Facebook has had its share of failures in developing new projects.
With its origins in a Harvard dorm, Facebook revolutionized social networking and redefined the meaning of “friends”. The company’s mission statement is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. With roughly 2.912 billion monthly active users worldwide, Facebook has become one of the world’s largest social media platforms.
In recent years, the Mark Zuckerberg-led social media giant has been expanding its brand to encompass beyond the Facebook platform. With the latest “Meta” rebranding effort, Facebook announced a new entity of projects in the fields of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in October 2021. Some of the major ones include:
- Horizon Home for Oculus Quest—a virtual reality home base where users first see when they put on the Quest VR headsets and can interact with their friends;
- Messenger VR calls—an Oculus Quest feature to join an audio conversation with friends on any Messenger-enabled platform and go to VR destinations together;
- more AR and VR social experiences in gaming, fitness (e.g. VR workout accessories Active Pack, fitness studio FitXR), work (e.g. Quest for Business and Horizon Workrooms) and education;
- Project Cambria—Meta’s next high-end VR headset;
- Presence Platform—a suite of tools to help developers build mixed realities experiences; and
- Spark AR and Polar—apps to empower creators without programming, art and design experience to build their own AR experiences.
While it seems Facebook has a good eye on how to stay relevant in the tech world, here comes the surprise/shock—many projects undertaken by the social media giant have been big failures! Let’s take a look at five failed Facebook projects and why they didn’t make it.
The first on the list is one of Facebook’s most ambitious projects—Parse. In 2013, the social media giant acquired Parse, a cloud-based platform that provided scalable cross-platform tools for developers, for over US$78 million. The motive was to make app development for Facebook easier, helping developers to increase their focus on user experience. Parse did prove beneficial for small developers, who hosted about 600,000 apps on the platform.
Unfortunately, the project was ultimately killed in 2016. Facebook said it was shutting down Parse to redirect its resources to other projects. Although Parse was an excellent way to get in touch with developers, it failed to bring much business to Facebook.
Next comes Facebook’s first foray into drone technology—Project Aquila. The project, announced in 2014, intended to provide free internet access via solar-powered drones in remote regions. It was planned to keep the drones in the air for up to 90 days and provide coverage to a 60-mile (ca. 97 km) wide area on the ground. The Aquila drone had a Boeing 737-sized wingspan and weighed the same as a typical family car. It was solar-powered during the day and battery-powered at night. In the first trial, which Facebook claimed as a success, it flew for 90 minutes and achieved a data rate of 20 Gbps over 13 km before it crash-landed.
After failing to achieve its goals, the project was abandoned in 2018. Facebook also mentioned the latest developments in the industry, like more investment and effort from leading aerospace companies in the technology sector, as reasons why they stopped the project.
Facebook’s in-house experimental division, Creative Labs, was established in early 2014 to let the social media platform develop new projects and apps and test them without integrating them into its main app.
However, the experiments ended in 2015, as Facebook decided to close down the Creative Labs initiative. This might have to do with Creative Labs’ apps not gaining enough traction. Despite the shutdown, Facebook promised to develop and maintain apps like, Facebook Paper (a news reading app discontinued in 2016), and Instagram’s subsequent spinoffs, such as Layout and Hyperlapse.
Following the announcement, Facebook took down several of Creative Labs’ apps that were once incorporated into the Facebook app, including:
- Slingshot—a social media app like Snapchat, where users could share photos and videos instantly with friends;
- Riff—where users could take a video of up to 20 seconds, and other users could add their clip to the project; and
- Rooms—where users could create “rooms” to discuss a topic using nicknames.
Gifts was one of Facebook’s first forays into e-commerce, and it was a complete flop. Launched in 2012, following Facebook’s acquisition of gifting app Karma, Gifts allowed individuals to pick and send real-world gifts to their Facebook friends. Once the gift is picked, the recipient would get a notification where they can fill out the shipping address. The sender only had to pay when the gift was ready to be delivered. According to the Karma’s Founder Lee Linden, “They (Facebook) really share our vision and our mission… We think gifting is really a form of communication.” Appearing to resist “overly intrusive commercial initiatives” back then, Facebook might have tapped into the e-commerce game upon seeing the social value of gifting.
Unfortunately, the gifting experience did not get along well with Facebook, and users found most of the items unworthy of sending to friends. With customers unwilling to spend money on gifts, Facebook eliminated Gifts in 2014 after it failed to gain traction.
Introduced in June 2011, Facebook Credits was a virtual currency that allowed users to buy virtual goods in apps and games on the platform. One could own Facebook credits by purchasing them via a credit card, PayPal account or prepaid card available at retail stores. Credits was a major source of revenue for the social media platform, taking a 30 percent cut on all its transactions compared with the approximately 3 percent taken by other sites, like eBay and PayPal.
However, the virtual payment system never gained widespread adoption, and Facebook ultimately shuttered the program in 2013. Post the shutdown, Facebook converted the balance Credits accrued by users into their local fiat currencies.
In 2019, Facebook announced that it was reconsidering the idea of a platform-specific digital currency, dubbed Libra, which anyone worldwide could utilize. Unlike Credits, Libra is designed to operate as a cryptocurrency and use blockchain technology rather than a fiat money system.
The growth of Facebook through the years has been incomparable, but we can’t deny it has had its own share of failures and losses. Today, the social media giant faces tough competition from other platforms (e.g. TikTok) due to its inability to cater to the new generation of audiences. All things considered, Facebook’s destiny is still uncertain, but one thing is for sure—even the biggest brands and companies face setbacks and failures. This shows that no one is immune to failure and that even the most successful brands can sometimes stumble.
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