Mark Zuckerberg's Menlo Park, California-based social network filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Dec. 21, just one day day before the app went live. The Next Web reports that the company filed for a total of three trademarks related to the new app: one for the eponymous “Poke” app, another for “Facebook Poke,” and one for the app’s iPhone logo.
The irony here is that Facebook already had a trademark for “Poke” since “poking” other users has been an iconic feature of the company’s massive social network ever since it first became open to a general audience beyond its origins among university students. The company first applied for a U.S. trademark for “Poke” in 2006, the same year that the social network opened its service to any user above the age of 13 with a valid e-mail address. The original “Poke” always had an ambiguous purpose within the service beyond getting the attention of other users (or just annoying them in the process), however, and Facebook let the trademark run its course in July 2011.
What happened to convince Facebook to revisit poking? Competition.
The new Facebook “Poke” app, by all accounts, is essentially a carbon-copy of Snapchat’s popular service with a fresh Facebook face grafted on for proper branding purposes. Just like Snapchat, the new-and-improved Poke app lets users send text, video, and photo messages to specified friends that will only exist for 10 seconds after they are received.
Snapchat’s co-founder Evan Spiegel acknowledged Facebook's Poke with a brief statement given to TechCrunch on Friday: "Welcome, Facebook. Seriously."
As Facebook showed recently when it ramped up its competition with Twitter by prioritizing the exclusivity of its photo-sharing service Instagram, the social media giant is willing and eager to acqui-hire any prospective competition. For those that it can’t, the company can use its impressive pool of talent to build a proprietary service in-house that will quickly dwarf any of its smaller competitors.
But winning over users is another matter. A recent GigaOM post shows that while Facebook continues to dominate the free apps rankings, Snapchat is ahead of Facebook Poke by a large margin.
Facebook’s branding might benefit the new service in the long run, however. While the social network is no stranger to privacy concerns, Snapchat has been forced to run from frequent criticisms that it is little more than a “sexting app” in its short life atop the mobile app food chain. Facebook may face any number of ethical and political criticisms, but its one billion-strong user base shows that the social media company has weathered the storm, for better or worse.
Facebook shares fell more than three percent in trading Thursday, falling as low as $25.67 in early afternoon trading.