Can you remember the last time Facebook launched a successful consumer-facing application that didn’t try and copy other apps? I can’t.
Its most recent attempts, Slingshot and Paper, have yet to catch on with the social network’s one billion-plus user base, and both ripped off ideas that made other apps—Snapchat and Flipboard—popular.
So when I read that Facebook is reportedly creating yet another consumer application that copies features from popular social apps, I had one question: Why?
Give Us A Moment. On Second Thought, Don’t
Its latest Frankenstein experiment is codenamed Moments, according to TechCrunch, not to be confused with the company’s celeb-only app Mentions. The application is attempting to make sharing privately between different groups easier, so you won’t share updates with your Facebook friends who might not actually be your friends.
As TechCrunch’s Josh Constine explains it:
Moments could help people who’ve:
Shared a status with too many or too few people by accident because they didn’t understand Facebook’s privacy settings
Don’t share often or censor themselves because they don’t want to blast what they’re doing or thinking to all their friends and acquaintances
Switched to private messaging for intimate sharing, but would prefer the more orderly style of feedback instead of haphazard replies
Been embarrassed by friends and family mixing in the comment reels of your photos, like when Mom recounts how you cried when you got cut from the soccer team…in full view of your new crush.
Sure, Facebook’s privacy settings can be confusing when you want to share with only certain people, and the company’s recent efforts to better educate users on who they’re sharing personal information with have ramped up in recent months.
But if Facebook can’t help people figure out how and what they’re sharing in one particular application, how will launching an entirely different application—complete with a new set of privacy settings—make that any easier?
Additionally, Facebook’s “Lists” feature already provides the option for users to create separate groups and have more control over who sees what updates. (Just for fun I took a look at my own list settings—I have exactly two people under “Family.”)
Moments appears to be a cross between Path, the private social network that was a favorite among early adopters but slowly declined in popularity, and Google+ Circles, those groups in the social network that are supposed to make managing your friends lists easier.
Path and Google+. Huh. At least stealing ephemeral messaging from Snapchat made sense. Now Facebook isn’t even copying successful rivals.
More Apps! More! More! More!
Facebook’s bad case of me-tooism is contributing to a broader trend you might call app inflation. For whatever reason, many big social networks have decided to split themselves up into families of loosely related apps. The aim appears to be to appeal to different audiences with single-purpose apps that duplicate particular functions of these Web-based services.
Yet it hasn’t gone swimmingly. Foursquare’s massive push to separate check-ins and friends list was met with lukewarm acceptance. Facebook’s attempts to force people out of the main Facebook app and into Facebook Messenger have frustrated users as well.
App inflation might not be the best way to win consumer attention, given the glut of options people face. According to a study by Localytics, the time consumers spend in applications increased 21% over the past year—good news for these app makers, you’d think. And at first glance, that looks great for social networking apps, which saw a 49% increase in “time in app” between August 2013 and August 2014.
But that growth in time spent with social networking apps is much less impressive than it looks. These apps, it turns out, are primarily used for what Localytics calls “snacking.” People open them frequently, but they don’t stick around that long. Social apps, it turns out, commanded user attention for only about 2.5 minutes at a time—way below music, entertainment, sports, games and news.
This is all open to interpretation, of course. Maybe people are “snacking” more precisely because the social companies are busting up their apps into little app constellations, forcing users to frantically open multiple apps where they once used just one. Or maybe people are dividing their attention across apps for multiple services, suggesting that their appetite for even more apps is probably limited.
Either way, it’s hard to see how app inflation—whether by copycats or the debris created by the explosion of bigger apps—will improve things much.
Facebook has yet to confirm the existence of the Moments app, and the company declined to comment for this article. But if it is indeed the latest addition to the company’s app arsenal, it probably won’t gain much more traction that those Google+ Circles we all so lovingly set up, then proceeded to forget about.
But hey, at least it might be pretty.
Lead photo by Juhan Sonin