Facebook's 10 Biggest Flops

A week has passed since Facebook introduced Graph Search, a new feature that supposedly is going to kill Google and change our lives forever and finally create a way for Facebook to mint money out of its billion-person user base.

Never mind that hardly anyone has access to Graph Search, and that it's still in beta, and that Facebook intends to introduce it slowly, and that it depends on data (user “likes”) that is generally pretty bogus.

According to the breathless hype ("It's the future of search!") on the tech blogs, advertisers are already in love with Graph Search, and so are users, and this idea is going to generate bazillions of dollars of new revenue.

But wait. I've seen this movie before. A bunch of times. Facebook announces some half-finished thing, the tech press declares it a winner, and then months later it fizzles out and quietly gets put to sleep.

I’m not talking about Facebook’s regularly scheduled privacy policy changes and the attendant scandals, or even about the FTC charges that Facebook deceived customers and broke the law, charges that Facebook ended up settling. Nor am I talking about Facebook’s disastrous, scandal-ridden IPO.

I’m only talking about products and features that Facebook introduced and that failed. There are plenty to choose from. Here’s a look at Facebook’s 10 biggest flops.

  1. Beacon. Introduced in 2007, Beacon was going to let Facebook track purchases you made on other sites and then publish that information in your news feed. Who wouldn’t love that? Um, everyone, because it was a stupid idea. By 2009 Facebook was shutting it down.

  2. Social Reader. Introduced in 2010, this introduced something called “frictionless sharing,” which meant you clicked “okay” once and then everyone who knew you on Facebook could see what you were reading. Predictably, a backlash ensued, and readers began to back away. Last month the Guardian shut down its Social Reader app. The Washington Post, owned by Don Graham, a Facebook board member, was the earliest adopter of Social Reader and its biggest proponent — but now has moved Social Reader away from Facebook to an independent site.

  3. Poke. Facebook sees new app, Snapchat, getting popular. Tries to buy Snapchat. Gets rebuffed. Creates clone of Snapchat called Poke. But people still like Snapchat. Poke is a dud. As Farhad Manjoo points out, when the 800-pound gorilla can’t even stamp out a tiny startup, this is not a good sign.

  4. Places. Clone of Foursquare. Introduced in 2010. Dead by 2011.

  5. Find Friends Nearby. Clone of Highlight, Glancee, Girls Around Me. Launched in 2012, killed within 24 hours.

  6. Deals. Clone of Groupon. Launched in 2011, killed after four months.

  7. Questions. Clone of Quora. Introduced in 2010, hailed by TechCrunch, which said it “could be massive.” (Or it could be not.) Correct answer: Not. Shut down in October 2012.

  8. Mail. Announced in November 2010, hailed by TechCrunch as a modern messaging system, a “Gmail Killer” and, more ambitiously, an “email killer.” That’s right. Three hyped-up stories on TechCrunch, each more breathless than the last. By November 2011, mocked as a failure. No doubt some people use it. But not many. And last I checked email in general and Gmail in particular were still doing quite well, thank you.

  9. Mobile App Ad Network. Launched last year, would let Facebook put ads on other company’s mobile apps. Shelved in December.

  10. Project Spartan. It may be unfair to blame this on Facebook, since it seems to have been invented by TechCrunch rather than by Zuck & Co. The idea was that Facebook was about to unveil a store where you could buy HTML5-based mobile apps, and once again this would “kill” a huge rival — specifically Apple. The buzz started in June 2011 with this story describing the world-changing killer platform, ramped up in July 2011 with this story saying Project Spartan was imminent, followed by this story from September 2011 saying Project Spartan would be unveiled “next week,” followed by this story saying the same thing, followed by this story from October 2011 describing the just-announced Facebook iPad app and wondering, “Is this Project Spartan?” It wasn’t. Worse, that new iPad app turned out to be slow, buggy and crash-prone, and Facebook had to redo it from the ground up. Ten months later, in August 2012, Facebook rolled out the new version and Mark “I’m CEO, bitch” Zuckerberg admitted that betting on HTML5 had been “the biggest mistake we made as a company.”

You get the idea. Facebook tries lots of stuff, and a lot of what they try (or most of it, maybe) doesn’t actually work.

So will Graph Search be a huge success, or will it just end up on the scrap heap with all these other hacks that Facebook tossed out into the world? It’s too early to tell. But based on Facebook’s track record, I wouldn’t bet my life savings on it.

Image courtesy of Reuters.