Test Driving Poke, Facebook's New "Safer Sexting" App For Tweens

Not content to have one of everything, Facebook now has two standalone mobile messaging apps. Meet Poke, a strange little app that lets users send self-destructing messages. As rumored, Poke appears to be Facebook's spin on Snapchat, an app with a conspicuously identical purpose and a hit among message-crazed tweens. It's perfect for sexting without leaving an embarrassing record, which makes snickering at the name a difficult to avoid.

Poke is available now in the iOS App Store, an Android counterpart is supposedly on the way. Instant messaging and SMS apps are a hit on the iPhone as well as on the iPod Touch, a popular device among teens who haven't quite talked their parents into paying for monthly contracts on an iPhone. Poke and Snapchat both put a playful twist on more traditional messaging apps like WhatsApp and Kik, which allow users to swap messages instantly. 

I took Poke for a test-drive, which was pretty lonely considering that out of 775 Facebook friends, the overlap between early adopters (translation: tech reporters) and people who would ever consider downloading a weird little app like Poke totaled up to exactly one. In Poke, you can send a Facebook friend a message, a photo, a short video or an old-school "poke." The gimmick is that in composing your missive, you also set a timer for how long the recipient will have before the message self-destructs.

Yep. Yep.

With a maximum time of 10 seconds, the app was a bit fast-paced for me. I certainly could have spent more time looking at what I think was a blue Furby that ABC's Joanna Stern sent my way. (A picture of a tiny pink unicorn figurine seemed like the only logical response.) 

Poke = Safer Sexting?

Poke is playful by design, but it's also creepy.

Inviting tweens to swap photos and videos that leave no trace behind is basically a mandate for multimedia sexting. After all, Snapchat was reportedly inspired by the Anthony Weiner scandal, in spite of its founder's insistence that the app isn't just about sending anatomical time-bombs. To neutralize the sexting factor, Poke notifies the sender if a message's recipient takes a screenshot. It doesn't seem like much of a deterrent, but at least it's something.  

To be honest, I don't get the app's appeal, but I think it's meant for a younger demographic. The very idea of disappearing texts may seem like a weird, fluffy little phenomenon, but in the era of downloadable Twitter archives and the Facebook Timeline, their ephemeral essence offers an oddly profound alternative.