Codenamed “Moments”, Facebook Has Built An App For Super-Private Sharing

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Facebook has failed repeatedly to get us to use complicated lists and privacy settings to share intimate moments with just our closest friends and family. It’s clumsy and confusing doing that with the same composer for blasting News Feed updates to everyone. But now Facebook is polishing off a new app codenamed “Moments” designed to make this micro-sharing much simpler, multiple sources tell TechCrunch, including one who has seen a live internal version of the app.

The product is currently being “dogfooded” by Facebook employees to test its functionality and squash bugs. The current design features a grid with a few tiles, each which represent a set of close friends or family. Users can tap one of these to quickly share with just them. The goal is to make selective sharing to different sets of people much faster than the main Facebook app, which focuses foremost on content rather than audience.

It’s important to note that Facebook occasionally never launches products that it’s built. For example, a different source says Facebook recently scrapped a calendar-esque product around events. It’s possible that Moments gets held back, overhauled, or given a new name before launch. When reached for comment, Facebook replied with its standard “We do not comment on rumors or speculation.”

But the app does exist.

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One source who’s seen Facebook Moments likened it to this app Cluster

Our source who’s seen Moments likened it to the mobile app Cluster, which lets people create safe “spaces” for sharing content with small groups of people like family, best friends, high school buddies, or co-workers. Moments will similarly let people share to different subsets of their total friend list using a more visual design. This should be more comfortable for people than the tiny text-based privacy selector on their News Feed composer which relies on little-used Friend Lists.

Moments could help people who’ve:

  • Shared a status with too many or too few people by accident because they didn’t understand Facebook’s privacy settings
  • Don’t share often or censor themselves because they don’t want to blast what they’re doing or thinking to all their friends and acquaintances
  • Switched to private messaging for intimate sharing, but would prefer the more orderly style of feedback instead of haphazard replies
  • Been embarrassed by friends and family mixing in the comment reels of your photos, like when Mom recounts how you cried when you got cut from the soccer team…in full view of your new crush.

Back in 2010, Mark Zuckerberg revealed that only 5% of users had used Friend Lists, indicating it hadn’t found a design that made more granular privacy controls comprehensible. In an effort to rectify that, in 2011 Facebook revamped its Friend Lists, automatically creating lists of your family, co-workers, and local friends, plus letting you set up lists of more distant Acquaintances you want to see less of, and Close Friends whose posts you don’t want to miss. Facebook could potentially auto-populate Moments with some of these lists.

Facebook Lists

It’s unclear whether Moments will integrate with Facebook Groups, but there are already 500 million people using them, and a standalone app could make posting to them much easier.

When I spoke with Zuckerberg last year about what standalone apps were on the way, he hinted Groups could get unbundled. He explained on stage during our interview that “…if you have something like Groups, it’s always going to be kind of second-class in the main Facebook app, or even messaging for that matter. In order to make these things really be able to reach their full potential, I do think over time we’re going to have to create more specific experiences.” Instead of having to open the main Facebook app, click More, and then scroll down and find the little text title for the group you want to post to, perhaps Moments could give you rapid access.

Moments should remind you of Path, which also aimed to get you to share more to fewer people — your real friends and family. But Path’s model of creating an entirely new social graph from scratch hasn’t won it much traction in the U.S. Path’s stateside userbase was concentrated around early adopters and Silicon Valley types, so it was missing the people most of us would want to share intimate moments with, like when we went to sleep. As soon as you accept Path requests from acquaintances, sharing sensitive stuff gets scarier.

Facebook List Creator

Moments could be easier to use because it merely needs you to carve out subsets of the connections you already have on Facebook. The social network has also reached ubiquity, which means you’ll likely be able to pick from your closest friends and family members when choosing who to share with on Moments because they’re already on Facebook.

Moments holds big potential for Facebook if it can buck the trend of its last few standalone apps Paper and Slingshot, which found some loyal users but have been largely ignored by the mainstream user base. Moments will have to provide obvious, instant value far beyond the main Facebook app to get big. But even if it doesn’t reach widespread popularity, encouraging more frequent sharing of different types of content is valuable to Facebook even on a small scale. That’s why Moments could be what makes Zuckerberg’s Law Of Social Sharing come true. Here Zuckerberg describes his theory of why sharing is growing exponentially.

Facebook’s business is built on trust — something that it’s been a bit shaky on. Yet the more people who trust that they can safely share sensitive content to specific people without others seeing it, the wider the range of content they’re willing to post, the more engagement time and ad targeting data Facebook has to monetize, and the better it can fulfill its mission. As I wrote two years ago, “Not only will you share a wider variety of content more frequently if you share to small sets of friends, but sensitive content and anything you explicitly pick the audience for is almost sure to be more interesting to those people than the average post.

Adoption will be an uphill battle for Facebook, as many don’t think it even cares about privacy. Worst-case, it flops, and Facebook keeps on experimenting. But if Moments can make our online identities prismatic, where different audiences see different sides of us, the amount we share each year may continue to double, just as Zuckerberg foretold.

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