Creative Labs was one of Facebook’s divisions that opened just two years ago. It had created some of the most ‘out there’ and interesting parts of Facebook itself. When first launched, it was a startup integrated into Facebook and it came up with a number of fascinating social apps, which were all very experimental in nature. The goal was to test interaction patterns and new interfaces.
Today, however, the experimenting is over: Facebook has shut down the division. The consequence of this is that all of the apps that Creative Labs was responsible for have now also been discontinued. An official statement has been released.
Since their launches, we’ve incorporated elements of Slingshot, Riff and Rooms into the Facebook for iOS and Android apps. We haven’t updated these apps in some time and we’ve decided to officially end support by removing them from the App Store and Google Play.
Creative Labs was an important element of Facebook and was responsible for things such as the alternative News Feed browser Paper. While this was possibly the highlight for the subsidiary company, it failed to do any other truly amazing things. In fact, many felt that all they did was copy existing apps and features, most notably Snapchat. Creative Labs developed Slingshot to compete with Snapchat, but failed miserably at this.
Share life as it happens. Filter and draw on photos and looping videos, sling them to your followers, and react to carry on private 1:1 conversations.
Clearly, the ephemeral messaging offered by Slingshot was an effort to replicate the success of Snapchat. Snapchat seemed to be the target that Creative Labs was aiming for, because they also released ‘Riffs’, which was another Snapchat feature copy, focusing specifically on their Stories option. Unfortunately for the company, some people though Riff was an April Fool’s joke.
Facebook’s Riff is an after-hours project led by Product Manager Josh Miller, the founder of Branch who also worked on Rooms, another social app from Facebook Creative Labs. Miller has clarified via Twitter that Riff is not a prank and that Apple’s App Store is simply having issues. Alright then…
Another Creative Labs initiative was Rooms. Rooms was a little bit more interesting than the other products it came up with. The goal was to return to the old fashioned web forums, but enable them to be accessible for mobile users. However, for some reason, people could only join a forum if they took a screenshot of a QR code. Rooms never really did pick up, perhaps because its creator Josh Miller got a far more interesting job.
Miller, 24, who sold his company to Facebook in January of last year for a reported $15 million, announced last week that he was leaving the social network for something new. That endeavor, he disclosed publicly today, is as the White House’s first Director of Product.
According to Facebook, there were no job losses as a result of the shutdown of Creative Labs. However, people are now worried about the future of other Facebook enterprises, most notably Paper, an iOS only app that isn’t really catching on yet.
Facebook’s mobile reader app Paper – an app that TechCrunch called “years ahead of its time” and The Verge said far surpassed the actual Facebook app – has actually lost users since its launch in February, according the web metrics company ComScore.
While Paper is still available for download in the App Store, no updates have been received since March. Add to that the fact that Creative Labs is now officially closed, it is unlikely that any app updates will be released in the future, if at all. At the same time, however, Facebook is committed to innovation and development and they have already said that they will enable small teams within the company to focus on interesting new standalone apps. Additionally, those who have already downloaded Riff or Slingshot will be able to continue using them.
Insiders believe that getting rid of Creative Labs and effectively axing three different projects is a very strategic decision. Still, some people fail to understand the good business practice in removing an app that was only launched last April in the case of Riff, or 18 months in the case of Slingshot. Even Rooms is still quite new, as it was only introduced in October. Most of these apps were developed to overcome some of the issues people had with Facebook. For instance, Rooms resolved the hidden identity problems. People are not convinced that these issues have been fixed yet.
It is not often that something in the tech world goes from ‘new’ to ‘ignored’ to ‘removed’ as quickly as this, unless it is a publicity stunt like the one seen with the Flabby Bird app. Facebook obviously has to make difficult decisions when they see that their apps are not generating any user interest. On the other hand, some believe that it may be better for Facebook to not reinvent the wheel again, but to learn from their mistakes and build something bigger and better. The theories behind the Creative Labs apps are good, but the execution has just been poor. The question is whether people will now feel that they are no longer able to get an as good experience with the social media platform overall.
It is also not clear whether Facebook now wants to focus solely on the traditional social media services. While the company itself says that the most important features of the apps have been incorporated into the platform itself, it seems a major step backwards for a company that has been so forward thinking for so long. There may not be a reason for separate apps, but there should always be a reason for growth and development.
Interestingly, Facebook is not the only one that is cutting its services. Just a few hours before the Facebook Creative Labs announcement, DropBox announced that they would be making cuts as well.
Building new products is about learning as much as it’s about making. It’s also about tough choices. Over the past few months, we’ve increased our team’s focus on collaboration and simplifying the way people work together. In light of that, we’ve made the difficult decision to shut down Carousel and Mailbox.