The Intimate Idea Behind Facebook's New Photo-Sharing Tool

Facebook's new photo-sharing app will piggyback off Messenger to find new users.

Facebook has a division called Creative Labs that is supposed to be a sort of birthing center for new experimental apps that the company hopes will take on lives of their own, and live independently of the main Facebook experience. But so far that birthing center has seemed a bit more like a hospice, due to a string of interesting but unpopular apps. If you've got Slingshot, Riff, and Hello, running on your phone, there's a decent chance you work for Facebook. To date, Facebook has really created only one successful stand-alone app so far: Messenger. And it essentially forced its user base to download that one by disabling messaging within the main app.

But now, there's a new Creative Labs app called Moments. And while the company is still setting it free as a stand-alone app, it's also trying a new distribution strategy meant to give it more of a chance than some of its predecessors had. Facebook is tying Moments to its popular Messenger app, which could give this latest experiment a chance at some real traction.

Moments is a photo-sharing app that runs on top of Facebook's network. It allows people to privately share small batches of photos with their Facebook friends. The app's focal point is a screen that organizes your unshared photos based on who is in them, using Facebook's facial recognition technology and the time they were taken. It then allows you to "sync" the photos you select onto your friends' Moments. The shared photos are stored on Facebook's servers, so they don't take up space on your phone. Essentially, it's a way for a group of people who are together at the same place and time to share pictures with each other, using Facebook services rather than transferring the actual pictures.

The app, which Facebook previewed to BuzzFeed News late last week, could be useful if adopted widely. But that widespread adoption has been a problem in the past. So, to drive installs of Moments, Facebook is trying something new. It's pushing installs of the app through its 700 million monthly active users on that one existing hit stand-alone app, Messenger.

"Messenger will be the main distribution mechanism," Facebook Product Manager Will Ruben told BuzzFeed News. "If you sync a photo with someone who doesn't yet have the app, they'll get a preview of it from you in Messenger and then an option to download it."

The Messenger previews are sleek, with Ken Burns effects that turn them into mini-slideshows. But moreover, underneath the preview a link appears beckoning you to download Moments if you don't already have it installed.

Messaging apps are ripe places to grab people's attention since they're an intimate space — a place you go to talk privately with people you know — devoid of the internet's usual cacophony and clutter. It's a novel tactic for a novel app.