot of apps. Similarly the hashtag feature introduced by twitter became common in all media platforms. The point was that all of these addressed a certain need of the customers and made it easier for people to search or see what they want.
Legally speaking, the theft of an idea is not enough to hold someone guilty, it is the execution of the idea that matters. For example Apple lost a lawsuit against Microsoft over its Mac OS. The central premise of copyrights (for creative works) and patents (for inventions) is this: you can't protect an idea—only the execution of it. That, in the end, was the crux of the court's ruling in Microsoft's favor.
The reason this instance, out of the thousands of instances of copying got this kind of attention was because Instagram came out with better and more polished versions of the features than Snapchat. Since its launch, Instagram stories grew rapidly to 200 active users daily while Snapchat’s user growth Slumped and stood at 166 million.
In the end the whole tech industry seems to be following the same trend and Instagram has really not done anything wrong on its part. Since almost all of Snap’s features are already on Instagram, the true measure of who is better will come now when they start innovating on their own to beat each other. This will drive them to come out with better features of their own or at least come up with better versions of features offered by its competitor. Well for all those who have been displeased by this, no hard feelings because it’s it all just Business.
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