The Great Facebook Unbundling

“I think on mobile, people want different things. Ease of access is so important. So is having the ability to control which things you get notifications for. And the real estate is so small. In mobile there’s a big premium on creating single-purpose first-class experiences.” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO & co-founder in conversation with The New York Times.

The great unbundling has finally arrived on the Facebook shores. Full marks to Mark for being willing to self-unbundle versus letting others do it for them. I wrote about this in my Fast Company column, The Facebook Backlash.

The retail industry as a whole vacillates between complex and simple, evolving from the single-product peddler to the general store, from the opulence of the department store to the curated experience of a specialty boutique. The Internet and its social services, like shopping, are supposed to be about more than just a transaction; they are about fun and emotional gratification. If Facebook is Bloomingdale’s, then Snapchat and Instagram are the new boutiques. Expect this trend to continue for a few years—because that’s what we want from the Internet. For now! (From Fast Company)

So far, despite their gargantuan size and massive audience, Facebook had to resort to buying Instagram and WhatsApp in order to prevent them from stealing attention (minutes) away from Facebook.

Paper and Home were new introductions and have flopped. Graph Search is something I have never even considered using — forgotten. Messenger is an app based on existing behavior that they are forcing people to shift to a separate app — not such a bad thing. In other words, Facebook has failed to invent any new behaviors or even innovate on the behaviors that were commonplace on the service. For instance, Poke is a grand-pappy of Snapchat.

The big challenge for Facebook like all big companies — and yes it is a really big company now — is that it has many conflicting demands and as such it doesn’t have the luxury of a singular focus like a startup has.

The new Facebook Creative Labs — a euphemism for let’s throw everything at the wall and see what might stick so we can keep our design/creative/product teams happy — is not such a bad way for the company to try new things, but can they continue to keep people in a world where an app like Secret can go from zero to raising almost $9 million in a few months. If it works, the payoff is pretty huge for the app starters. If they fail — acquhire is a nice safety net.

Here is what Mathew Ingram has to say about the unbundling: “Facebook is one of the few large companies that seems to have taken Steve Jobs’ approach to heart: namely, the need to disrupt yourself before others do so (as Apple did with the iPhone and iPad). It’s true that most of Facebook’s experiments have failed to set the world on fire, but that doesn’t make them not innovative. Innovation also means trying and failing.”


  1. Thomas Schranz (@__tosh) says:

    April 17th, 2014 at 6:58 pm Reply

    Spot on.

    Facebook is not afraid to disrupt/eat into their own use-cases.
    Creating autonomous innovation pockets like Creative Labs was a fantastic/healthy decision.

    It is land-grab time for single-purpose magic wand experiences.
    Unbundling and creating cross-functional autonomous agents inside of the company
    is the most effective way for facebook to enable the talent they have internally.

    I think we will only be able to grasp the significance of this in a few months looking back.

    Fantastic analysis Om.

  2. Shann Biglione (@LeShann) says:

    April 16th, 2014 at 10:47 pm Reply

    Damnit, can we stop with the Steve Jobs references already? Sorry, this isn’t the most constructive comment but it’s seriously unnerving to read about this comparison all the bloody time. I certainly hope Zuckerberg doesn’t apply Steve Jobs’ rules and defines his own, we might all learn something from it.

  3. River Brandon says:

    April 16th, 2014 at 11:28 am Reply

    The thing that stands out to me is this: Facebook does not really own the platform. We all thought they did, but unbundling proves this wrong. WhatsApp and Instagram don’t rely on Facebook to exist or succeed.

    This is where the Apple comparison falls short. Zuckerberg may be trying to disrupt his own company, but he’s doing it by buying unrelated services that threaten Facebook, not by building products that extend the platform/ecosystem. This is the conglomerate model, not Apple’s model of creating a very tightly integrated system of devices and services that make possible all the other uses we enjoy. No iOS? No apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp. No Facebook? We still get those services.

    It’s our cloud/mobile OS that owns the contact database, and camera API, etc. That’s where the value lies. As long as other apps can get those services, then they’ll always have a shot at stealing attention from established services like Facebook.

    Zuckerberg may succeed in building and maintaining a digital advertising empire this way, but it will be by aggregating users in a collection of services, not by creating an underlying platform that these services need in order to exist.

    Finally, the latest post on Asymco ( outlines a clearer definition for innovation, and it includes the concept of value creation via success in the market. So if we accept that definition then innovation does *not* include “trying and failing”. By throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks, they are creating, not innovating. Innovation is a higher order operation than creation or invention. Interesting thought.

  4. rdegiusti says:

    April 16th, 2014 at 11:03 am Reply

    Fantastic post!

    1. Om Malik says:

      April 16th, 2014 at 4:17 pm Reply

      Thanks @rdegiusti

  5. sigivald says:

    April 16th, 2014 at 10:51 am Reply

    “So is having the ability to control which things you get notifications for.”

    Big words from Mr. “No, you can’t turn off autoplay video on mobile, and it took us months to let you turn it off on the web client”, and “No, you can’t not see Trending. Who doesn’t want Facebook to be Twitter, too?”

  6. Charles Hudson (@chudson) says:

    April 16th, 2014 at 10:30 am Reply

    As always, this is a great article. I started thinking about this theme, too awhile back:

    I think FB has no choice but to unbundle to compete. Routing all traffic and attention to the core app for discrete actions like taking a photo or sending a message will lead to a really cluttered UI and bad consumer experience. The question, though, is whether FB can embrace a model where they think of the core app as a federation of services as opposed to a monolith. Aggressive unbundling will require the default mode for competition in new verticals / areas to be to launch an independent app with a semi-autonomous team. The problem, though, is that by the time they see and understand a threat, it will likely be too late to compete (as was the case with Camera and Messenger).

    The only way I can really see them competing is to have a team or teams of people in the company who are free to launch independent apps that still have connective tissue back to the main app or core FB service. But this startup-within-a-big company approach to competing with consumer startups tends not to work. I don’t see how this ends well for FB.

  7. Josh Troy (@Josharnoldtroy) says:

    April 16th, 2014 at 9:38 am Reply

    I think it shows lack of Mark Zuckerberg’s abilities as a leader and innovator. He had a great success, no doubt, but I don’t think someone like Steve Jobs would have EVER said, “let’s create a bunch of specific, unique products, and let’s see what people buy”. He KNEW what people wanted and created it for them before they realized they wanted and needed it.

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