Facebook shuts down Creative Labs, apps

The initiative behind some of the company's most experimental apps has gone away, along with the apps it produced over the past year. Facebook says it will still encourage experimentation.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
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Many of Facebook's Creative Labs apps, including Slingshot (pictured above), have been removed from app stores.


Facebook's Slingshot app missed its mark. So did Riff and Rooms.

The social-networking giant has quietly curtailed its Creative Labs, the startup-like initiative that encouraged its employees to design innovative and unusual mobile software. Among the first casualties: Slingshot, an ephemeral messaging service that competed with Snapchat, and Rooms, a group messaging service.

As of Monday, Slingshot, Rooms and Riff, an app that allowed users to create and share short videos based on a theme, have been pulled from app stores. The Menlo Park, California-based company has also removed the Web page for Creative Labs.

A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed the apps had been removed, noting they hadn't been updated in some time.

"Since their launches, we've incorporated elements of Slingshot, Riff and Rooms into the Facebook for iOS and Android apps," she added.

Facebook is famous for its mantra "Move fast and break things." The company decided some of these initiatives had, in fact, failed to gain traction and is shutting them down.

The move marks a turning point for Facebook's app ambitions as it focuses on other areas of innovation. It's still building artificial-intelligence technology, drones to beam Internet signals to far-flung parts of the world and virtual-reality goggles. The company has also been steadily adding features to its primary social-networking service, such as live streaming and 360-degree videos.

Creative Labs was a two-year experiment that often drew inspiration from Facebook's famous "hackathons," binge-coding sessions where developers work together over a day or so to create a prototype app or service.

One such app was Slingshot, which was conceived of two years ago by Joey Flynn and Rocky Smith, a designer and engineer respectively. Slingshot's team eventually grew to about 10 people.

Slingshot allowed users to take a photo or video and then send it to friends. Those people then responded with their own photos or videos.

Facebook signaled modest hopes for the Creative Labs apps from the start. The company told reporters it didn't expect its community of more than a billion people to sign up immediately, and Facebook didn't heavily promote them either.

"We're not going to fly a flag about it," Flynn said at the time about Slingshot's launch. "We want it to start with a small group." Today, Slingshot isn't available on Apple's App Store or the Google Play store, though Facebook said the service still works for people who already have the app.

Rooms, which is being shut down on December 23, is a group-messaging service that brought a modern spin to the chat rooms that were popular in the early days of the Internet. Users could log in anonymously -- no Facebook account required -- and post videos, photos or text. People joined chat rooms through an invitation that contained a QR code, similar to the way people can follow one another on Snapchat's messaging service.

Rooms had been overseen by Josh Miller, the former head of the social network Branch, which Facebook bought last year. Miller joined the White House as director of product in September.

Facebook said it will still experiment with new apps, and support initiatives like its Paper newsfeed-reading app in addition to others like Instagram's Hyperlapse video and Layouts photo editor.