Shotclock Turns Messaging Into A Popularity Contest

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Does the app generation need another way to share photos and videos with friends? Probably not, but that’s not going to stop startups flinging themselves at this space. Only yesterday a ComScore report identified ephemeral messaging app Snapchat as the third most popular social app among millennials, behind first placed Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram. Bottom line: kids remain hooked on messaging and photo sharing, so startups are going to keep trying to win their attention by offering new tricks and novelty twists on the messaging status quo.

Latest to attack the space with its adulterated messaging recipe is an app called Shotclock (launching today on iOS and Android), which bills itself as the fastest way to share photos or videos with your friends. The app, which runs with the camera view as its permanent backdrop so you’re always ready to shoot, lets you snap a photo or take a video — you can add a text caption on top of your photo if you choose — and then hit one button to simultaneously share your missive to all of your followers.

If that sounds a bit like Fling, albeit without the random element, it’s worth stressing that content on Shotclock is also ephemeral and gamified. By default your Shotclock missive will last for an hour. But if your friends star what you send them, it adds an extra minute to its lifespan (per star). And if they share it, it gets to live for 10 minutes more per share. So basically the more of your friends who like and share your stuff, the longer it will stick around.

So basically it’s a popularity contest, which — like all such games — is devoid of any real substance, yet which also targets the human desire for social approbation to give it a viral stickiness that aims to keep the app in play. It’s worth noting that Facebook tried something pretty similar recently, with Slingshot: a messaging app that only let you view the content your friend sent you after you created a message to send them back. Slingshot has, it’s fair to say, sunk with barely a ripple — at the same time as one-word messaging app Yo rose to hyped prominence. Such are the swings and roundabouts of the capricious mobile messaging space.

The startup behind Shotclock is also responsible for anonymish group messaging app Rumr, which launched back in March, offering groups of friends a new way to chat together from behind the safety of individual masks so, although everyone in the chat knows the names of everyone else, people’s individual comments are not attached to their identity — so the more people taking part in the group chat, the greater the sense of anonymity. That app chased the zeitgeisty footsteps of anonymish social sharing apps like Secret which let you share content with friends and others without badging it with your actual name.

Rumr Inc raised an $800,000 seed in October last year for its messaging mission, led by Khosla Ventures‘ Ben Ling. Google Ventures‘ MG Siegler also participated in the round (Disclosure: Siegler is a columnist for TechCrunch); along with Greycroft Partners; LA-based angel investor Paige Craig; and Scott Lahman, textPlus founder and CEO.

CEO and founder James Jerlecki says it was always the startup’s intention to make multiple apps focused on communications, albeit he’s not breaking out any specific usage figures for Rumr as yet — beyond saying “July was our largest month yet on a sessions and total number of messages sent basis” — so it does feel a little as if this is another fast fired shot at the crowded messaging space in the hopes of achieving better traction. He also says there are “many pieces of Rumr used in Shotclock” — which means the team could build the app quickly and get it market fast enough to capitalise on the messaging fashion of the moment.

“There certainly is a lot of noise in this space,” agrees Jerlecki when asked how Shotclock hopes to stand out in such a crowded space. “I think any time you can make something that’s quicker and easier than what’s out there, that’s a position worth taking.”

“Most of the time when I take a video or picture, I have no need for a preview screen. Sure, I may want to see it afterwards (which you can do on Shotclock), but I just want to share my moment with my friends or family. There is no other app that allows you to share with a large set of users as quickly as Shotclock. One tap and it sends to everyone who follows you. It’s so simple to use,” he adds.

Much like the original Snapchat (i.e. before Stories), Shotclock cuts out any photo processing with its focus on speed and spontaneity — so you don’t get Instagram-esque filters, and there’s no ability to control the video you shoot beyond when you start and stop recording. So it’s evidently aiming for a rougher feel than Vine. The focus is on what Jerlecki calls “instant sending”. The user takes a photo then it’s one more tap to send it off into the cyber ether (to give them chance to add text if they like). Or it’s tap and hold to record a video — and when they release their finger it’s immediately being sent.

“The cool thing about it being instant is, it’s also authentic. I can’t edit it. I can’t touch the photo up or make sure everything is perfect. When you look at Vine, Instagram or even Snapchat stories, things have gotten very edited and produced. That’s not what we are about,” says Jerlecki.

What’s also true about “instant sending” is it’s designed to get an app up and running in double-quick time — being as users are encouraged to share before they’ve thought better of it. And the app gets to benefit from the viral effect of whatever content is being flung out to every follower they have. Throw in Shotclock’s gamification elements, where users are encouraged to bat content back and forth to keep it in play for longer, and this app might as well be called ‘Sticky Viral’.

So no wonder Jerlecki doesn’t see insta-broadcasting as a niche area. “I wouldn’t categorize instant sending as a niche, just an area that’s still being explored and new,” he says. “I think you are going to see more things move this way, especially with content that doesn’t have a very long shelf life. There are so many scenarios where instant send is better, but live events, concerts, music are a few areas we are going to focus on.”

Of course just because the app is designed to be sticky doesn’t mean it will be a success. There’s a fine line between what’s cool and what’s not, as any teen could tell you. And finding a digital recipe that appeals to kids’ over-sensitive sensibilities can be a surprisingly hit and miss process (as Facebook could tell you). So Shotclock might well go the way of Slingshot. Or it might grab the imagination of a bunch of teens somewhere out there — or perhaps more likely, some self-promotional marketing types — and be kept in play a little bit longer.

One way Jerlecki and co are aiming to build traction behind Shotclock is by recruiting what they call “creators” from the get go — aka people who have agreed to start generating content on the platform, as a way to further their own self marketing activities. (You can see the current crop of featured Shotclock users at the bottom of Jerlecki’s Medium post.)

“A lot of our focus will be on helping creators grow their brand, but also helping them to make money on our platform,” he says. “By having these relationships directly, it’s been a great way to get feedback and things they would like to see on the platform. One of the first thing many of them asked for, was the ability to send links (like shotclock.net) So we added that ability into shotclock where you can send a link directly on a shot. This isn’t something Vine, Snapchat or Instagram lets you do and is a great way to drive traffic to your store or page.”