- Facebook's internal idea incubator is working on a range of apps and software for travel, podcasts, enterprises and newsletter tools, the New York Times reported, citing people familiar with the social network's plans. The company's secretive New Product Experimentation (NPE) Team has a mandate to build the future of Facebook and keep rivals at bay.
- The NPE Team's projects including travel-related apps to help people plan their itineraries, such as visiting the most "Instagrammable" locations to photograph. The team also has explored ideas for "neighborhood" communities, creating newsletters, fact-checking "fake news" and vehicle apps. The social network's trove of consumer information could be used to support personalized audio services like podcasts, the Times reported.
- The NPE Team also is looking at enterprise solutions, such as software to improve meetings, email, voice transcriptions and a service that reimagines Microsoft's PowerPoint in a format resembling Instagram Stories, which lets users share chains of pictures and videos in a single post that disappears after 24 hours. Facebook declined to discuss the NPE Team's work, the Times reported.
The NPE Team already has released apps such as Aux, a social music app, and Bump, a matchmaking app for students, The Information reported in September. The Times' reporting suggests that travel-booking services, audio streaming platforms and various makers of enterprise software may have reason to worry about Facebook's possible encroachment on their turf. Facebook isn't alone in creating an in-house tech incubator, and it's too early to tell how many of its ideas will come to fruition.
Facebook owns four of the most downloaded apps in the world — its main social network, WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram — but needs to cultivate innovative ideas to remain relevant and diversify beyond a near-total dependence on mobile ad revenue. Digital advertising has been a high-growth business for more than 20 years, but the rate of that expansion is forecast to slow dramatically in the next decade as the market matures. Facebook also faces growing competition from younger companies like Snapchat, Pinterest and ByteDance's TikTok, and retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Target that sell ad space on their websites.
Facebook has a history of copying ideas from rivals like Snapchat, and creating apps to fend off startups like the live-streaming app Houseparty. However, Facebook also faces growing antitrust scrutiny and calls to reverse its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp to check its power in the U.S. digital ad market. Amid the antitrust scrutiny, Facebook last month introduced a corporate logo to unite its family of products, including its main social network, Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus virtual reality (VR) platform, Portal smart displays and Calibra digital wallet.
The Times report offers fresh insight into how the NPE Team is structured under Ime Archibong, who has led the unit since August. He had been vice president of product partnerships at Facebook since 2010, according to his LinkedIn profile. The NPE Team consists of five "pods" that each have 10 to 15 people who brainstorm on different projects. The NPE Team has slightly different branding from Facebook, giving the company flexibility to change apps or shut them down on short notice, the Times reported.