An example video posted to Riff, an app Facebook will shut down.
Courtesy Facebook

Including its Snapchat clone.

By Erin Griffith
December 7, 2015

Facebook has shut down Creative Labs, its experimental development arm that served as a test bed for far-out products and features.

The company pulled several of the apps built by the labs group from the App Store, including Slingshot, a Snapchat clone; Riff, a video sharing app; and Rooms, an anonymous group messaging app.

Launched in early 2014, the Creative Labs group was intended to let Facebook build new products without having to put them into its main app. TechCrunch hailed the decision as a way for “a 6,000-person giant to move fast like a startup.” By then, Facebook had more than a billion users and hundreds of thousands of advertisers relying on its product every day. The company had outgrown its early mantra to “move fast and break things.” (In 2014 Facebook revealed a new, decidedly less exciting mantra: “Move Fast with Stable Infra.” As in “infrastructure.”)

A Facebook spokesperson said the company has since integrated elements of Slingshot, Riff and Rooms into its main Facebook apps. For example, some of the team that built Paper, a news reader, is now working on Instant Articles, Facebook’s news product. “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,” the spokesperson said, referring to Slingshot, Riff and Rooms.

Paper will remain available. Rooms will be shut down and put into read-only mode on Dec. 23. Slingshot and Riff will still be usable for those who have already downloaded them.

Many of Creative Labs’ products were born from extracurricular hackathons held by Facebook employees. But without the built-in distribution of a platform like Facebook, and little promotion beyond a company blog post, the apps never took off.

Rooms, the anonymous group messaging app, was confusing. Riff, the video sharing app, offered little beyond what competing video apps already did (some even thought it was an April Fools Day joke). Paper also faced steep competition from other news services. And Slingshot was a blatant clone of Snapchat.

Other experimental social media apps, including Instagram-related Hyperlapse and Layout have thrived. But they were not created via Facebook Creative Labs.

Facebook FB has been focusing on its four biggest, most successful apps with hundreds of millions of users: Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and its namesake.

Shutting down Creative Labs doesn’t mean the company will cease to experiment with new ideas. But Facebook’s most exciting experiments look less like its current offerings and more like science fiction: It has made big bets around drones, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality.

Watch this video about Facebook’s Memories app:

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You can follow Erin Griffith on Twitter at @eringriffith, and read all of her articles here.

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