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Start-up DNA? Signs Facebook Hasn't Lost It

The social media company recently stopped testing its own Pinterest-like feature. It was a smart move--and one any company can learn from.
Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and chief executive officer of Facebook Inc., smiles during a town hall event at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California.
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You may not have noticed, but Facebook recently removed its home-grown attempt at a Pinterest-like feature. The company took Facebook Collections down from its site after just a few weeks of testing it. Meanwhile, TechCrunch reports that Facebook has only "paused" its test on Collections temporarily and may build it out in the future. In a formal statement Facebook explain, "for many of the product tests we do, we periodically pause the test to assess how to best progress with the product's rollout."

So, why is this noteworthy? A few reasons.

First, I'm not sure that Facebook even needs a Pinterest clone. (Must the site do everything?) Plus, it made a little deal a while back for Instagram that increased its mobile photo-sharing footprint, but forget that for a moment. More than 250 million photos are uploaded every day to the social network. It's not like people don't "use" Facebook for photo sharing.

Or maybe the move signals that Zuckerberg would rather just buy Pinterest outright? Marissa Mayer is starting to make acquisitions at Yahoo and I'll bet you she's seriously thought about it.

Ultimately, Facebook testing and then quickly pulling a new feature is noteworthy for another reason: Yes, it is a huge public company but Facebook is keeping its start-up DNA in tact. It still knows how to fail fast--and that's something that any business can learn from.

It's more important than ever for the company to move quickly. Zuck, of course, has to worry about things like his company's mobile strategy and its stock price now.

But he also has to worry about spreading the company too thin, a huge danger for a company that needs to keep driving growth. Remember Yahoo's Peanut Butter Manifesto? Even Google has had to grapple with the reality that it can't tinker as much as it used to. The company recently suspended its famous 20% rule for engineers. No longer can all techies play around with whatever they like one day per week.

Google killed many projects like iGoogle and GoogleHealth when Larry Page took over as CEO nearly 18 months ago. The reason: Experimentation is great, but focus isn't too bad either. The key in the Age of the Platform is to strike a healthy balance between the two.

Simon Says

So, what happens when a product doesn't gain any traction? How do you know when to pull the plug? It's a question that I've been asked more than once after my talks. There's no formula to it. If, after a year, you're getting no traction, it might be time to reevaluate. But after a couple weeks? Depends on the nature of your business.

Think about your current financial and human resources, as well as your other priorities. If a side project or another plank in your platform is worth pursuing, go for it. If the risks and costs don't match up to the benefits, it's probably time to retire a project for now, no matter how interesting.

IMAGE: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Last updated: Oct 31, 2012

PHIL SIMON | Columnist | Author and tech consultant

Phil Simon is a frequent keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of six management books, including The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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