Why Facebook And Twitter Are Not Most Innovative Companies

Both companies have turned their focus away from users and toward shareholders to get bigger, not better. Revenue is great, but not at the expense of the product.

The simplest reason Facebook and Twitter are not on this year's Most Innovative Companies list: Neither produced innovations worth celebrating. A spot on MIC, as we call it, is not a tenured position. Every year, we assess innovation and the impact of those initiatives. In the history of our list, fewer than one-third of the companies return from one year to the next. This year, only seven are consecutive honorees, an indication of how more companies in more corners of the world are innovating to seek a competitive edge, with the stakes only getting higher.

Facebook and Twitter deserve special comment because they have been among the rare perennials, and their recent moves reveal two companies engaging in innovation's evil twin: short-term thinking at the expense of long-term value. Facebook's most notable product achievement in 2012 was Poke, a facsimile of Snapchat, the trendy-with-teens (and sexters) photo app. Poke stumbled almost immediately. In fact, Facebook has made a cottage industry out of chasing hot Internet services (Pinterest and Yelp included), instead of developing new ideas to delight its billion users. Similarly, Twitter's product strategy feels wholly defensive. Its most notable new feature is photo filters, a plainly unoriginal addition.

Both companies have turned their focus away from users and toward shareholders to get bigger, not better. Revenue is great, but not at the expense of the product. Twitter's focus on improving ad revenue requires a consistent experience across the web, smartphones, and tablets, so it forced its once-elegant mobile apps to conform to a clunky desktop look, because that model works best for advertisers. That's the exact opposite of how product development is supposed to go.

Facebook, facing the strain of a tumbling stock price last summer, has transformed the implicit understanding of the site—my posts will be seen by those who want to see them—into an advertising opportunity. It freely admits that only a small percentage of posts make it to friends and fans, but it can fix that if you buy ads. To compound matters, Facebook's aggressive mucking with its privacy policies has bred a deep distrust of how the company uses the content shared on Facebook (and Instagram) among a significant, vocal segment of its users.

Neither service is a lost cause. Yet. But both would be well served to revisit what made them special in the first place: engaging with peers, not merely consuming content from brands and celebrities; being a creative platform for developers; and championing social media where users, not advertisers, call the shots.

[Illustration by Adam Simpson]

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34 Comments

  • Keith

    How much did BuzzFeed pay you to make the list? 

    Changing the way advertising is done indeed.

  • Stephan White

    Facebook isn't about growth, it's about sustainment. Snapchat isn't just
    for sexting. No one uses Path. Tumblr was always better than Twitter,
    not that Tumblr and Twitter were even in the same categories.

    Glyn Willmoth

  • Mgambard

    Interestingly enough, this article got far more tweets than all the others...

  • Alexis_in_LA

    Mark Z = extremely gross (is that a complement to say you did coding for something that copies a teen sexting app?) Wow, that guy's got people skills. Cue Office Space music.

  • Gerald Irish

    I don't see why anyone is surprised that Twitter in particular has turned away from its users. They started without any discernible business model so that they could build a huge user base and worry about monetization later.  Well, 'later' has come and Twitter to answer to investors and actually turn a profit.  Now they're focused on monetizing and they simply don't care about screwing over anyone who helped them get to where they are now, including users.

    Anytime a web business starts without a business model it is only inevitable that they're going to have to make some ugly decisions when they're forced to start making money.  Remember, when you sign up for a service that doesn't have a product, YOU are the product.

  • Jami Lee

    Why would a company that set up a system that WANTS you to share with family and friends NOT ensure that your posts make it to them.  Facebook and common sense...oxymoron.  And don't even get me started on their "privacy policies."  May as well call them our "share and share alike" policies.

  • Devani Anjali Alderson

     I agree. Twitter and Facebook are doing a lousy job and they ought to remember why they started.  That being said, I still use both services, and am glad to be able to connect with folks from all over and 'meet' interesting people.  That is one thing I will always be grateful for these sites... Lets just hope they get back to their roots and customer experience instead of worrying about stock prices.

  • Christopher Duignan

    I completely agree. I like the idea that this list is about now, no "legacies" or "tenures". It doesn't mean that Facebook or Twitter are not successful or on their way out, it just recognizes that their more recent developments haven't been as innovative as those of others.

  • Nonpalindromic-smeg

    Facebook is the new Microsoft.

    Just like Microsoft trying to shoehorn Windows onto cellphones, Facebook is trying to take its pokes and likes and make them look new and relevant.  Each time they try to buy or clone something new found elsewhere Mark Zuckerberg looks more and more like Steve Ballmer.

  • djr12

    The challenge for both Twitter and Facebook is to somehow monetize their prime asset, which is being free and therefore close to universal. Of the two, I think Twitter has the better path available for growth: targeted tweets. Of course we don't want that -- nobody ever wants advertising. But ignoring one tweet in 100 (or 25 or whatever) is easy enough to do. It's a price I'm willing to pay, because I know that nothing is ever truly free. 

    App.net is great in theory, but because you have to pay, it inherently and automatically will never mimic the reach of Twitter. The larger problem with Twitter apps isn't that their own apps are being compromised; it's that the company is using BS excuses to limit access to third-party developers like Tweetbot. 

    Facebook is a trickier proposition. They basically want to make money by breaking a previously working service and charging you to fix it? Good luck with that model. 

  • Vikas Paul

    Very true facebook and twitter because of their Commercial interests lost their innovative tag

  • Manly Ozzie

    Both companies have turned their focus away from users and toward shareholders to get bigger, not better.
    Revenue is great, but not at the expense of the product. The fact they're market going down cause they not develop their innovation for year 2013.

  • jesseG23

    First, Tumblr and Twitter are not substitutes of each other. That is just simply not true. This takes basic social media knowledge. 

    And also, when did Twitter change it's apps to match it's clunky desktop? Seriously.. this did not happen..

  • West_vanessa

    Who can even figure Facebook out? I've tried to delete my account more than once, it's much harder to get out of the cult than it is to get in...

  • Anonymous

    Funny thing is that 95% of folks who found this article probably did so through Facebook and Twitter. Just saying.

  • anon

    ummm... unlikely.  More likely?  Google.  And, even so, as stated these "most innovative" lists are really lists of innovations in the past year.  None of what you would find from FB, Twit, or even Goog that would have led you to this article would have been last year's innovations. 
    Just sayin'.

  • Richard Elton

    LinkedIn to FastCompany MICs to this article. Don't think anyone innovated especially hard or well to get me here.