Why Facebook Launched “Safety Check” as a Feature and not as a Product

Many people ask me: “What’s the difference between a feature and a product?”

It’s a great question.

Sometimes when Venture Capitalists reject startup idea, they’ll say it’s because:

“The idea is a feature, not a product.”

This is their way of saying:

“The idea is not big enough to launch as a product.”

But what does that mean exactly?

Let’s do a quick case study on Facebook’s Safety Check feature to find the answer.

Safety Check is a a Facebook tool that let people check whether friends were safe. It was released as a feature after the deadly attacks in Paris, France and tragic bombing in Yola, Nigeria.

This tool is super useful. It has helped millions of people get in touch with their families. Facebook is adding more resources to support the feature.

“After the Paris attacks last week, we made the decision to use Safety Check for more tragic events like this going forward. We’re now working quickly to develop criteria for the new policy and determine when and how this service can be most useful.” – Mark Zuckerberg

If it is super useful and many people are using it, why didn’t Facebook launch Safety Check as a separate product?

Here’s the main reason: Safety Check won’t be frequently used.

Features are great at tackling single use cases.

The single use case for Facebook Safety Check is this: friends letting friends know they’re safe during a tragic event.

Fortunately, tragic events don’t happen very often. This means that Safety Check won’t be frequently used.

A great product should be frequently used. Larry Page, founder of Google, frequently gets pitched product companies to acquire. He uses a “Toothbrush Test” to find out if the product is worthwhile.

Is this something you will use once or twice per day, and does it make your life better? -Larry Page

A feature addresses a single use case. Safety Check addresses a single use case. Safety Check is a feature.

A product addresses a collection of use cases. The Facebook App addresses a collection of use cases. The Facebook App is a collection of features.

This is also why certain features grow to become full products. They evolve because the Product Manager realized that the feature has the potential to cover many use cases. Facebook Messenger is an example of this. Messenger started out as a feature called chat. Facebook quickly realized that people use chat to do many things- they send emoticons, they coordinate payment, they send links to pictures. All of these use cases eventually became features in a separate product. That product is Facebook Messenger. To learn more about how to grow a product with the right features, read my post on the Pyrami Framework.

Kudos to Facebook for launching a feature so useful in the middle of something so awful.

I dearly hope this feature doesn’t evolve into a product.


2 Comments on “Why Facebook Launched “Safety Check” as a Feature and not as a Product”

  1. I still think they’re missing a big opp here. Expand the feature set (slightly) and it’s a product. “Safety Check won’t be frequently used” is true only insofar as the feature is geared toward natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

    Make it more widely applicable/usable (“Johnny has safely landed on United flght..” or “Jane has completed her mountain climb/paraglide flight/trail run without incident” or “the babysitter has successfully dropped Timmy off at home,” etc.) and it could easily be a product.

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