Facebook Slingshots Itself In The Face By Making Reply-To-Unlock Optional

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Many thought Facebook’s ephemeral app Slingshot was pointless, but now it’s not even special. It’s just another pokey Snapchat clone. As of today’s update, Slingshot’s core mechanic, the requirement that friends first reply with a photo or video to unlock what you sent them, can now be turned off by the sender. That means people can just blast you their photos without forcing you to do any work, which surely reduces the friction of the app and could open it to a more mainstream audience. But the curiosity that friction created was part of what made Slingshot fun (I actually used it for a few weeks, and *gasp*, enjoyed it).

“Sling a shot to see a shot? Not necessarily! After shooting a photo or video, now you can choose whether to sling it as a locked or unlocked shot” the update trumpets with little apparent awareness of the gravity of the move. Perhaps this will open up Slingshot to a more mainstream

Now it’s just a Snapchat clone with a nicer drawing interface, reactions, and your Facebook friends. Considering Snapchat’s cool factor and strong community, competing directly with it seems like a fool’s game. Perhaps Facebook thinks its polished ephemeral sharing app can succeed in parts of the world where it already has a strong presence and Snapchat is still small. But the change just feels cowardly.

Facebook’s Creative Labs standalone apps are supposed to be allowed to fail. They’re experiments to investigate what users want. That’s good, because ditching reply-to-unlock is akin to an admission of failure of the app’s premise. I would have rather seen Facebook ride out its risky mechanic, and let users decide if it belonged in the deadpool. Instead it’s betting a watered-down version will be more popular, but it’s still years too late.