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Facebook takes another swipe at Snapchat with slingshot

Matt Kapko | June 20, 2014
Facebook is taking another run at Snapchat. This time with an app that works more like a boomerang than a slingshot. The app's unique features and silly sounds make for a playful experience, but's Matt Kapko writes it's also an awkward, unnatural and never-ending way to live life in the moment.

You can shoot a photo by tapping on your screen or tap and hold to record video. And yes, there's a small link to toggle between front- and back-facing cameras to shoot a selfie. Slings can be sent with multiple lines of text or a drawing designed with a nifty tool on the right-hand column that provides options for color and brush size.

Slingshot packs another unique feature — the reaction shot — directly into a split-screen view. Users will see the top half of the original sling and can send their reaction with the bottom half of the screen — paving the way for many epic two-faced mash-ups.

Never-Ending Back and Forth
The app feels playful and sleek at first use, but that's almost a requirement considering the new sharing behavior Facebook wants to encourage. Facebook tried to beat Snapchat with an almost exact copy of its model before, but its self-destructing messaging app Poke never took off. Facebook pulled the plug on Poke last month, about 17 months after it first launched and seven months after Snapchat rebuffed its multi-billion dollar acquisition offer.

Facebook is walking a fine line now, doing everything it can to develop a promising alternative to Snapchat without failing miserably in a cyclical fashion. The new behaviors being encouraged this time around are a smart move, but reciprocation and reactions may not be enough to pass the muster.

The sling-back requirement helps differentiate Slingshot from its obvious competitors, but it could also turn users off when they're given the option to either be creative or reply with something mundane to simply unlock what's been shared with them.

Living in the moment isn't always about having the last word. Imagine not being able to hear what someone says until you have a response ready to share. Then imagine that person not being able to hear what you just said without saying something back first. That's how Slingshot works and it goes on and on.

Slingshot's emphasis on reciprocation and reactive addictive sharing makes for an awkward conversation flow. While the mechanics for that never-ending back and forth are rigidly defined, how Slingshot's ephemerality feature works is left mostly unclear.

Those against-the-grain decisions appear to be deliberate. The team that built Slingshot at Facebook Creative Labs even mentions Snapchat by name, perhaps unintentionally admitting the fact that Snapchat remains the leading influencer and platform for ephemeral messaging.

Awkward But Potentially Addictive
"We've enjoyed using Snapchat to send each other ephemeral messages and expect there to be a variety of apps that explore this new way of sharing. With Slingshot, we saw an opportunity to create something new and different: a space where you can share everyday moments with lots of people at once," the Slingshot team writes.


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