Innovation is dead: The History of Copycats

February 5, 2006 - Get free updates of new posts here

I have been seeing so many new sites pop up lately that I can hardly keep track of them. I notice a pattern among many of the new ones to copy old ones and very little innovation has come of late. Think hard, no, really think hard:

What is the last website that has come out and has really changed your life or at least web experience?

I think for me it was Google. I wanted to list out some ground breaking sites and copycats after them. I wish more would take lead and revolutionize things instead of just biting off of things done before.

List of Originals and their followers…

Social Bookmarking digg > reddit > meanne > kaboodle > wink > more…

Video Sharing

vimeo > youtube: revver > castpost > videoegg > more…

Social Networks

friendster: orkut > myspace > Facebook > tagworld > tagged > more…

File Storage

xdrive > Streamload > > yousendit > dropload > putfile more…


flickr: webshots > dotphoto > picasa > shutterfly > more…


google: yahoo > snap > dipsie > so many more, help me in comment section

Cheesy web promotions

pet Rock: milliondollarhomepage > 1000tags > virgin mary on eBay

copy cat

Is my order wrong or what sites have really changed your web experience? Stop copying and start creating!

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23 responses to “Innovation is dead: The History of Copycats

  1. bill Reply

    pepsi came after coke. walmart came after kmart. dell came after ibm. toyota came after
    chevy. just because you do it first doesn’t mean you do it best.

  2. Noah Kagan Reply

    i knew those comments would start appearing how pepsi v coke and other companies. I am not debating that new companies can’t take something old and make it better, I am saying 2 things:

    1- The new companies are not really doing anything that much better than the old companies
    2- Recently, no companies have come out with anything revolutionary.

  3. Cap Reply

    yeah I haven’t seen anything really new lately (2-3 years?)

    it’s like, “Okay thats really cool. but do I need another site like this?”

    even with Google and Yahoo.. they bring out so much service and products that its difficult to keep up.. everytime I find out about something “new” on the web.. some jerk will come along and say “oh thats been out for a long time now, you moron.”

    I’m going to go with Yahoo. For whatever reason I use it more than Google since 1995.

  4. dk Reply

    I’m reminded of a quote from a very old slashdot discussion. (

    “[T]o us in the tech field, the biotech revolution, to use your example, seems slow-paced, but that’s because we’re watching it happen. To the common man on the street, who doesn’t hear about these advances very often, he’s amazed that the scientists were able to do it that easily, simply because he didn’t see the piles of rejected ideas that were unfeasable.”

  5. SA Blog Reply

    One could look at the situation from a different perspective. Innovation has been the driving force behind many WEB 2.0 developments and the problem may be that the internet has given copycats a platform to easily duplicate things.

  6. TKM Reply

    You put Google as your last holy grail. However…

    InfoSeek -> Altavista -> WebCrawler -> Google
    Hotmail -> Yahoo Mail -> GMail
    Mapquest -> Yahoo Maps -> Google Maps
    USENET -> ONElist -> eGroups -> YahooGroups -> Google Groups
    Technorati -> Google Blog Search

    I could go on…

    Exactly how is Google launching brand-new services? Are you sure you’re not debating how new companies can’t take something old and make it better? That’s Google for me.

  7. Rob Reply

    I think some the problem lies in marketing. It is much easier to convince consumers to use something they already know. So the most successful products are those that take a familiar concept and tweak it.

    True paradigm-breaking products take longer to catch on.

  8. Noah Brier Reply

    Personally was the last service to completely change the way I use the web (although you could argue Firefox as well). I guess I don’t agree that small increases in functionality doesn’t make something innovative. To me Facebook’s only allowing college students to sign up was a huge innovation over Friendster’s let-the-world-in mentality.

    Further, what would you say about web-based email? Gmail is really just a copycat of hotmail, but it’s certainly a huge innovation: you can’t even compare the two.

    Also, just getting back to your question for a second, there aren’t that many sites that change people’s lives. If there were they wouldn’t really be life changing. The sites that make up my web life are: Google,, Bloglines, Gmail and (my site). Speaking of which, what about blog software, certainly WordPress has changed your life since Google has, no? (Yeah, I know it’s stretching the rules a little, but hey.)

  9. Yali Friedman Reply

    I’d like to cite a source from under your own roof: Web Services in the Mist:

    As a biochemist, I found the analogy of the similarity of human and chimpanzee genome content and web 2.0 infrastructure illuminating.

    What we’re seeing here isn’t a lack of innovation, but rather evolutionary instead of revolutionary change. Successive companies are refining the models until something hits. Sure there’s a lot of questionable progress, but revolutionary changes also exhibit this (eg. pet rocks, drinking birds, and singing fish were a real departure from other novelty retail products, but didn’t have any ‘legs’).

    From a 30,000 foot view, it’s better to refine existing, but imperfect, models than to reinvent the wheel each time. So many people haven’t heard of blogs, rss, flickr, or tagging yet. Why invent yet new paradigms before these can harden and mature into concepts that become widely adopted?

  10. Aaron Reply

    It’s very hard to tell if this is criticism of the followers. I think you have failed to label your followers as either me-toos or re-innovators. Also, can’t quite make out the timeline of your lists… are you saying that webshots came after flickr? and where does ofoto fit into the mix in this case? I will take our own situation, for example; if the online storage market had been left alone, consumers would be faced with:

    Sometimes you need to see what someone did wrong, before you can do something right.


  11. Cap Reply

    thats a good mention. word press, typepad, blogger, etc. are good stuff. they certainly have changed life for some of us, in a sense.

    and oh yeah, how can I forget… wikipedia! it’s still pretty new I guess. 5 years now? I guess thats the last site where I think “omg this is awesome.”

  12. Bob Uhl Reply

    Actually, I think that reddit is a bigger thing than, and different from it as well. merely gave me a new way to deal with my bookmarks, and some sites (e.g.–which incidentally would be my favourite social networking site, were it not for the small audience and the preponderance of Really Strange Burning Man Fans) take advantage of that in cool ways, sure. But reddit has completely changed the way I go about my daily webbing. The vast majority of my blog entries these days are cool things I saw thereon; the news sites which I used formerly are contributing much less than previously. Indeed, it’s amusing to see how a reddit entry can appear days later–or in one notable case, two reddit entries were combined into one idea on a decidedly non-technical website.

    So I’d say that from my perspective we’re getting a nice series of Cool New Sites. Google, Flickr,, reddit. Now if only I could find social networking with the technical savvy of but the audience of friendster or myspace…

  13. Robert G Reply

    What about the RSS Readers? Which one came first?

    Bloglines has definately changed the way I use the internet.

    Also, TKM, shouldn’t Yahoo come before infoseek.?

  14. Scott Rafer Reply

    Friendster explicitly copied Ryze. Jonathan seems to have gotten Adrian’s blessing to do so. Now that Adrian is re-investing in Ryze, from his new HQ in Panama, I’d watch for it to rise back up.

  15. Ryan Green Reply

    I would not equate Picasa to Flickr at all, for a couple of reasons. First, the obvious: one is web-based, and the other is local. Flickr is about sharing your photos with others, picasa is for organizing ALL your pictures, public or private. Plus, there’s no bandwidth limit on picasa, only your HD. Flickr is for-pay

  16. Brad Reply

    Flickr was the first photo site to come along? Are you nuts? Flickr started in ’04. Webshots was in 1995. Shutterfly, Snapfish, Ofoto (now Kodak’s) and dotPhoto all started in 1999 or 2000. Granted – Flickr changed the game, but they are hardly the original. There are dozens of other photo sites that are no longer around that also pre-dated Flickr.