It's always fun to peel back the curtain and look inside at the inner workings of a tech company, especially if it's in turmoil or has been struggling to launch a successful product - two boxes that Facebook has obviously ticked.
Cambridge Analytica, FTC fine, and data breaches aside, Facebook has had a rough go of it in recent years. In terms of hardware devices, it's repeatedly failed to deliver anything that resonates with consumers. And a new report from CNBC is revealing the spectacle behind the company’s secretive hardware division, Building 8, and its tumultuous and plentiful missteps.
Building 8 is where Facebook worked on skunkwork ideas and consumer devices. It was developing a system that allows users to type with their thoughts. It's also worked on modular smartphones, and more recently, the Portal video-calling device. In 2015, Facebook hired former DARPA and Google technologist Regina Dugan to run Building 8, but she left about 18 months later.
Facebook split up the hardware group in December 2018, and it moved employees and projects around as a result. CNBC is now taking a deep-dive into Building 8, detailing some of the group's more absurd approaches and, ultimately, what happened to it. There's details about an early Portal, called Little Foot, which was basically a tablet that moved and focused on people in the room.
Building 8 also experimented with making a "wall-to-ceiling"-size video chat device. But Building 8’s purpose and hierarchy caused some problems it couldn't outrun. It had a larger budget, which seemed to cause some resentment, and when select staff was invited to visit to look at prototypes, they were paired with an escort and handed metal that was cut into a bottle opener when they arrived. They were then given a bottle of beer, oddly.
When Dugan left the company, Andrew “Boz” Bosworth was put in charge, but former employees told CNBC that “when it came to technological decisions, Bosworth offered little direction". Despite all this, Facebook reportedly still wanted Building 8 to ship its first product in a year, though Facebook told CNBC that was not true. Keep in mind Facebook did release Portal last autumn.
The very next month, Building 8 team was renamed and mostly disbanded.
Facebook is still working on devices, including supposedly a new Portal, but unless the company can get its act together, we have doubts its Portal line will ever best Amazon's Echo, Google's Home, or Apple's HomePod ranges.