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Facebook Takes Aim at Snapchat with its Brand-New Slingshot

slingshot-logoThis week Facebook launched a brand-new “ephemeral” messaging app called Slingshot. And like David taking aim at the mighty Goliath, Facebook is betting Slingshot can take down its archrival Snapchat.

Just like Snapchat, Slingshot users can take a photo or shoot a video, add captions and drawings, and send to one or many friends. Once a user is done viewing a message it disappears forever, leaving no trace of its existence.

Some may wonder what the point is of creating content that won’t last, but the team behind Slingshot says that’s exactly the point. “Photos and videos that don’t stick around forever allow for sharing that’s more expressive, raw and spontaneous,” a post on the official Slingshot blog explained. Freed from the pressure of making something perfect — some might feel intimidated by Instagram’s relentlessly artsy creations, for example — ephemeral messaging is meant to serve as a casual window into your friends’ lives. And Slingshot takes interaction one step further by making back-and-forth conversation mandatory.

“Reply to unlock”

What sets Slingshot apart from Snapchat is that you can’t see what your friends have sent you at first — all pending messages appear as pixelated thumbnails in your feed. The only way you can view them is to “sling” a reply back to your friends, effectively unlocking the messages. Slingshot hopes this forced reciprocity will be a fun incentive that gets users to keep on sharing — and the unique hook that attracts users away from Snapchat.

From the Slingshot blog:

“With Slingshot, we wanted to build something where everybody is a creator and nobody is just a spectator. When everyone participates, there’s less pressure, more creativity and even the little things in life can turn into awesome shared experiences.”

To the left, an example of what a friend's message might look like before you "unlock" it. To the right, an example of captions you can layer over photos or videos.
To the left, an example of what a friend’s message might look like before you “unlock” it. To the right, an example of captions you can layer over photos or videos.

Wither the screenshot warning?

There’s something Snapshot does that Slingshot doesn’t, though, and that’s warn you if someone has taken a screenshot of your “ephemeral” message. Many Snapchat users feel that such a warning helps safeguard their privacy, since people are less likely to screenshot messages if they know they’ll get “tattled on” when they do. Will Slingshot users behave more cautiously when they can’t know if someone might be making permanent copies of their messages? And could that reservation ultimately translate into fewer Slingshot users for Facebook?

“Look” controversy

People are describing Slingshot as a Snapchat clone, but it actually looks a lot closer to another startup messaging app called Look — so much so, in fact, that some in the tech community are claiming Facebook copied Look outright. The big tip-off is that Look also scrambles messages until a user replies to unlock them. Look, having launched just before Slingshot in early June, believes they got there first and feels, well, a bit overlooked. Others argue that this is just the way of business in the tech world, and Facebook is well within its rights to try to out-innovate and out-compete its peers.

But will Slingshot be shown the love?

With Slingshot, Facebook aims to dial the 1% Rule of internet culture — the theory that just a fraction of internet users create all the content for everyone else — up to 100%. Facebook’s goal is for Slingshot to be the platform where everybody engages, everybody creates, and everybody shares.

Snapchat users share nearly as many photos a day as are currently shared on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp combined. Facebook has already tried to steal away some of these numbers from Snapchat with the failed Poke messaging app. Does Slingshot finally have what it takes to be a solid competitor?

As usual, it all comes down to the users. Will they find that reply-to-unlock garners more engagement from friends, or will they find it an annoying barrier and drop the thread of communication? Will they share less in light of Slingshot’s lack of protection against screenshotting, or will they simply modify what they share?

Only time will tell. Until then, we’ll keep playing with this new Slingshot.

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