Facebook Will Be “Unbundling The Big Blue App” Through Its Creative Labs

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg sat down with The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo to discuss Facebook and its future, and much of the discussion centered on Creative Labs, the new internal initiative at Facebook that’s playing more with products outside the core social networking site, or spun out from that experience. Creative Labs is about “unbundling the big blue app,” Zuckerberg tells Manjoo, and that means not only building things Instagram and WhatsApp under their own brands, but also pulling out Messenger as a separate experience, and identifying other parts of Facebook that are grown up enough on their own to be ready to leave the nest.

Part of the drive behind Creative Labs is the realization that people prefer single serve apps on mobile, with greater control over what sends notifications and what doesn’t. Taking Facebook’s core features and spreading them across apps would drive higher engagement across the board, Zuckerberg seems to suggest, because it would be better at delivering just the experiences users are looking for, without a morass of add-on distractions. If, in its current bundled form, Facebook is some user fatigue, it makes sense to pull the threads apart and identify which areas are best received, rather than letting the whole ship sink. Voltron’s parts could disassemble when needed, too, in other words – otherwise why not just be a giant awesome robot all the time?

Zuckerberg said in the interview that the Creative Labs approach will be part about the company taking things “that have been products for a while” and making them “into first-class experiences,” which could be a descriptor for what it’s trying to do with messenger, and could also signal other standalone apps to come (let’s go FB Events!). The company will also explore completely new things, those that it felt it “didn’t have room to do before,” the Facebook CEO tells Manjoo.

Also up for discussion were Paper and Home, which Zuckerberg admits, like Messenger, “aren’t going to move any needles in our business for a long time,” which is true of all their new initiatives in his estimation. That’s partly because of just how big Facebook is already. There are also real flaws with the Home approach that Zuckerberg acknowledges, like the fact that, since it takes over your home screen, if you don’t like a single aspect of it you uninstall it and never use it again, which isn’t necessarily true of standalone apps.

Most Creative Labs projects are three to five years out from becoming WhatsApp or Messenger-level projects, let along something on the line of Facebook itself. And Zuckerberg took special care to say they don’t think anonymity is necessarily the right direction to go in, so don’t expect a Secret clone or acquisition in the near future. But it is interesting to see Facebook essentially build an internal app startup incubator, and to think about it might avoid stagnation and obsolescence by dismantling itself and building up different parts separate from the core. Creative Labs might produce some stinkers, but that sounds like it’s part of the point; and regardless of its overall success or failure, it should prove very interesting for those watching the future of the social network.