We just saw the tale of two social app releases play out in Yo and Slingshot. And while there were fair measures of wisdom and foolishness in the creation of each, it feels as if there’s an unfair distribution in how much belief and incredulity the market has received each with.
Let’s take a look at how these two apps differ from Snapchat, and what we can learn from all three.
Slingshot: Facebook’s answer to Snapchat
Facebook recently released Slingshot, a standalone app intended to compete directly with the ephemeral Snapchat by letting you annotate and send photos to friends that auto-delete within seconds of being viewed. For younger users between the ages of 16-24, Facebook has become too big and unwieldy –- they want tighter connections with a smaller group of people who they see every day.
Additionally, Facebook’s archive and index everything mentality feels like a vice principal’s threat to make sure every youthful indiscretion goes on one’s permanent record.
These areas of friction for Facebook are exactly where Snapchat excels, and also where it appears Slingshot is most aggressively targeting. In fact, Slingshot is shockingly absent any trace of Facebook, but despite all that Slingshot does right, they missed two key understandings that make Snapchat so successful.
Forced reciprocity: The Slingshot miss
Slingshot’s one core gimmick – and ultimately its Achilles heel – is ‘forced reciprocity.’ This means that when I receive a photo from a friend, I am unable to view it until I send an image back to them which they in turn are unable to view until they send something back, and so on, ad infinitum. Whether your social platform exists to facilitate engagement between two friends, or to build social brand advocacy, it should reflect how the people who use it communicate in real life. Slingshot necessitates taking turns talking, engineering out the ability to have any type of linear, responsive conversation. If a snap-happy best friend is on her honeymoon in Greece and you’re at your desk, you shouldn’t feel compelled to create crappy pictures of your desk lamp to unlock her yacht trip around the Caldera.
Beyond mandating a 1:1 response rate, Slingshot’s forced reciprocity misses another universal truth: even the greatest conversations eventually end. It’s the digital equivalent of the “no you hang up first” game of puppy love, but warped into a terrible perpetuity. Every Slingshot conversation will end with someone so fatigued that they leave a message locked and a friend unvalidated.
Lessons from Yo: Dumb products built by smart people
Yo allows people to send their friends a single, un-editable message that says ‘Yo’. It does absolutely nothing else. It was launched ten weeks ago, and has since netted a $1.2 million investment as a one person company. As of Friday June 20th, app ranking solution App Annie determined that Slingshot was ranked No. 79 most downloaded free app, while Yo was No. 5. In my unvarnished opinion, Yo is a dumb product. It is, however, a dumb product built by smart people, which is where I often find the best lessons.
Yo teaches the art of simple
Yo is perhaps the archetypal example of how simple you can build something. Users know exactly what they’d want it to do, know exactly how to do it, and it mirrors an incredibly basic and frequent component of human interaction. Yo is basically just Facebook Poke in wolf’s clothing, but with all the billions of dollars of connected Facebook experience stripped out. Despite the lack of functionality, this simplicity is why Yo is succeeding, if only for a short time.
Simplicity vs. usefulness: Snapchat, Yo, and Slingshot
Snapchat is another app that has embraced the art of simple, and its combination of simplicity with just enough functionality to make it useful is what has led to Snapchat’s impressive success. While Yo is a brilliantly simple product, I predict the app will experience a very quick rise and fall since it just doesn’t offer enough to keep bringing users back. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Slingshot, which gets a lot right, but over-complicates the overall experience with forced reciprocity. Until Slingshot removes that feature, Snapchat will remain the clear leader, with the Yo’s of the world coming and going.
Slingshot is still in its early stages and Facebook has plenty of smart people to work on getting it right.
What we’ve seen play out this week through Yo and Slingshot starkly highlights three important lessons for those of us who spend our time building social experiences: build for the people who will love you first, don’t backwards engineer for the campaign metrics or market niche you want to achieve, and know that almost no one screws up by erring on the side of simplicity.
Dan Sullivan is the founder and CEO of Crowdly, a unique advocate marketing platform that seamlessly integrates with brand Facebook communities. Dan has dedicated his entrepreneurial career to understanding and enhancing brand/consumer relationships, both on and offline. Before Crowdly, Dan was the founder of a TechStars alumni company and leading mobile crowdsourcing platform.