Mark Zuckerberg Has Never Done Anything Original and I Can Prove It
Young, billionaire, CEO and owner of majority voting power of a global company that owns apps and social networks used by billions of people every day. I am talking, of course, about Mark Zuckerberg.
Those who read this resume and know Zuck’s story might imagine a modern, digital version of the great inventors of the past. A creative, innovative brain, a living legend among us. The Einstein of this generation, the Nicolaus Copernicus of the 21st century who saw before everyone else that our lives would revolve around connected screens.
Except that this is not the case. Sorry to say, but Zuck is a good businessman and an excellent copycat. And that is all. He is no visionary.
For some years now, Zuckerberg’s empire has been under real threat for the first time. It’s a modern version of the Opium Wars that set Britain empire on a collision course with a closed and powerful China in the 19th century. Only now the opium is different: it is the endorphin shot released by likes and 15-second viral videos.
When he saw himself losing the Gen Z to TikTok, Zuckerberg reacted as usual: by copying. He copied TikTok right out of the box. What are the Reels if not a poor copy of TikTok, “please don’t upload videos from TikTok to Reels”?
Like any good warlord, Zuckerberg acts on several simultaneous fronts and tries to anticipate the next moves of his 5D chess game. While he tries to contain the advance of the Tiktokian troops on the current battlefield, he spends billions of dollars on his nucelar weapon: the metaverse.
It would be fascinating if it were new, but the metaverse is just the latest in a series of attempts to make virtual reality a thing, a technology that sounds interesting on paper but has been making human beings puke and/or get a headache since the 1980s.
Even the name is not original. Zuck stole the word “metaverse” — to the point of changing the name of his company to Meta — from a Neil Stephenson novel that he must have read as a teenager and thought was awesome.
(Indeed, a black and oriental samurai who is also a super hacker, a description of Hiro Protagonist, the protagonist of Stephenson’s Snowcrash, is an irresistible character.)
Two of Meta’s three main apps were bought — that’s where Zuckerberg’s business abilities comes in. Instagram and WhatsApp were the biggest bargains in tech business history. They would have been threats to Facebook itself had they not been acquired while there was still time.
When he tried the same thing with Snapchat, another threat that emerged in 2013, Zuck was met with something new: a “no”.
The refusal led him to desperate measures, and it was then that he discovered the power of copy, although not at first.
Before he ended Snapchat’s growth by copying the stories feature on Instagram, Zuck tried his luck with dedicated, uninspired, and forgettable apps like Poke, Slingshot, and Bolt. (If you don’t remember those, don’t blame yourself.)
Incidentally, it’s curious how Zuckerberg’s history of failed copies seems to be largely ignored.
Besides the failed copies of Snapchat, in a quick, off the top of my head list, I recall that he has already tried unsuccessfully to copy:
- Twitter in 2013, adding “follow” and sharing (RT) features to Facebook.
- IGTV in 2018, an ambitious undertake against YouTube that came to nothing.
- Tinder, in another feature stuck on Facebook that… seriously, does anyone use this thing?
Facebook, by the way, was a copy made in earlier stages. In 2003, the Winklevoss brothers approached a bright young programmer in their dorm room at Harvard University to help them with a project to create a social network for college students. The young man was Zuck.
He liked the idea, but not the partners, so he decided to bypass the Winklevoss and go for it by himself. Typical Zuckerberg.
But those who think that Facebook was Mark’s original sin are wrong.
Before this, he had caused controversy at Harvard by launching FaceMash, a site that took pictures of students from the university’s central directory and put them side by side for others to choose the hottest people.
It was a copy of Hot or Not, launched three years earlier by two Silicon Valley engineers who had made a habit of rating the beauty of random women on the street, as they were walking pieces of meat, and did not always agree with the “grades” they assigned to them.
In this incident, Zuck almost committed the single creative act of his entire career. The original idea of FaceMash was to compare the students’ photos with those of animals.
In his blog, he wrote at the time:
9:48pm. I’m a little intoxicated, not gonna lie. So what if it’s not even 10pm and it’s a Tuesday night? What? The Kirkland facebook is open on my computer desktop and some of these people have pretty horrendous facebook pics. I almost want to put some of these faces next to pictures of farm animals and have people vote on which is more attractive.
Ops, maybe… not even this? He proceeded:
It’s not such a great idea and probably not even funny, but Billy comes up with the idea of comparing two people from the facebook, and only sometimes putting a farm animal in there. Good call Mr. Olson! I think he’s onto something.
A little over two hours later, Zuck announced on the same blog that he was working on the project, but had left out the animals.
Discuss @ Hacker News.