If you look around, you’ll notice the people and organizations moving the fastest are the focused ones. Not only do they focus on singular ideas, but within the territory of those ideas, they are able to focus on the key variables....Focus turns energy into results.
I read this through the lens of my recent focus on The Instagram Saga (the desperate flailing of Meta’s social platforms as they copy whatever platforms people seem to like).
I remember hearing somewhere that every company only gets one truly unique idea. Large corporations build that idea into a position of dominance, then protect their existence by “borrowing” from others (either through copying or acquiring). At least, I think it was something like that.
Facebook was MySpace with better filtering at the beginning (college kids only) and then a News Feed. Instagram was mobile-first photo sharing that made your pictures look better. Twitter was blogging without the pressure (a blank page is less scary when you only have space for a few words). Pinterest was a visually appealing, invite-only bookmarking platform with built-in discovery.
Some of those might still feel like more-or-less accurate descriptions. Some may feel quaint at this point.
What’s happened to these platforms over time can be seen as a matter of focus.
Twitter didn’t have any. And is now focused on catching up and trying to latch onto what its next “thing” is.
Pinterest focused on extending the platform into commerce, hoping to turn inspiration into action. (And on The Great Stories Freakout when everyone added full-screen vertical short-form video.)
Facebook focused on growth and market share above all else. Mostly through engagement, as that helped keep ad revenue flowing in. (Many of their current ills and the societal narrative can be attributed to this engagement obsession, the wrong metric rarely leads to the right outcome.
Instagram focused on every other platform that had a moment in the sun, copying whatever feature it figured made it different and appealing to users (usually missing the point in the process).
It comes down to how much and what kind of focus did The User command?
Was the focus on user experience and preferences on your platform? Or on what other platforms the user was using and why?
About making your platform better for the user? Or about trying to take away reasons to leave?
And who, exactly, is The User for each platform?
When viewed as products of focus, it’s easy to see how each social platform has ended up in their current position. Thinking through how decisions reflect what is being focused on can help a clearer picture form amongst the headlines and head scratching and “how did we get here?”s.