Facebook's feature wins and (many) losses (pictures)

Over the years Facebook has built many features and apps. Some were winners, but many more were losers.

James Martin
James Martin is the Managing Editor of Photography at CNET. His photos capture technology's impact on society - from the widening wealth gap in San Francisco, to the European refugee crisis and Rwanda's efforts to improve health care. From the technology pioneers of Google and Facebook, photographing Apple's Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Sundar Pichai, to the most groundbreaking launches at Apple and NASA, his is a dream job for any documentary photography and journalist with a love for technology. Exhibited widely, syndicated and reprinted thousands of times over the years, James follows the people and places behind the technology changing our world, bringing their stories and ideas to life.
Sarah Mitroff Managing Editor
Sarah Mitroff is a Managing Editor for CNET, overseeing our health, fitness and wellness section. Throughout her career, she's written about mobile tech, consumer tech, business and startups for Wired, MacWorld, PCWorld, and VentureBeat.
Expertise Tech, Health, Lifestyle
James Martin
Sarah Mitroff
1 of 16 James Martin/CNET

Facebook's hits and misses

In its 10 years, Facebook has grown from a humble classmate-finding site to a mainstream social network that everyone, including your mom, uses. In an effort to stay ahead of the pack, the company is constantly creating new ways to inject itself into your phone, shopping habits, interactions with your loved ones, and every other part of your life with new features and mobile apps. A handful of those were (and continue to be) hits with the Facebook community, but many more were utter failures on which Facebook pulled the plug.

We're rounding up the hits and flops here, starting with the features and apps that are high points for Facebook, followed by those that never really took off.

2 of 16 Screenshot by Jaymar Cabebe/CNET

Hit: Facebook Messenger

In 2011, Facebook unveiled Messenger, a standalone messaging app that gave you a dedicated space to chat with your Facebook friends from your smartphone. What started as a simple app where you could send messages via email, text, or through Facebook to your friends has transformed into both a text-messaging client and Facebook messaging.

A later version of the Android app added Chat Heads, a feature from Facebook Home that alerts you about new messages (both texts and those from the social network) with tiny pop-up alerts that appear wherever you are in your phone, not just in the app. That means you can reply to messages quickly and go back to what you were doing.

In October 2013, Messenger got a makeover with a new clean design and features that make it easier to use.

3 of 16 Jason Cipriani/CNET

Hit: Instagram

While Facebook can't take credit for creating this image-sharing social network, the company made a very smart decision to buy Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion. The app is super-popular, with roughly 32 million monthly users and continues to get bigger.

Under Facebook's ownership, Instagram has added several new features to the app, including video and private sharing.

4 of 16 Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Hit: Facebook Graph Search

Facebook's beefed-up search engine gained a lot of attention when it launched in January 2013. Using natural language processing (which just means it understands what you're looking for based on how you phrase your search), Graph Search makes it easier to find finding people, places, photos, and interests. This feature made it possible to string together several thoughts into a single search, so that you can find "Restaurants in Maui, Hawaii that my friends visited."

Graph Search is still going strong, sitting at the top of the Facebook desktop site, and a mobile version is said to be coming soon.

5 of 16 Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Hit: Facebook Groups

Facebook Groups makes it dead-simple to corral your fantasy football league, knitting circle, or college choir alumni group. This feature allows you to create a group where friends that fit into particular part of your life can share photos, post updates and links, and create events. You can set up private groups that are dedicated to just your friends, or make more public groups where strangers can connect about housing, hobbies, and more.

Groups was introduced in 2010 and has been a popular feature ever since.

6 of 16 Josh Miller/CNET

Miss: The Facebook Phone

In April 2013, Facebook gave us its much-anticipated phone, the HTC First. This lackluster device put your Facebook feed front and center with a feature called Home -- an Android launcher that altered the look of the operating system.

The HTC First was a major flop, as its carrier, AT&T, dropped the price from $99 to 99 cents just a month or so after the phone launched. Home didn't fare any better -- you can still download the launcher from Google Play, but the vast majority of the reviews are negative, with most people complaining that it kills their phone's battery and is hard to use.

