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Facebook Kills App-Factory Initative Creative Labs, but Won't Stop Building Stand-Alone Apps

Facebook is making a branding move.

Composite image by Re/code

Facebook Creative Labs, the company’s internal initiative to build more stand-alone apps, is no more.

As CNET noticed and reported earlier Monday, Facebook has removed the Creative Labs website and pulled a few apps that were created under this initiative — Slingshot and Rooms — from the App Store. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed that the apps are indeed gone, and that the “Creative Labs” branding has been retired.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Facebook is done building stand-alone apps. They just won’t be labeled as Creative Labs projects anymore, a spokesperson confirmed, which explains why the company’s most recent stand-alone app, Notify, did not fall under that umbrella.

There’s a simple explanation for this: From the outside, Creative Labs was a failure. In the two years since unveiling the initiative, the company has produced nearly 10 apps, none of which seem to be a hit. (The jury is still out on Moments, the photo app Facebook launched in June, which is still available.) It would be poor marketing for Facebook to keep associating new projects with an initiative that has turned out a bunch of snoozers.

That doesn’t mean it was a waste. In some cases, like with Facebook Paper, technology developed for the app was then folded into the main Facebook app. In Paper’s case, the tech was used to help create Instant Articles.

Plus, I always thought one of the greatest benefits of Facebook’s Creative Labs effort was not the apps themselves, but the impact it might have on talent retention. Facebook has a lot of talented employees in high demand at other startups, or who may have ambitions to start their own companies.

Creative Labs gave these employees a taste of the startup world without the usual risks associated with it. Consider the choice between building (and financing) a consumer app on your own, or using Facebook’s funding and built-in audience to grow your idea in-house. It was a relatively cheap way for Facebook to retain talent with the possibility that one of these apps might hit big in the process.

That security, though, may also be the reason some of these apps have had difficulty gaining traction. Many consumer tech entrepreneurs will tell you that the grind of growing a user base, especially at the beginning, is key to creating a product people actually want. You have to make constant changes based on user feedback.

With Facebook (and Google, too), new apps get hundreds of thousands if not millions of downloads in an incredibly short period of time. It can make it difficult for app creators to adjust and build in the same way as growing the app from scratch.

Regardless, Facebook will still build stand-alone apps in search of the next big thing. In the meantime, though, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has shown a willingness to buy the ones he can’t replicate on his own.

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