Oink Closure Raises Questions About “Fail Fast” App Development

Today Milk Inc. announced its debut product Oink is shutting down, just five months after it was originally debuted by Milk co-founder Kevin Rose back in October of last year, and about three months after its public launch. Oink, a social rating app that tried an approach not limited to any specific vertical, seems to have failed to attract the kind of interest that would’ve made it a viable project for the Milk team long-term.

By way of official announcement, the Milk team, which also includes co-founder and designer Daniel Burka, simply changed the homepage to a notice that the service will be shutting down as of March 31, and the app is no longer active. Users who want to retain their data can enter their username or email address at the Oink.com page to download their cumulative contributions made through the app.

Milk’s team offers little in the way of solid reasons why the app shut down, but it’s almost certain that a lack of traction was the primary reason. The official announcement calls Oink a “first test” for Milk, which is designed as an app-producing studio rather than a single-focus company, and says that the team decided to shut down in order to “help focus [their] efforts” on their next project.

At a recent startup-focused event in Toronto, Burka talked about how the team was already in an “idea phase” for another Milk product, according to an event attendee. Also at that event, Burka talked specifically about the value of startups maintaining ownership over their products. “I don’t want to downplay the value of starting up,” he’s quoted as saying during his keynote presentation by tech evangelist Joey deVilla. “It’s just that I really value people who build and make worthwhile things and shepherd them over time.”

Oink’s brief three-month stint seems to instead be a case of an extreme version of Google’s “fail fast” mentality, which led to the shuttering of Google Wave and Google Buzz. Those services were provided with quite a bit more time to catch on; Oink’s rapid exit might leave a bad taste in the mouth of some regarding its future products.

Matt Mastracci, co-founder of Oink competitor Chee.rs, summed up the problem facing Milk nicely, in a comment on the announcement on Hacker News. “In any case, it’s going to be tougher to convince users to hop on Milk’s next app,” he wrote. “It’s like watching a sci-fi show on FOX: will it even make it to the second season?” Users are definitely going to think twice about investing time and effort into a platform from a company that previously asked users to populate its network with content and then made all that effort for naught after only around 90 days. On the other hand, a good idea is arguably a good idea, regardless of the source, so users could develop amnesia if whatever Milk comes up with next is truly impressive.

Burka didn’t reveal any details about what else the company might be working on, however, and Milk didn’t talk specifics about its future plans in the shutdown announcement. Whatever Milk’s working on, if it depends heavily on community, it’ll be interesting to see how users respond. It also brings up the question of whether app development companies like Milk have the same dedication to their apps as single-app producers, although successful multiple app studios like Tapbots show that the model can work.

Burka declined to comment on the shutdown or Milk’s future plans.

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