Facebook Inc. took the wraps off its Slingshot mobile application for sending friends annotated photos and videos that disappear. Just don’t call it a Snapchat Inc. copycat.
Slingshot, which was accidentally released and then recalled by Facebook earlier this month, comes with a twist on Snapchat’s ephemeral pictures app. In order to receive and view a photo, a user has to first send one back, unlocking the image. The feature is designed to encourage sharing among large groups.
The release follows Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg’s rebuffed offer to buy Snapchat last year for $3 billion and is part of a broader effort to draw in younger users to the world’s biggest social-networking service. Last month, Facebook removed another application, Poke, which replicated Snapchat’s features, aimed at people who want to share things quickly and casually.
“We actually think Slingshot is just a completely different type of product,” said Joey Flynn, 27, Slingshot’s product designer. Since users have to send a shot to receive a image, “it’s half about you expressing yourself and half about nudging the people you’re sharing with to say I also want to hear about you.”
Facebook, which has added to its mobile application arsenal by acquiring Instagram in 2012 and agreeing to pay about $19 billion for WhatsApp Inc. in February, is still struggling to build products internally that will resonate with a new audience of mobile users. A revamped News Feed and Home, a tool for Android phones that didn’t gain widespread use, were also part of those efforts.
Slingshot emerged from an initiative at Facebook called Creative Labs, which will release a handful of apps this year that are branded as experimental startups within the company. Slingshot was born out of a hackathon in December during which about 40 ideas emerged.
Zuckerberg has said that he wants to cater to different methods of communication, beyond what Facebook provides to its 1.28 billion users. Apart from agreeing to buy messaging service WhatsApp, he’s hiring EBay Inc’s PayPal president David Marcus to run the Facebook Messenger application. Earlier this year, Creative Labs released Paper, an application for browsing content on Facebook in a more magazine-like format.
Users of the Slingshot application can share images with a network of people built from their phone contacts and don’t have to connect with Facebook. A team of 10 people are supporting the app, Facebook said.
“With the start of Creative Labs was a new mindset at Facebook that we should be exploring different types of sharing,” said Will Ruben, 26, who is Slingshot’s product manager. “I’m confident that we’ll be able to keep our jobs and iterate on this product for a little while.”
Separately, Snapchat introduced a new feature today that lets users share pictures and video with multiple people based on a particular event or location.