by Tom Taulli | December 23, 2013 11:18 am
When the year started, things looked pretty grim for Facebook (FB). But CEO Mark Zuckerberg found a way for Facebook to get its groove back, and FB stock lit up as a result.
So far, the year-to-date return for FB stock is about 116%. But the interesting thing is that the climb happened even though Facebook had plenty of failed products.
This is nothing new, of course. Over the years, FB has had flops like Places (a service to find the locations of users a la Foursquare), Camera (a rival to Instagram) and Questions (a Q&A service). But in light of this, it does seem surprising that FB stock is still worth a staggering $140billion.
Then again, when it comes to innovation, failure is necessary. Let’s face it, other companies like Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL) have had their share of misfires. So for FB stock, it’s a good thing that 2013 was far from perfect.
Still, let’s take a closer look at a few of the recent duds, including Facebook Poke and Facebook Home.
The Facebook Poke mobile app allowed users to send texts, photos or videos to friends — and they would self-destruct within a few seconds. Sound familiar? It should. The Poke app was a total knock-off of SnapChat, which was rapidly becoming popular with teens and twenty-somethings. It was also a big worry for those holing FB stock.
On the day of the launch, Facebook’s Poke hit the No.1 spot on Apple’s app store … but it would then plunge in the rankings. In the meantime, SnapChat would move up to be one of the top five apps … in the world. It was a huge embarrassment for Zuckerberg & Co. And it put pressure on FB stock, which fell below $30.
Why the failure? It’s hard to tell. But one reason is that FB probably waited too long. For the most part, SnapChat had quickly captured the category. It also helped that the new app was considered cool. But Facebook and its Poke app seem more like an old-line service … and it has become mostly boring for teens, which has certainly been an nagging issue for those who own FB stock.
When FB announced that it was releasing Facebook Home, the response was mostly muted. Keep in mind that Wall Street was expecting the company to launch an actual smartphone. But instead, Zuckerberg announced a so-called launcher for Google’s Android … although he did say that HTC would pre-install it on one of its phones.
It’s true that launchers are valuable. It’s the software that first shows up when a user opens a phone — and allows for the seamless launching of apps and access to core functions. For example, in the case of Facebook Home, it had instant photos from a user’s timeline and seamless access to the chat service.
The problem for FB? Well, many people do not want to always see their friends’ photos or chat when they turn on their phone. Besides, the launcher market is incredibly competitive — part of the reason FB stock investors weren’t that excited.
All in all, Facebook Home has languished. FB has kept investing resources into the product, but it looks like it may be to experiment with new features, which could ultimately become a part of the core Facebook app.
Facebook Graph Search launched in January, with much fanfare. On the news, FB stock climbed about 5%.
Zuckerberg’s bold vision of Facebook Graph Search was to transform the concept of online searches. That is, it would leverage the extensive database of FB and allow users to find relevant information on a myriad of topics like people, photos, places and interests.
And for FB stock, investors were interested in the huge monetization opportunities. After all, GOOG has shown that online search can be a bonanza. Plus, Wall Street also saw the potential for FB to get a chunk of the local e-commerce market as well. In fact, when Zuck announced Graph Search, shares of Yelp (YELP) tanked.
However, despite all the hoopla, things have been mostly quiet with Graph Search. Perhaps Zuck is really focused on tweaking the service and making sure it will work. But so far, it is clear that the product has not been a hit and hasn’t been the reason FB stock is climbing.
Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPO Playbook. He is also the author of High-Profit IPO Strategies, All About Commodities and All About Short Selling. Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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