Op-Ed: Can Facebook find app success with video-sharing platform Riff?

Posted Apr 9, 2015 by Daniel Edwards
Facebook's innovation centre,Facebook Labs, has struggled with developing truly innovative products over the years, but can its most recent attempt Riff gain traction in the rapidly growing video sharing market?
2004 seems like a really long time ago — especially when looking at the success of Facebook, which launched in April of that year. A lot has changed since then as our cell phones are now smart, cars can park themselves, and a hoodie wearing Ivy League drop out is one of the greatest CEOs in recent memory. Zuckerberg’s $30 billion plus personal net worth is also evidence of how much has changed in regards to the clout of Facebook.
Facebook is a powerful company— not in the “if the company goes bankrupt it could severely damage the economy” in an AIG kind of way, but powerful in its influence and its encroaching monopoly of how we interact online in various forms. Although there has been countless instances of public sentiment against Facebook in regards to privacy policies, its root in an apparent rise in depression and narcissistic behaviour, and of course the automatic videos which have cost plenty of people in unexpected mobile data charges, for the most part Facebook is still a part of the daily lives of millions of people.
Facebook has overcome the skepticism about Zuckerberg’s leadership, the poorly performing stock value, and monetization issues, but the one thing it still struggles with is in house innovation. Facebook has a tried on several occasions to develop applications that have simply fallen flat. Slingshot, Facebook’s answer to the rising ephemeral messaging app Snapchat, unfortunately has disappeared while Snapchat has continued to gain users in the teen and early 20s space which used to be Facebook’s bread and butter. Sadly there are others such as Facebook Poke and Facebook Camera which were unable to stay a float in a very competitive market.
Of course these minor failures have not taken anything away from the brand itself which is posting record revenues which has enabled Facebook to do what other multi billion dollar corporations have done before it — acquisitions. With Facebook’s acquisitions ranging from Instagram and WhatsApp to the virtual reality startup Oculus Rift, it is apparent that money talks and Facebook’s money speaks rather well. Being in the position to acquire innovation is profitable. By looking at Google’s purchase of YouTube and Android it is evident that Google was more of a winner then the companies they purchased. But where does that leave Facebook? Is the company stagnant in regards to innovation and can they influence a technological shift on their own without putting up cash? Only time will tell. Facebook’s most recent foray into the app market is the video messaging app Riff, which seeks to combine certain aspects of Vine with Snapchat to create a collaborative video sharing platform where users can send in short 20 second clips of them doing a similar thing and combine them to make one video. The app was inspired by the 2014 ALS ice bucket challenge phenomenon which drastically ramped up views on Facebook. Thousands of people doing similar things spawned the idea of developing a video collage style platform. Once a friend adds to the video it becomes viewable to their social network expanding the collaborative possibilities. Facebook labs most recent development appears to have merit especially in an age where different forms of video sharing are increasing. Twitter’s recent acquisition of live streaming app Periscope supports this claim.
The unfortunate side to this is that Snapchat already has a similar feature known as Our Story which could be a stumbling block for Riff. The lacklustre success of Facebook’s other Snapchat inspired apps has shown why Facebook tried to woo Snapchat with a $3 billion offer not that long ago. Snapchat has captured a burgeoning relatively teenager focused market, and that may be where the problem lies for Facebook. No longer are teens and early 20 something’s the largest demographic group on Facebook and with a teen exodus which has been talked about for some time but never truly substantiated, any innovations geared toward a demographic which is transient could be a hard sell. Eventually Facebook is going to need some form of in house innovation, but for the time being they are doing well with monetizing their key business and acquiring the startups that are in the spaces they want to be in. Facebook recently launched a web version of its messenger app which focuses entirely on developing a better messaging experience. Communication and connectivity has always been Facebook’s forte so maybe for the time being they should strengthen what they do well and remain at the drawing board.