Copycat Socials Podcast Transcript
The Bright Team
The Bright Team • Nov 15

Copycat Socials Podcast Transcript

Breaking the Feed, Social Media: Beyond the Headlines

What is a "copycat social", and what does it mean for how we think about social media?  We explore what makes a copycat social a copycat social and set up for our series on so-called New Twitters.

Taryn Ward  Hi. I'm Taryn Ward, and this is Breaking the Feed, Social Media: Beyond the Headlines.

TW.  As part of our exploration of new social media networks, we're taking a closer look at how different some of these offerings really are. Internally, we refer to some of these networks as copycats, often because they repackage something that's already out there and attempt to sell it as new.  Framed this way, It sounds a bit harsh, but it's meant to be factual. It's subjective, of course, and depends on what you think makes a social media network different. Is changing the colours and fonts enough? Probably not. What about adding or removing one of five core features? Adding a celebrity influencer, shifting the focus from text to image or from image to text, changing the name of the primary feature? This is a great place to start. 

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TW.  Our core question this episode, then, is what makes a copycat social a copycat social?

TW.  When we evaluate new social media offerings, we look at four main things

  1. Purpose, 
  2. Functionality, 
  3. Revenue model, and 
  4. Design.

TW.  When we look at purpose, we think about one main question, what is the purpose of this network? The revenue model often helps us answer that question, but we'll come back to that later. It's important to understand what the company itself says about why it exists and what problem it is designed to solve along those same lines. Who is the product meant to serve? Who has the problem the new network is meant to solve? All of these things can answer questions around what a new social app's purpose really is.

TW.  The second is functionality: How does the network actually function? What are the core features? How do those features meet or not the stated purpose? How are people likely to actually use the product? Is it in the way developers intend? Or are there other possibilities? In other words, is the product fit for purpose? And/or does it have additional potential? Is it enjoyable to use? Beyond whether it does what it says? What's the experience like from the minute you discover that the new product exists to onboarding to those first experiences? Where are the points of friction? And is this something people are likely to use every day or every week, or, you know, six months down the road?

TW.  Revenue Model also really important, most social media networks are designed to deliver and sell advertisements. So whatever other purposes the developers may claim, those will always be secondary at best. So while this is part of our purpose analysis, in a way, it's also a standalone because it's so important to understanding the offering. The revenue model tells us a lot about purpose and a lot about priorities, and this is often where we find a disconnect. For example, in some cases, there's no clear revenue model. Initially, the network is designed to live on investment rounds until they hit the numbers they need to bring in ads are similar. This means that the founders will need to hit some very specific growth numbers, one way or another, to continue to survive. Similarly, in some cases, it becomes clear fairly quickly that the goal is acquisition which means the network may target growth in one specific demographic or direction.

TW.  Design: How are these first three factors demonstrated by the design of the product? Often, there's a disconnect here, too, so that companies who claim to be carbon neutral or positive make design choices that will use more energy unnecessarily, or companies who claim to be inclusive fail to meet even basic accessibility tests. In other cases, the design is done very well, and both reflects the stated purpose and is pleasant to use. I actually can't think of an example right now, but I'm sure they're out there, and it's really nice when all of these things sort of come together. Often, we see some really clear trends and cycles on the side of things. There'll be some movement between very simple design and an experience that feels clean and open, light and airy, and then maybe a retro twist, sometimes something in neon, and even in company names, we see these trends where it's all lowercase single syllable names, or lowercase single syllable names with the letter missing, and then, just as it brushes with absurdity, it swings back in the other direction.

TW.  So, we've talked about those four considerations. But what actually makes an app a copycat?  It can't be the revenue model alone because virtually all social media networks sell ads or are designed to sell ads one day or to support the selling of ads in some other way. It can't be the purpose alone either because most social media networks claim to want to connect. So really, we're looking primarily at functionality and design as our starting place. Here too. It still surprises me how much overlap there really is. 

TW.  When we started building Bright, we realised quickly how many choices designers and developers have. It felt endless when we first started, it was over overwhelming because we didn't want to just do what everyone else was doing because they were already doing it or because they had done it already, we wanted to really think about what purpose each choice served and whether those choices served the people actually using the network. But that still takes time and effort, and it's a lot easier to take something that people already use, and you know, they already like and assume it's good enough, maybe change one colour or add one new future and call it a day. In some ways, this is part of the move fast and break things attitude that we've seen from Silicon Valley, and that a lot of investors actually really demand part of the justification too, I think, is the sense that it's all been done before. 

Image-based, you have Instagram, text-based, Twitter, video clips, TikTok longer videos, YouTube. So, if you're building on one of these directions, it's tempting to start with what they already have, make some adjustments, or add or remove a feature, and there you have it, a new product.; and in theory, this should work because the leaders of these platforms have done themselves no favours. It doesn't work for a lot of reasons, including the expense involved in competing with such well-funded incumbents. But I understand why it would be tempting to try anyway; beyond objective analyses of design and product, it often comes down to a feeling, and this is where the revenue model and purpose and how these four components all fit together becomes really important.

TW.  There's no firm or final definition as to what makes a social network a copycat. And I'm not talking here about the legal side because that's an entirely different episode. And if you can imagine one that's even drier, I'm talking really about whether a network is offering something then, after considering these four factors, feels new, or at least has the potential to offer something new, a new experience, or whether it's really just recycling, something that's already been done before. Most of the new social offerings presented over the past five years have either been copycats or single features begging to be acquired or copied by an incumbent. So, when people talk about not wanting to deal with another new social network or not wanting to download another new social app, and we press a bit further, the conversation often trends in this direction. Why would we want to do something we've done 10 times before, starting over and ending up in the same place we started isn't very appealing for most people. Next time, we'll look specifically at so-called "New Twitters" or social media networks that have been considered actual or potential alternatives to "X", formerly known as Twitter.

TW.  In the meantime, we'll post a transcript of this episode with references on our website. You can find this and more information about us at

TW.  Until next time, I'm Taryn Ward. Thank you for joining us for Breaking the Feed, Social Media: Beyond the Headlines.

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Two lawyers, two doctors, and an army officer walk into a Zoom meeting and make Bright the best digital social community in the world. The team’s education and diversity of experience have given us the tools to confront some of the toughest tech and social problems.

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