Did Facebook Acquire Acrylic Software and Spool to Improve Social Reading?

By Nathaniel Mott , written on July 20, 2012

From The News Desk

Tech journalists may be mourning the loss of Sparrow to Google, pining for new mail apps  and wondering what the Sparrow team will work on next, but there may be a larger announcement made today: Facebook's "acqui-hire" of Acrylic Software.

A Mac and iOS development studio, Acrylic built two products. One of them, Wallet, is a well-designed financial management app. The other, Pulp, is an RSS reader that transforms news feeds into a digital newspaper. Acquisitions of small development shops happen all the time, and they're typically nothing more than simple talent acquisitions.

But today's announcement seems different. Following the announcement of Facebook's acquisition of Spool by less than a week, the acquisition of Acrylic seems like part of a larger push by Facebook to build a better, more powerful way to share information and links. Spool's team can build the framework for this improved social reading experience and Acrylic's can take that framework and build a well-designed front end.

One need look no further than Facebook's social reading apps to see why the company would want to hire outside talent to fix information sharing. Let's be honest: Facebook's social readers suck. Every time I click a link that appears in my News Feed I'm prompted to sign up for a social reader application that will feed everything I read into Facebook's servers. Facebook has nailed the concept and is right to think that people want to share what they're reading, but the execution is less than stellar.

Spool was working to solve this problem before its acquisition. I had the chance to use a beta of the company's newest (now scrapped) version, and the entire concept was based on sharing what you're reading with the people that follow you. Users would "spool" a Web page to save for later viewing and other people could follow them and view what they had saved.

"When you think about it, Twitter is like Facebook reduced to nothing more than a status update," I was told by an anonymous source during a demo of Spool's beta. "Spool is going to take that a step further and remove everything but the link to what you've saved." Facebook may not have acquired Spool's tech, but it's a safe bet to assume that the Spool team would be working on a similar project within Facebook.

If Spool was acquired to make information sharing simpler, then, it's plausible that Facebook wanted to hire a design team with experience presenting information in a clear, clean way. Acrylic spent four years building and refining their personal newspaper, Pulp, making it a likely candidate for such an acquisition.

Facebook acquisitions tend to result in either a rebranded product, such as Facebook Messenger (created by Beluga), or a new product like Facebook Camera (said to be created by Sofa). As the social network continues to create smaller apps that do one thing well instead of building one umbrella app, it isn't out of the question to think that two companies focused on social reading might be building a new app in that category.

Neither Facebook or Spool would comment on what the Spool team is working on post-acquisition. We have reached out for a response on the Acrylic acquisition but expect nothing more than a "No comment."