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Facebook’s ability to rip off its rivals will save it

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The core Facebook product is looking increasingly middle-aged and teens’ growing revulsion towards the service has been among the biggest tech themes of 2013. Arguably, the success of sizzling teen apps like Snapchat, Kik and Viber can be directly traced to Facebook’s inability to evolve. But even though the core service may be stumbling, Facebook holds two aces: Two of the company’s standalone apps — Facebook Messenger and Instagram — are ripping off core features from  rival apps with splendid success.

When Instagram swiped every key function from Vine this past summer, industry views were mixed. Some thought Vine still did the short video clip thing better while others applauded Instagram’s longer clip lengths. The free market has now rendered its judgement. As recently as last June, Vine was a monumental blockbuster — the No. 1 iPhone app in the United States across all categories. But by December 23rd, Vine has dropped to No. 28 and seems stuck on an accelerating downward slope. Meanwhile Instagram started the year bouncing between positions No. 15 to 20 on the iPhone download chart. As of Monday, the app is No. 11 and has recently been popping in and out of the top 10.

It is now clear that Instagram’s absorption of key Vine features killed the momentum of the hottest app of the early summer.

Snapchat is now the hot new app and fewer people are talking about Vine with each passing month. With its most recent act of app vampirism, Instagram gained new relevance and heft, improving its download performance notably… while leaving its victim staggering with blood loss.

Something similar is happening in the messaging app world. WeChat and LINE are still on rampage in Latin America, Africa and Asia, adding tens of millions of new users every quarter. WhatsApp just added 100 million monthly active users in only four months. But in the U.S. market, Facebook Messenger has turned into a beast.

Facebook Messenger spent the summer struggling to break into the top 20 iPhone download chart in the U.S., but has now muscled its way to No. 2 on the day before Christmas Eve — in the most important app week of the year. Facebook has had once again copied nearly all of the major features from its key rivals with its messaging app, from stickers to private photo messaging.

The Facebook website and social network itself may be dowdy and boring, but the company’s sexy vampire brides are all white-hot. Facebook Messenger and Instagram are the two most successful parasite apps in America, leaching their rivals of new ideas and features with merciless fervor, gorging on the vitality of challenger software.

This is what will keep Facebook in the ring for years to come.

After launching mobile game company SpringToys tragically early in 2000, Tero Kuittinen spent eight years doing equity research at firms including Alliance Capital and Opstock. He is currently an analyst and VP of North American sales at mobile diagnostics and expense management Alekstra, and has contributed to, Forbes and Business 2.0 Magazine in addition to BGR.