Friday, June 20, 2014

Facebook’s Slingshot Messaging App Takes on Snapchat, With a Twist

The Slingshot App.

Facebook’s rumored—and briefly released—ephemeral messaging app Slingshot finally debuted for real Tuesday. The app, which is now available in the App Store and on Google Play, promises to give Facebook users the fun, fleeting messaging mayhem of competitor Snapchat, but with one quirk: You can’t see a message from a friend until you reply back to them.

Like Snapchat, after logging in with your phone number, Slingshot lets you send self-destructing photos and videos, which you can draw or annotate upon. You can then “sling it” to one or more friends (which you can find using Facebook, if you choose). They can choose to swipe the message away without seeing the message at all, or they can reply back to unlock the mysterious shot they’ve been sent. 

This move could make the app extremely sticky, like Poking used to be on Facebook’s website: “Well, I can’t just let that Poke sit there, I’ve got to Poke them back!” (Unfortunately Facebook’s attempt at translating this success to mobile failed; Facebook killed the Poke app in early May.) But others may not appreciate feeling “forced” to reply back in one of these conversations just to see the message someone sent. I could see originally entertaining threads dwindling into a series of pained “No seriously, don’t reply back to this” messages that go on ad infinitum.

Slingshot also represents Facebook’s latest attempt to break up the components of its online platform into separate, single-serving mobile apps, a la Google. There’s Facebook Messenger, for chatting; Facebook’s Paper, for reading and discovering new content; Facebook, for staying up to date on friend’s activities and sharing your own; and the failed Facebook Poke and Facebook Camera apps (now replaced by Instagram). Unlike Google though, Facebook’s app divergence features a lot of overlap. Now, if you want to chat with a friend, you can choose to mention them on Facebook, send them a direct message in Messenger, tag them in an Instagram photo, or send them an ephemeral message in the new app Slingshot.

With Slingshot, Facebook obviously hopes to target the youthful masses who shun The Social Network for newer alternatives. But will it instead just add to the confusion of an already bloated messaging network?

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