Facebook is testing a new feature on Facebook Messenger in France that allows users to create messages that self-destruct an hour after they're sent. (Yes, you read that right: they disappear an hour after they're sent, not read.)
It's the first time a disappearing messaging feature has been available on the platform, and it's a clear indication that the company will continue to compete with Snapchat, the app that brought disappearing messages to the forefront. (Facebook tried, unsuccessfully, to acquire the company in 2013.)
This is not, however, the first time Facebook has experimented with an ephemeral messaging. In 2012, it launched Poke, which had a nearly identical setup as Snapchat and was soon killed. In its place, Facebook launched Slingshot in 2014, in which users most respond to an ephemeral message before they can open it. The app is still available for download, but has yet to gain a fraction of Snapchat's 100 million-plus user base.
This latest attempt is different, primarily because it adds ephemerality as a feature to an existing app instead of requiring users to download a new one. But in practical terms, it seems pretty messy. Say you send someone an ephemeral message through Facebook Messenger, but they don't see it for a few hours. Does this mean your message will self-destruct before it's ever opened?
“Starting today, we’re conducting a small test in France of a feature that allows people to send messages that disappear an hour after they’re sent. Disappearing messages gives people another fun option to choose from when they communicate on Messenger. We look forward to hearing people’s feedback as they give it a try," Facebook said in a statement.
Users can turn on the disappearing messages feature in an individual chat, and anyone in that conversation can then turn it off (and then on again), the company confirmed. As TechCrunch notes, the function is probably less about sending sensitive material and more about mimicking "real-life conversation."
Except…real life conversation doesn't happen in text blocks. If you miss a point while talking to someone, you can just ask them to repeat themselves. Which, I guess, you can also do in Facebook Messenger, but the concept feels like an awkward fit for text-based exchanges.
The feature, which is available on iOS and Android, is only being tested in France, although it may be rolled out in more countries over time.