Facebook Is Testing Self-Destructing Posts, the Latest Innovation in Its Feud with Snapchat

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg: If you can’t buy em, copy em. (Associated Press)

Soon you may be able to make your Facebook posts disappear.

Facebook is experimenting with a new mobile feature that allows you to schedule posts that vanish after a set amount of time. The Next Web’s Paul Sawers first spotted the experiment in Facebook’s iOS app, which company reps later confirmed:

“We’re running a small pilot of a feature on Facebook for iOS that lets people schedule deletion of their posts in advance.”

Screenshots, which bubbled up on Twitter earlier this week, show that the feature offers a choice of expiration time, ranging from one hour to seven days, as you can see below.



Though we know little else about this new and potentially permanent capability, this move gives us a better glimpse of Facebook’s business strategy to be more like Snapchat.

It started innocently, with the introduction of the self-destructing messaging app Facebook Poke in December 2012. It was a sly, less permanent way of saying hi to a friend, but it failed miserably because of its lack of originality and general distrust of the Poke.

After that fiasco, CEO, founder, and super-casual Burning Man attendee Mark Zuckerberg decided that if his company couldn’t build a successful messaging app, he’d just buy one. In November 2013, he made a $3 billion bid for Snapchat, which CEO Evan Spiegel very publicly declined.

Since then, Facebook has adopted a rather aggressive tactic to make up for that loss: If you can’t buy em, copy em.

A year later, after acquiring the internationally popular messaging app WhatsApp, Facebook released Slingshot, an ephemeral photo messaging app. It even acknowledged Snapchats popularity in the products press release, writing:

“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. 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.”

In reality, the only difference between the two apps was a Slingshot feature that challenged you to post more. You couldn’t unlock a photo message unless you sent one back first. But after slowing interest, Facebook made that feature optional this month — a move that prompted even its most enthusiastic fans to call it “cowardly.”

Still, Facebook continues to sling spin-off apps at people, hoping that something will stick. In late July, Instagram (which Facebook owns), launched an international app named Bolt, which, again, looked and functioned suspiciously like Snapchat — likely a ploy to snatch up international users before Snapchat got to them.

Last month Facebook broke off its mobile messaging feature into an entirely separate (and buggy) app, a move that resulted in poor App Store ratings and a stream of complaints on social media.

The only thing that Facebook hadn’t tried, until this week, was integrating the self-destructing message feature directly into its main app. It probably had good reason for that: Posts that don’t automatically expire are likely to be seen/liked/commented on by more people. That participation, in turn, fosters a more loyal community and more people coming back to the site on a daily basis.

But, in the wild world of Silicon Valley, keeping up with your super-young and cool archenemy requires sacrifice. That and near identical reproductions of that archenemy’s product. Unfortunately, if this feature is like Facebook’s past attempts to unseat Snapchat, it is very likely to self-destruct in 4, 3, 2 …

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