7 of 16 TechCrunch

Miss: Facebook Beacon

Facebook's Beacon, was an advertising program that shared data about users' information on third-party partner sites in Facebook news feeds. A class-action lawsuit was filed, Facebook admitted it had made mistakes, then modified Beacon to appease privacy advocates. The criticism only grew more intense and eventually Facebook killed off the program.
8 of 16 Facebook

Miss: Facebook Credits

Facebook's virtual currency, known as Facebook Credits and introduced in 2009, became the de facto payment system for games running on the site, but app makers said the overly complex system made it unusable.

In June 2013, Facebook killed the virtual currency for good.

9 of 16 Facebook

Miss: Facebook Deals

In January 2011, Facebook launched Facebook Deals, a Groupon-like shopping service that let local businesses offer users deals when they checked in to their chosen destination via Facebook.

Facebook's pitch went something like this: "Imagine that while you're looking for a new place to try for lunch, you can see offers from restaurants nearby on your phone. On the other hand, I already love Zachary's Pizza, so imagine if I were rewarded for coming back there every week with my friends."

But users were not interested. Just four months after launch, Facebook Deals was dead, replaced by Check-in Deals, a subset of Places.

10 of 16 Facebook

Miss: Facebook Places

Facebook introduced its location-discovery and location-sharing platform called "Places" in 2010, challenging Google's dominance in the mapping and location space and giving the social network's users the ability to tell people where they were, including who they were with -- as long as all those involved were friends on Facebook. This information got pushed out along with the Facebook update and used the same tagging system Facebook employs for its photo-hosting service.

The Places name was dropped, and the location-based services were folded into a product called "Nearby," which then, in 2013, was integrated into the "local search" product.

11 of 16 Facebook

Miss: Facebook Questions

People love to seek out the opinions of their social-media friends, so Facebook figured why not build the feature into the site?

When Facebook Questions launched in 2010, it was described as a way to "get a broader set of answers and learn valuable information from people knowledgeable on a range of topics."

The service didn't really take off, and Facebook shut down Questions in 2012.

12 of 16 Facebook

Miss: Facebook Gifts

In 2012, Facebook rolled out a new gift-giving service known as Facebook Gifts, which let its users buy real gifts, including wine, for friends through the social network.

The only problem was, nobody really wanted to give gifts. A year later, a company spokesperson told CNET, "Since launching Gifts in December last year, roughly 80 percent of gifts have been gift cards. So, we're now adding more digital codes and making the Facebook Card redeemable at more merchants. As a part of this shift in focus to Facebook Card and digital codes, we're also phasing out physical gifts."

13 of 16 Facebook

Miss: Facebook Poke

Poke was a Facebook app for iPhone, a Snapchat clone that Facebook called "a simple and fun way to say hello to your friends." Messages, photos, and videos could be sent to a friend or multiple friends at once, and the user had the ability to choose how long such pokes were available for friends to view, up to 10 seconds. After that, they disappeared from the app.

Poke was released in December 2012 but its popularity quickly faded. Mark Zuckerberg recently called it "more of a joke" than a serious product.

14 of 16 Facebook

Miss: Facebook Camera

Facebook called Camera an easy way to share photos on the go, saying "You can post multiple photos at a time, and see your friends' latest photos in a single feed." The problem was, many people simply prefer their native camera over a Facebook specific uploader.

As Instagram skyrocketed in popularity as the go-to place for mobile photography, Facebook killed the Camera app, and just bought Instagram instead.
15 of 16 Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Miss: New News Feed

Facebook's new News Feed was unveiled in March 2013 to a limited audience with a lot of buzz surrounding it. The new design incorporated a larger format display for updates, photos, and even ads, but engagement with the new design was anemic, and Facebook shelved the idea of rolling out the design to a larger audience.
16 of 16 Rafe Needleman/CNET

Miss: Facebook Lite

Facebook Lite was a pared-down version of the site, optimized for low bandwith users, available only for eight months, from August 2009 through April 2010. On April 20, 2010, an announcement was posted to the site, saying "Thanks to everyone who tried out Facebook Lite. We're no longer supporting it, but learned a lot from the test of a slimmed-down site. If you used Lite, you'll now be taken to the main Facebook.com site."

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