Last week Facebook released its newest messaging app for iPhone and Android, Slingshot, which allows users to send disappearing picture and video messages to their friends. The app, which is the second to come out of Facebook’s Creative Labs (the first being Paper), sounds an awful lot like Snapchat on the surface, but it features a few quirks to differentiate itself from the dancing ghost.
With Slingshot, users take a photo or video and, fittingly, “slingshot” it to their friends. The quirk here is that in order to open a Slingshot message, you must send one in return. Once you’ve viewed an unlocked message, you can then “react” with a picture, video or text. If you receive a reaction, you don’t have to send another message before opening the content. You cannot react to a reaction, which means conversations are ended after just two messages have been sent.
If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Slingshot isn’t really designed for conversation, since you have to send a message before viewing the first one — it’s more designed for content creation and sharing moments. Slingshot presents a situation where, in order to view every picture you’re sent, you can’t stop sending photos. But instead of being addicting, this process is often infuriating.
When you receive a notification, the natural response is to want to open it. Slingshot prevents you from just doing that. The result is you and your friends constantly sharing uninteresting images purely to open each other’s initial pictures. In just a weekend of using Slingshot, I received far more images of blank walls and ceilings than duck faces and lunches. And again, if you’re in the groove of sending interesting pictures of, say, a concert, the inability to react to a reaction ends each chain of images at just two. Then you have to start all over, creating a frustrating stop-and-start flow.
Slingshot’s pictures do not have a time limit before they disappear; rather, you need to swipe away an image after you’re done viewing it. If you close the app before swiping away the image, it’ll remain in the queue until that friend sends another image ready for viewing.
Slingshot essentially gamifies image and video messaging, so it features animations that fit with the theme. When you send a message, the picture shrinks and falls to the bottom of the screen before “slingshoting” off screen and into a friend’s queue. When a locked image arrives, it comes in pixilated form to block you from viewing the picture or video before sharing your own visual moment. Once unlocked, the pixels clear in a brief animation.
When it comes to the look and feel of Slingshot, Facebook dropped its traditionally fluid blue and white graphics for a black background with gold and white lettering, giving the app a more futuristic feel. Generally, this user interface is as basic as basic can get. It’s a surprisingly pedestrian effort; attempting to find new friends is difficult, and the profile menu is confusing to navigate.
Not everything about Slingshot is maddening, though; some of its quirks are actually quite welcome. The app allows users to write on their pictures in large or small font, for one, and those little tidbits don’t have a character limit. A nifty “send all” button lets you easily send a must-share moment to your entire friend list. And notifications for an awaiting Slingshot tell you if the message is just for you, or if it was sent to multiple people.
Slingshot works as advertised, and it’s certainly differentiated itself from Snapchat, but its “forced reply” method of getting friends sharing frustrates when put into practice. Ultimately, it doesn’t offer enough compensation to either replace or even sit beside the usual photo sharing stalwarts in your app drawer.