You can say this about Mark Zuckerberg: He isn’t afraid to kill off underperformers. Facebook has launched and ended more new products than some companies put out in years of operation.
The usual process goes something like this: Facebook holds a press event and rolls out a new feature on its network to much fanfare. Often, the products are competitive in nature, a reaction to other companies playing in the same space. No one ends up using the new thing, and Facebook unceremoniously puts a bullet in the product’s head anywhere from months to years later.
It happened again this week with Facebook email, which Facebook effectively killed as of Monday afternoon.
So what has been on Facebook’s hit list over the years?
Back in 2010, Zuckerberg positioned your Facebook email address — free for every user — as an extension of the “modern messaging system.” It hooked up chat, texts and email, all within the bounds of Facebook.
Surprise! Facebook didn’t realize — or just ignored — the fact that people use different services for different things, and don’t want to unify them all inside of Facebook.
The company ended the four-year test this week. Sayanora, @facebook.com extensions.
In 2011, Facebook debuted Deals, the company’s supposed Groupon killer.
It killed nothing, except itself. Just four months later, Facebook Deals expired.
Facebook wanted a way to get users to migrate their currency onto the Facebook platform, thereby disintermediating the idea of actually spending money. As the theory goes, it’s far easier to spend “credits” since they don’t feel like real cash!
Alas, it became harder to spend Credits on things like games on Facebook, considering that game makers created their own forms of currency to spend inside their apps. It basically added another unnecessary step to the entire process and created more “friction” — the No. 1 enemy of e-commerce.
Facebook killed Credits on its platform midway through 2012.
This was one big blunder.
With no warning and no way to opt out, Facebook introduced Beacon in 2007, a way to track users’ activity on outside partner websites and share that information back to Facebook and users’ News Feeds.
Needless to say, the privacy violations here outraged users, who immediately let Facebook know as much. Facebook introduced an opt-out feature a month later, and finally killed the thing entirely in 2009 — a result of an ongoing class-action lawsuit against the product.
A blatant Quora rip-off, Facebook introduced a way for users to ask questions of their friends directly from their status update boxes back in 2010 (man, that was a year Facebook launched a bunch of stuff that didn’t work).
Surprise, surprise, no one wanted to use a full-blown Facebook product to ask questions. Facebook killed it off in 2013.
In retrospect, Gifts was problematic from the start.
The fruit of Facebook’s acquisition of Karma, it was Facebook’s attempt to actually sell physical goods on its platform, letting users send each other items all via Facebook.
That it failed is hardly surprising. Facebook doesn’t know how to do fulfillment, let alone deal with inventory, customer service and mailing issues with dozens of partner retailers. Add to that the fact that people just didn’t want to send each other chintzy gifts on Facebook, and it spelled the product’s demise.
In physical form, at least. Users can still send digital gifts to each other, like iTunes gift cards, but don’t expect any mini-muffin baskets courtesy of Facebook in the future.
The overall lesson here? Facebook is totally willing to launch a bunch of products and kill them off if they aren’t working out. Some could criticize the strategy; perhaps trying a different tack and sticking with the product could bring increased adoption over time.
(It’s probably worth noting here that Facebook doesn’t deep-six everything quickly. Poke, Facebook’s Snapchat clone, is still limping along in the App Store. And a massive News Feed redesign that tested poorly is still live for some small percent of users, though it won’t see a wide rollout.)
To be fair, killing off products that just aren’t up to snuff isn’t unique to Facebook. Google, Apple and other tech giants also go through cycles of releases to much ado, only to kill off the products months or years later. It is, alas, a part of the hype cycle of Silicon Valley.
And after all, being willing to put failures out of their misery can be a pretty good quality to have.
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