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analysis

Actually, I’m not glad we met. No thanks to “Say Thanks.”

Facebook has long been a purveyor of clunky junk of zero utility. No really, outside of its core "post things here and selected friends will see it" timeline and newsfeed features it has struggled to make popular different kinds of digital products.

Its latest ill-conceived idea is likely to join its corporate scrapheap of history, and here's why.

"Say Thanks" is supposed to be a way to send a video "card" to a Facebook friend. It will auto-generate a video composed of still images yanked from user timelines, or status updates that it thinks somehow relates to you and your chosen friend.

There are several bum notes that make it laughably bad. For one, it doesn't recognize relationship statuses (like, say, wives or husbands, parents, children) so everyone is either an Old Friend or Friend. It's basically an animated slide show, but not a very customizable one (you can preview what the videos will look like here). You can't edit any of the lame stock phrases that appear on-screen. All the videos start with "Hey FILL IN FRIENDS NAME HERE" followed by graphics, followed by "You're an awesome person" or "We've had a wild ride" or maybe "And I'm glad we met" and usually ends "Thanks for being a friend."

The length of the video depends on how many interactions you've had on Facebook, I've seen videos as short as 30 seconds with people I guess I shouldn't call friends, and some longer than a minute with extra phrases like "We've seen some amazing things" or "and we have the memories to prove it." The photos also don't have any relevance sorting. Like, when I previewed the card for my wife, it did not lead off the memorable photos with pictures of my son's birth. It seems chronological, but not strictly so.

The total package feels like a cheesy flash-based e-card from the early days of the Web. The tool is powerful, it very quickly pulls photos and status updates into a video, but the editorial impact of this technology feels like something a 9th grader would make on Power Point. Twee, saccharine and dopey doesn't begin to cover it.

I'm not trashing "Say Thanks" because it amuses me to do so (though, it does). I'm doing so to point out the obvious problems with something that clearly took a lot of development man hours and has been promoted widely (all the Silicon Valley blogs posted on this based on the press release, Techcrunch said it reminded them of Flipagram).

Worse, Facebook does this all the time. There have been so many product failures that I had to go looking for a list to remind myself, even BI's incomplete tally was plenty: Facebook e-mail, Facebook's Groupon-battling deals system, they tried to do a Google Docs killer, its Beacon system didn't work (it has been revamped into its ad product), the Places Foursquare fighter didn't work as a standalone, Graph search is not a critical tool, the Home app did not survive, Poke ephemeral messaging was a flop. I don't know how well its celebrity app, Facebook Mentions, works but celebrities are a niche group, obviously.

Lord, remember Gifts? The virtual nothings you would send to people starting way back in 2008? They wanted money for some of those things. Insane. Eventually they morphed that into a push to make you buy actual physical gifts and have them delivered (that's over too).

Messenger is Facebook's first (only?) successful "brand extending" app, and that's because it took a feature of desktop Facebook (chatting) and forced you to download a separate app if you wanted to use it on mobile. It has purchased, for billions, its other two vital app services: Instagram and Whatsapp.

Let's contrast that with Google, a search engine that also created these hugely successful extensions of its services: Gmail, Maps, News, Drive (cloud storage and Google Docs host), Calendar. It bought YouTube (which has exploded under its management). Did I mention Android? Even their flops and sun-setted products are interesting ideas (Google Plus, Google Glass, poor discarded Wave, Google Reader).

Facebook is a giant, it is growing all the time, its revenue is off the charts. But it is miserable at creating new products for the audience it commands. It needs to get better at that, and then maybe we'll have something to "Say Thanks" about.

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