Facebook this week closed its Creative Labs application-incubator division and pulled three experimental Android and iOS apps the team created from Google Play and the Apple App Store. The company will no longer support or update Rooms, a year-old app that lets user anonymously create and join small online communities; Slingshot, an ephemeral, or "disappearing," messaging app; or the group-video app Riff.
"Since their launches, we've incorporated elements of Slingshot, Riff and Rooms into the Facebook for iOS and Android apps," Facebook said in a statement. "We haven't updated these apps in some time and we've decided to officially end support."
The Creative Labs team also developed a series of other standalone apps that will still be available, including Groups, Mentions, Moments and Paper. The company apparently wants to focus its development efforts on core products, but the move also suggests a new approach to innovation from Facebook, in which early ideas and experimental projects could be kept under wraps.
"I suspect that they have plenty of other app efforts going on that we just don't know about," says Brian Blau, research director with Gartner.
Death of Creative Labs could change how Facebook innovates
Creative Labs was positioned as a startup-like initiative for employees to build experimental apps and experiences without the pressure of grandiose expectations. "Regardless of its origin, a startup is a pretty risky venture," says Blau. "Most don't succeed."
Facebook will likely be more reserved and cautious with future product launches, following lackluster response to Graph Search and the complete failure of Facebook Home, a software "skin" of sorts designed to add more Facebook hooks to Android phones.
"I think Facebook learned some very valuable lessons by those failures," Blau says. He also says he thinks more companies have learned from Apple's quiet product development strategy. Such an approach leads to less negative attention when the results come up short, according to Blau.
"Facebook, for a long time, hasn't had a great track record developing apps organically … and getting them to be as popular as the other popular Facebook services," he says. And though the apps made by Creative Labs simply failed to draw users in most cases, "not all efforts need to result in a billion-person app," says Blau.
Facebook isn't afraid to fail when testing experimental ideas, but it gains little by doing so publicly. And despite the death of Creative Labs, Facebook's dynamic development of its most popular apps and services, including Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, Oculus and Facebook.com, suggest the company has moved into a new phase of internal innovation.
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