Me-Too Mentality is Bad for Users, Marketers, and Startups

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Web 2.0 has a huge me-too problem. Everyday a new company announces a ‘new’ product which is nothing more than the old product with slight modifications or a few small additional features. This mentality is not only bad for users but also for marketers and even the startups.
A prime example of this phenomenon can be witnessed by comparing Dodgeball, Twitter, Jaiku, Tumblr, Pownce and a plethora of other microblogging tools. 90% of the services these different tools offer are the same, and the 10% that differentiates them is not significant enough to make most users switch.
Bad for the users
With social networks and mini social networks or microblogging tools, most users join and use the service that the rest of their friends use. However, when you have 10 different tools that offer largely the same service with 1 or 2 features differentiating them all the decision making process becomes a lot more complex. For example, if there are 10 friends, and each of them ends up liking the 1 different feature in each of the 10 hypothetical services, you have a problem. These me-too services have caused users to have fragmented networks and force them to either sign up and manage multiple accounts, lose touch with their friends on other networks, or resort to third-party tools to aggregate and mass-post information to all the networks.
I’m having this problem now as most of my friends use Twitter but some of them have started using Pownce. I keep posting to Twitter, the few that have moved, keep posting to Pownce, and we both assume that the other is still reading our posts but in actuality there is a disconnect.
Bad for the marketers
Because the lack of one large unified platform and the fragmentation of the individuals’ social network, the job becomes that much harder for the advertiser. Rather than being able to target all 10 of the friends on one network the marketer has to either target a fewer number of people on one network or all of them on the various different networks. At the same time, it is harder for the marketer to find out the number of active users that a network has. For example, when Pownce was first released, I signed up for the service, along with most of my other friends, but ultimately many of them returned to Twitter. However, these users are counted twice, once for each network. This increases the amount of work that the marketer has to do and reduces the returns at the same time.
Bad for the startup
Though I’m using the example of microblogging tools, the same idea works for any platform. Again, because of the fragmented social network, it is harder for the startup to evaluate its own success because of active and inactive users and makes it harder to portray an accurate picture to marketing partners and investors alike (because you can use third-party tools which make it seem like you’re active on the multiple networks). Not only that, but the initial users that sign up but don’t stay long-term use resources but add no long-term value.
Is it too far fetched to argue that all these mini-networks, when combined, would provide better value for users, the marketers, and the joint-company?

Cameron Olthuis

Cameron Olthuis

Cameron Olthuis

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  • Mike Rundle

    I think Tumblr is the only service you’ve listed that is significantly different from the others, I’d say it’s more of a of company rather than a Dodgeball-type company, but regardless of that the article is spot-on.
    People who start these me-too companies are essentially relying on the short attention span that Web 2.0 followers and tech enthusiasts typically have. I’ve been at SXSW every year for the past few years, and this past March was all about Twitter – everyone talked, ate, saw, collaborated on Twitter – they were the darling of the festival. What everyone conveniently forgot about was that the previous year Dodgeball was exactly the same way – everyone was talking about Dodgeball, using Dodgeball to figure out where the best afterparty was, etc. Twitter in 2007 is Dodgeball in 2006. Even though the two services do similar things, were popular with the same crowd, Twitter fanatics this year have already forgotten about Dodgeball because of the lack of an attention span.
    Kevin Rose used to have the hottest startup around, Digg, and after SXSW he and the team noticed just how much fresh media attention the Twitter guys had and certainly wanted to be back in the spotlight as well. Because Twitter (and Pownce) have 0 cost-of-entry as far as technical development is concerned, he and his team could take a little time away from Digg and pop-off a Twitter-type web app with little effort expended. Now, he’s not only taking away some users from Twitter he’s taking away the spotlight, and I think that matters to him more than his userbase ever could.

  • RMNL

    This is were standards would be helpful. One protocol, different interfaces. You choose which one you like most, but you can still see your friends that use another.

  • Derek van Vliet

    Speaking as a member of a startup, I can say the redundancy is not necessarily intentional. Sometimes it seems like there are so few new ideas out there and so many people working on them. The odds of someone else working on the same idea you are is actually pretty good, because of how easy it is to develop products such as these. And if you see someone launch a product similar to yours, you are not necessarily going to drop what you’re working tirelessly on.
    Startups that develop with interoperability in mind help to reduce the redundancy. Make your data portable so users can pick up and go. Focus on your features and it will force your competition to do likewise.

  • Hashim

    Thank goodness email is an open network!

  • Chris Duffy

    The internet is my social network.

  • Michael Jensen

    I really don’t think it’s that bad. In the end the “best” one wins, it just takes a while. The others will die. First to market often gets the advantage, but unless they impress their users, they will go somewhere else. Think about when the Facebook API came out, everyone in SEO surged to Facebook (who hadn’t already been there). Facebook was an early player, and they differentiated themselves with an awesome platform.
    Sometimes the difference between the startups seems small, but small things end up being huge differences, and those differences is what attracts passion and word of mouth.

  • Vancouver Island Daryl

    Your missing good for SEO, the more locations to link to your site, the higher your link count potential will be.

  • Andrew Johnson

    Despite all of the money start ups gobble up, most of these sites are easily and cheaply duplicated. 10 years into the web people are still launching new dating sites.
    What is more important here is a site’s traffic volume. Most users only know of and remember a handful of sites. Marketers are going to get the majority of their traffic from sites that actually have a strong userbase. As for the startups, there is no reason they shouldn’t be able to try to compete. Even being #5 in a “hot” market can lead to a nice 7 or 8 figure payday.

  • Scot Wilcox

    Excellent post. I liked it so much, I featured it my own company’s news blog.
    It’s not just that the services themselves are so similar, you’re right on the mark about the publicity. Yes, sometimes something actually *is* “new” or “innovative,” but 9 times out of 10, it’s variations on a theme. Those variations are what the announcements should highlight, or we’ll all just dismiss them as more of the same ole, same ole. It wears you out reading near-identical sentences in 20 different press releases!

  • Anthony

    It’s not far fetched at all to argue that when combined they would provide better value to everyone. It would be a logical and smart move. Even so I just don’t see it actually happening. You’d be asking the founders of each to check a lot of ambition and ego at the door for it to work. The way I’ve seen it in low start-ups people will only explore that option when numbers start to decline or funds get tight.