It seems like every day a new social network or mobile app launches to mixed amounts of fanfare. In fact, just this past week saw the launch of the popular iPad apps Zite and Flipboard expand onto the iPhone/iPod Touch, as well as Google's introduction into the mobile personalized news reader space with Currents. While I've been a big fan of Zite and Flipboard since they first launched on iPad, this competitive landscape is a micrososm of very disconcerting trend - social saturation. The social networking market is too saturated and is handicapping innovation. Aside from the user interface of Zite, Flipboard and Currents, where is the innovation here? Granted, Flipboard was the first to really succeed in bringing curated news in a table-friendly format, and Zite's claim to fame was that it got smarter the more you used it, but with so many other competitors in the market now – AOL Editions, Yahoo! Livestand and Flud to name a few, it's hard to differentiate between them all. This is even more painfully obvious when each app is pulling in roughly the same personalized content.
I get it – make something successful and others rip it off. This isn't anything new, however the difference here is that for the most part, when it came to mobile & social apps, companies were always one-upping each other and we the user won in the end with increased innovation.
Again, this is a problem across the board. Developers need to get back to basics and remember the mantra that to be successful, one has to do one thing and do it very well. I can't think of a better example of this right now than Instagram. The photo sharing space was as saturated as it got, at least when it came to the web. Flickr and Picasa were the big players with a bunch of other clones. It wasn't until the success of 500px that the web photo sharing market seen any real new innovation and disruption, but even so, 500px still has a far way to go before it can topple the big boys. Fortunately for Instagram, there was no clear leader in mobile photo sharing realm. Flickr and Picasa both dropped the ball on dominating the small screen and the success of apps like Hipstamatic and Camerabag showed that people love filters, although none of them were truly social. Realizing this opportunity allowed Instagram to become one of the hottest startups in years and grow to 5 million users in it's first eight months. Not bad for an app that's not even out on Android yet!
Instead of trying to be the next "(insert name of your competition) killer," stop recreating the wheel and focus disrupting the industry. Instagram caught Flickr and Picasa with their pants down and neither of them have anything close to compete. This is how you gain an advantage and become the next "big boy."