Facebook shuts down its ‘Creative Labs’ for app experiments

Facebook has apparently shut down its Creative Labs, a two-year-old internal initiative to build experimental mobile apps.

As reported by CNET, the company has removed the public web page dedicated to Creative Labs, and it has removed three of its standalone apps from the Apple App Store: Slingshot, an ephemeral messaging service that mimicked the popular Snapchat app; Riff, a group video-making app similar to a Snap chat tool called Our Story; and Rooms, a way of chatting semi-anonymously that seemed to answer apps like Whisper, Secret, and YikYak.

But in shutting down Creative Labs, Facebook isn’t shutting down much more than a trio of copycat smartphones apps. As Facebook product manager Michael Reckhow told us after Creative Labs first launched early last year, this was wasn’t a physical lab or even a team of people. It was more of a call to arms inside the company—a stated effort to promote self-contained projects that could push Facebook in new directions.

“Creative Labs is not a place or a building or a team,” Reckhow said. “It’s an identifier that we place on a project that says: ‘This is something that is going to be separate, that we’re going to give room to grow.’”

The first of these projects was Paper, a kind of standalone Facebook News Feed overseen by Reckhow and dreamed up by a team of designers and engineers with roots at Apple and a startup called Push Pop Press, which had been acquired by Facebook. Paper never captured a large audience. But unlike Slingshot and Riff and Rooms, it remains in the App Store. And it directly inspired a core Facebook service called Instant Articles, which allows publishers to publish news articles straight to Facebook in a format that will load unusually quickly in users’ News Feeds.

So, in that sense, Creative Labs worked as it was designed to. A company spokesperson says that aspects of Slingshot and Riff and Rooms were also incorporated into the main Facebook app. It’s unclear why the company has shut down the Creative Labs homepage, but in doing so, it’s really just shutting down, well, a name. Facebbok will continue to experiment with new apps and new apps. Standalone apps like Groups, Mentions, and Moments remain—as does Paper. It was far more experimental than apps like Slingshot, Riff, and Rooms. In fact, that weren’t that experimental at all. They won’t missed. And the attitude behind Creative Labs isn’t going anywhere.

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