Last night, Facebook pushed its Snapchat-rival app, Slingshot, out to the US public. While not available here in the UK yet, we thought you might still want a peek at what to expect, from our US brothers' hands-on...
It's a a lot like Snapchat, except worse. I hate to say it, but even Facebook's Poke was more fun than this.
Don't get me wrong. Slingshot is a pretty app, with an original twist. Like Snapchat, it lets you send your friend a photo or video (plus whatever mark-ups you add on top) and after that friend looks at the photo or video, it will self destruct. Unlike Snapchat, however, Slingshot will only let you see your friend's message if you send them a message first.
This just adds to the overall confusion that haunts Slingshot. The app walks you through countless tutorials that are trying so hard to be fun and whimsical, but even after five minutes of being educated on how Slingshot works, it's still takes a frustrating amount of time to actually figure out the workflow. Everything about the app is counterintuitive, from the way that you connect with your friends to the way that you attempt—and I chose that word specifically—to open their messages.
The real confusion sets in once you start trading
snaps shots(?) with your friends. Sending a message isn't so bad. The look-and-feel is sort of slick, if not a bit overwrought with cute sounds and kitschy animations, but Facebook's twist on the Snapchat model is frustrating to no end. Once you send a shot to a friend, you're probably going to be pretty eager to hear what they have to say. Too bad! You're not allowed to see their response to your first shot until you send them a second shot in return. And when they send you a second reply, you have to send a third shot to see how they reacted to the second shot. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera, until you die or decide to play 2048 instead.
From there things get a little intrusive. The app is very streamlined, so that all of the focus is on taking pictures and sending them to friends. It's actually too streamlined, because it took me more than a couple of minutes to find the profile and settings. Once I did, the Facebook data grab began.
Slingshot automatically syncs with all of the contacts in your phone (not your Facebook friends). All of them, including that ex you've been trying to avoid. You can opt out of this feature for future auto-syncing, but that requires finding a little orange switch that's buried under a couple of menus. And yet, even when you turn it off, Slingshot defaults to adding people to your network in a way that's, well, confusing.
When you first sign up, you can add your Facebook friends and contacts, but you can't add them one by one. You can only add all of them. You also can't search for a friend by their name. You can search for a username, but Slingshot then automatically adds them—unless they don't have an account, in which case Slingshot will tell you they don't have an account. In other words, there's no such thing as a friend request in Slingshot. Slingshot wants everybody to be your friend.
For an ephemeral messaging app, Slingshot also doesn't seem very concerned with your privacy. Whereas Snapchat will let you know if somebody's screenshotting your snaps, Slingshot does not. You'd imagine there would be some sort of data use policy that addresses this sort of thing, but when you actually find the data use policy in your settings, the page is blank. This is surely some bug that didn't get fixed before Slingshot hit the App Store, but it's irritating nevertheless.
So how is it really different from Snapchat, other than being less useful and more confusing? It's not really. Slingshot adds a couple small features, like the ability to message all of your friends at once. But it also lacks a lot of the versatility that Snapchat users have come to enjoy. Snapchat lets you have more control over who can send you messages and view your story. Snapchat also lets you simply send and receive messages from friends without getting sucked into some Facebook-powered vortex of mayhem.
If you're in the market for an ephemeral messaging app, stick with Snapchat. If you're in the mood to embark upon some sort of Facebook-powered social experiment, then Slingshot exists for you to try. Some say it helps if you think of each shot as a status update that makes your friends work for some big pay off. I say that more friction never makes for a better social experience. Especially if it's one that already exists without it.