Facebook didn't dig too deeply to innovate on Snapchat's ephemeral messaging premise with its new iOS and Android app Slingshot, but the network's latest teen-friendly effort has a twist: Before you can read a message, you have to send one.
It's a novel idea, for sure, but a divisive one. When Slingshot pings you about an incoming message, you see a blurry, pixelated version of the photo or video your friend sent over. But instead of opening it, you have to take a photo or video and send it first. It's a love it or hate it feature that encourages goofy selfies while stymying any possibility of a real conversation.
After a day of using Slingshot, I realized I'm not a fan of the feature. When I'm sitting at my desk with absolutely nothing of interest to shoot--and please, I don't want to take another photo of my face--I just want to see the funny thing my friend sent. I don't like the pressure of having to sling first.
But it can be fun. Like Twitter's 140-character limitation, Slingshot's premise forces you to be creative. Just don't expect to have a full-fledged conversation with anyone you're messaging. Slingshot is just for sharing moments from your day, with all the silliness that entails. All I'm saying is expect a lot of selfies.
How to sling
The best part about Slingshot is that it doesn't feel like a Facebook app. Unlike Facebook Messenger, Slingshot doesn't use the Facebook motif, and it doesn't require you to sync your Facebook contacts (although you can if you want). You don't sign in to the app with your Facebook credentials.
Instead, you start fresh, choosing a new username and entering your phone number to see if your contacts are already using the app, or invite them if they're not. Once you have a few friends, you can start slinging.
Here's where it gets weird. Because you have to send a message before viewing one, you don't get to choose a recipient before you create your message, you have to wait until after. That's not exactly intuitive. I'm also not a fan of the white font on black background that Facebook's Creative Labs team chose.
But the rest of the app is basic enough and easy to use for people familiar with photo-based messaging apps. You tap the Slingshot camera to take a photo or press it down to shoot a 15-second video. The camera pops up in the default front-facing selfie mode--yes, it actually says selfie. There are the usual text captioning and drawing options.
After your message is ready, you can choose who to send it to. Slingshot gives you the option to select multiple recipients, which a handy feature. You can choose to save the images or videos you capture yourself to your camera roll, but the messages disappear, although someone might screenshot your photos and you'll never know.
Slingshot isn't a must-use app, especially when Facebook already offers you Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. It lacks the spirit and ingenuity that the network's Creative Labs team put together with Paper. And the world doesn't really need more ways to send disappearing messages. But Slingshot is a better option than Poke, and maybe that's all Facebook was aiming for.