Facebook tries to stop Snapchat drain with Slingshot

Social net tries to pull all-important younger users back from trendier new services

Facebook took direct aim at social competitor Snapchat with a new mobile app called Slingshot.

The world's largest social network today unveiled Slingshot, a mobile app that lets users share photos, videos or selfies with a group of friends instantly.

Slingshot does not direct users to Facebook nor does it post the shared images or video on the site.

The app is also an effort to take back those important younger users who have started paying more attention to Snapchat, a photo sharing application, that has been draining younger users away from Facebook.

"Facebook obviously wants to be the focal point of all social interactions," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research. "Well. it's not Snapchat alone that's dangerous to Facebook. It's Snapchat, plus Vine, Twitter and Tumbler. There are so many options that aren't Facebook today ... My kids rarely use Facebook and use Snapchat all the time."

Facebook said the app will enable users to take a photo or video, add text or draw on the image, and then shoot -- or sling it -- out to their friends. There's a catch with this, though. To see the image, those friends need to send their own photo or image back.

Also, similar to Snapchat, the Slingshot images can be swiped to make them disappear quickly after being viewed.

"Photos and videos that don't stick around forever allow for sharing that's more expressive, raw and spontaneous," wrote Facebook's Slingshot team in a blog post. "We can connect the same way we like to live: in the moment. We've enjoyed using Snapchat to send each other ephemeral messages and expect there to be a variety of apps that explore this new way of sharing. With Slingshot, we saw an opportunity to create something new and different: a space where you can share everyday moments with lots of people at once."

Slingshot was released in the U.S. for iPhones and the Android smartphone.

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said Facebook is making a smart move by directly taking on Snapchat.

"Snapchat is a major threat to Facebook," Moorhead said. "Any new service that comes along that siphons high-value users off is a giant threat. Teens love Snapchat a whole lot more than Facebook. One market segment won't decrease Facebook's profits, but the risk is that many different services like this could.

"Teens still have Facebook accounts, but they would use it more if Snapchat didn't exist," Moorhead said.

Slingshot alone will not be enough to derail Snapchat or draw a large segment of its younger users back from the service, Kerravala added.

"This is a start," he noted. "The key is what else they do from here. If this is the only mobile application Facebook comes out with, then it's hard to see how they'll succeed, but if they continue to build more mobile apps that interact easily with each other and attract more, younger users, then it is a means to an end."

Both analysts said it's interesting that the Slingshot app doesn't interact with Facebook's newsfeed or users' posts on the social site.

"I think that shows they're looking to build the best experience and not the best Facebook interoperable experience," Kerravala said.

This article, Facebook tries to stop Snapchat drain with Slingshot, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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