May 25, 2012
Facebook Camera just launched, offering a photo-only feed from Facebook, complete with Instagram-like filters. Facebook isn’t pulling Instagram from the AppStore yet, but there’s already an eerie similarity between the two programs. Yet the similarity isn’t what disturbs us. Rather, it’s John Gruber’s commentary on what spurred the creation of Facebook Camera in the first place:
Look at the AppStore today: there are four first-party Facebook iPhone apps. The Messenger and Camera apps are rated at four stars and 3.5 stars, respectively, but the main Facebook app only has two stars (averaged from over 27,000 reviews), and the Pages Manager app has only 2.5 stars. The latter two of these apps are core to Facebook’s product, while the former two are effectively add-ins.
What we’re apparently seeing is Facebook acknowledging that its core product isn’t enough to continue building users. Instead, Facebook is banking on side products that merely leverage its enormous user-base, hoping that those side products will keep user’s attention. Facebook could just as easily have baked photo filters into the main Facebook mobile app, but they see more demand on a stand-alone photo-sharing app. That’s why they bought Instagram, and why they’re pushing Facebook Camera. It’s why this new app has gotten resources, while the main mobile Facebook app remains in a poor form complete with bugs. Facebook’s main userbase relies on the web product, which Zuckerburg has always seen as the “true” Facebook experience.
But Instagram shook things up because it didn’t compete with Facebook as a traditional social network using text. Rather, it took consumer attention away from Facebook by challenging Facebook in an area Facebook didn’t already excel at: pictures.1 While everyone’s talked about competition between the two companies, it’s quite posible that Instagram never meant to challenge Facebook, but ultimately did by merely distracting consumers from Facebook, and that unintended consequence proved a cash cow for Instagram’s founders.
This trend of Facebook releasing specialized products isn’t one we’re fond of, though. There are obviously two schools of thought here, with one believing all Facebook-related functionality should be present in one Facebook app, and the other believing separate, more minimal apps are more appropriate. Clearly, Facebook is currently in the second camp, even going so far as to neglect the main mobile app in favor of these specialized apps. It just so happens to be a good test case for the rumoured Facebook phone, which would obviously break up Facebook’s various offerings into specialized apps.
That Facebook is admitting it needs to diversify its product portfolio is interesting in light of its recent IPO. If Facebook were certain its legacy social networking features were sustainable long term, these supplemental apps wouldn’t be taking the spotlight.
Facebook’s supported photos, of course, but the main focus has always been on text. It’s consumer demand for photo-sharing that made Facebook realize it needed to play catch up if it was to dominate the social networking scene on all levels. ↩