Is Slingshot the new Snapchat? Facebook hopes so

June 17, 2014, 9:20 PM UTC
Photo: karen bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Snapchat has some new competition in the market for selfie photos that disappear after a few seconds.

On Tuesday, Facebook introduced Slingshot, an app for sharing messages and images with friends that vanish soon after they view them. With the new service, Facebook is challenging Snapchat, a start-up that popularized the idea of disappearing messages and has quickly become one of the technology industry’s darlings.

Slingshot puts its own spin on so-called ephemeral messsaging by requiring anyone who receives a photo to respond to the sender. If they don’t, they are unable to open the original image and instead can only see a pixelated screen — and nothing more. The reasoning is to ensure people engage with one another and don’t simply receive photos without contributing. Of course, this is also serves Facebook’s interest by increasing use of the service.

“With Slingshot, we wanted to build something where everybody is a creator and nobody is just a spectator,” Facebook said in a blog post introducing the new product. “When everyone participates, there’s less pressure, more creativity and even the little things in life can turn into awesome shared experiences. This is what Slingshot is all about.”

The Slingshot crew even took the time to mention (read: take a swipe at) Snapchat in its introductory message: “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.” But Facebook feels it can take the game up a notch. “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,” the post said.

Users can also send videos from a smartphone camera, add a message commenting on a photo, or draw an image in response.

Facebook (FB) had offered to buy Snapchat for $3 billion last year, but the company’s young founders rejected an acquisition. It seemed like an astounding decision at the time considering Snapchat had no revenue. But Facebook didn’t get angry — it  decided to try to get even. Some may even consider Slingshot to be a kind of Snapchat 2.0 or Snapchat clone.

The new app joins a cast of others already owned by Facebook including the chatting app Messenger and Instagram, a popular photo and video service. Facebook also recently acquired the messaging service WhatsApp for $19 billion.

Facebook’s success with Slingshot is hardly assured considering it has failed in the past to make much headway in the messaging space. Last month, it shut down a Snapchat-like app called Poke a year after its release.