The social network tried (and failed) to steal Snapchat's thunder with its own ephemeral-messaging app called Poke in December 2012, before reportedly trying (and failing) to buy Snapchat for $3bn a year later.
Plan C is an app called Slingshot, which was rumoured to be in development earlier this year. Those rumours were confirmed last night when Facebook "accidentally" launched it for iPhone in a number of countries.
Slingshot is like Snapchat in that it gets people to share photos and video clips with friends, including features to scribble on the former before sending.
Twists include the ability for recipients to send a photo of their reaction back straight away, and also the requirement for them to "unlock" messages by sending their own in return.
"Slingshot lets you quickly share moments —little and big— with all your friends. Shoot a photo or video of what you’re up to and sling it to a bunch of people. They won’t be able to see your shot until they sling something back. Tap on a shot to react, or simply swipe it away."
"Earlier today, we accidentally released a version of Slingshot, a new app we're working on," confirmed Facebook in a statement following first reports of the app's release.
"With Slingshot, you'll be able to share everyday moments with lots of people at once. It'll be ready soon and we're excited for you to try it out." The company has not given a specific launch date.
Facebook's chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has made no secret of his interest in Snapchat's growth.
"I think Snapchat is a super interesting privacy phenomenon because it creates a new kind of space to communicate which makes it so that things that people previously would not have been able to share, you now feel like you have a place to do so," he told an audience at Stanford university in January.
"I think that’s really important and that’s a big kind of innovation that we’re going to keep pushing on and keep trying to do more on and I think a lot of other companies will, too."
Slingshot also fits into Facebook's evolving mobile strategy, based on more standalone apps for separate tasks, rather than the single Facebook app to do everything.
This is spearheaded by a division called Creative Labs, which is working on apps like news-reader Paper and now Slingshot. "What we’re doing with Creative Labs is basically unbundling the big blue app," Zuckerberg told the New York Times in April.
"I think you’ll see a combination of us making some of these things that have been products for a while into first-class experiences. And you’ll see us exploring new areas that we felt we didn’t have the room to do before."
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