Facebook’s Slingshot will fail because few will understand its purpose

I’ve been using Facebook’s new app, Slingshot, intensely since it launched last week.  It was initially thought of as a Snapchat competitor and the successor to Poke – which I argued could have beaten Snapchat – but it’s actually quite different.

It’s hard to describe Slingshot and that’s the biggest problem.  It’s difficult to understand its purpose, and few will invest the time needed to do so.  Even after much thought, it’s still not clear why one should use Slingshot over other apps.

Get_Facebook_Slingshot_small

It’s not a messaging app, though superficially it looks like Snapchat.  You take a photo and then send it to one or many people.  It’s horrible at messaging because in order for the other person to see your photo, they have to “sling” one back to you first.  Then for you to see what that person slung – which won’t be in direct response to what you originally sent – you have to sling another one back again.  It’s messy.  It’s confusing.  This encourages those who don’t usually share to share, but if all you want to do is communicate then Slingshot is inefficient compared to Snapchat or Whatsapp.

It’s not a broadcasting tool either.  It’s like Instagram in that you can share a photo easily with your all your friends (you can “select all” to send); but it’s a bad way to broadcast because of the sling-back requirement.  If you’re interested in sharing to as many people as possible, Instagram and Facebook are better methods.

When Slingshot works well, it’s like an intimate version of Facebook’s news feed, because only the people who care about you will sling something back in a timely matter.  Those who don’t care will wait for something worthwhile to broadcast before slinging back.  So theoretically you’ll get a mix of the timely and intimate plus the late and worthwhile.

That’s in theory anyway.  Practically, there aren’t enough people using Slingshot so there’s not much to see.  People are posting throwaway photos designed to fulfill the sling-back requirement as quickly as possible, and so are low quality.  Because you can only view a photo once, the app feels too lightweight – like there’s not much to do with it.  That’s compounded by the fact that if you only periodically share, you can’t use the app in-between because you can’t view anything without posting something first.  It’s a difficult app to use habitually.

My prediction: the majority who try Slingshot won’t get it and won’t invest the time to understand it.  And because few use it, even fewer will get value out of it.

Facebook can make improvements but the app has a deeper fundamental problem.  What is it for?  If it’s just a way to share, I’m not convinced it does that well enough.

An edited version of this post also appeared on my weekly column at e27.

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