By Robert Hackett
July 30, 2015

Move over, Snapchat. There’s a new ephemeral messaging app in town. And it works in tandem with your favorite social networks: Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp. Even SMS and email.

Kaboom, which launched Thursday in the Apple Store and Google Play store, gives its users the ability to create self-destructing messages. While its not the first app to do so, it does offer some unique advantages.

It works like this. First, you create a message inside the app, which generates a unique, HTTPS-protected web address. Then you set for how long—or how many views—you want the message to last before it expires. Select recipients, share the link (on the platform of your choice), and kaboom, you’re all set.

When David Gorodyansky, the Russian-born entrepreneur whose company built the app, riffs about its possibilities, he waxes poetic about the nature of privacy and security in the social media age. He talks about human rights in the developing world. He mentions life and liberty and the next 5 billion people coming online.

 

A bit grandiose for vanishing selfies, no doubt.

But Gorodyansky’s ambitions are not totally off base. His Menlo Park, Calif.-based company, AnchorFree, already has a hit. The firm is best known for its popular virtual private network service Hotspot Shield, which has 350 million downloads worldwide and has seen big surges in user growth at times of turmoil, such as when certain regimes restrict their state’s citizens’ access to the Internet, as happened during the Arab Spring. AnchorFree’s product provides oppressed peoples with a simple censorship work-around. (Impressed with the service’s uptick, Goldman Sachs invested $52 million in the company’s Series C round of funding in 2012.)

Of course, there is already an app for what Kaboom seeks to accomplish: Snapchat. Not to mention, the ultra-secure encrypted messaging app Wickr, which is built entirely on the idea of self-destructing messages. Why not just use those?

“The problem though with them is they require users to leave existing messaging apps and come to a new one,” Gorodyansky says. “We think this a mistake.”

“We don’t want to recreate Facebook or to stop people from using text messaging,” he continues. “All we want is to add privacy and control to other social networks people already use.”

In other words, the benefit of using Kaboom is precisely that most people won’t have to download it in order to enjoy it. The app injects Snapchat functionality into the places where people are already having conversations.

 

Still, Kaboom’s privacy controls aren’t perfect. Anyone can screenshot a message received, for example, and the sender will be oblivious. (Snapchat, on the other hand, sends an alert.) Gorodyansky says he would like to add this feature in a later version.

While Kaboom is by no means inventing a new category of communications, the app is at least an interesting experiment in disappearing message tech. Who knows? Maybe the app will become as popular as—or even more popular than—Snapchat. Maybe it be routed, like Twitter’s Periscope did to Meerkat. Or maybe it will bomb, like Facebook’s ill-begotten Snapchat competitor, the Poke app.

Whether Kaboom proves popular—or poof—time will tell.

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