Facebook has yet another piece of software to lure teenagers into thinking its products are more hip than Snapchat. The new iOS app, called Lifestage, is a kind of video diary where you answer biographical questions about yourself. Instead of filling in answers with text, you record a small video snippet that others can view on your profile. Every time someone updates their page, it shows up in a feed prompting others to check it out.
The catch: you can only use it if you're 21 and under.
The app was designed by 19-year-old wunderkind Michael Sayman, a Facebook product manager who tells TechCrunch that he wanted to replicate the readymade virality of Facebook’s earliest days, when it was restricted to college students. In that sense, Lifestage’s age restriction is the updated version of needing an appropriate .edu email address, a new virtual barrier to entry. If you’re 22 or older, you’ll only be able to see your own profile and you won’t be able to communicate with any other users.
Lifestage was designed by 19-year-old Facebook product manager Michael Sayman
Sayman hopes Lifestage can grow by attaching itself to local high schools, not unlike Facebook’s college-by-college approach back in 2004. The app lets you select your school, but you won’t be able to see other users unless at least 20 people from the same school start using it.
It’s unclear exactly how the app will try and prevent older users from sneaking onboard. During the sign-up process, Lifestage says it cannot confirm that users who claim to be enrolled in your high school actually are. But it restricts you to only one school and doesn't allow you to change. It also appears to have liberal blocking and reporting features, to keep parents, creeps, and other unwanted outsiders from detracting from the experience. Still, a teens-only social network justifiably raises some red flags. We’ll have to see how the team handles abuse, harassment, and other violations.
Facebook keeps trying to compete with Snapchat
The obvious takeaway here is that Facebook is still obsessed with Snapchat. While it's become a bit of a cliche to say the teens are so over Facebook, the company is deeply concerned about the growing existential threat Snapchat poses. It also has good reason to continue trying to crack the coveted teen demographic; as more and more of Facebook's ad revenue shifts to mobile, it has to find ways to best competitors for users' attention.
Earlier this month, Facebook-owned Instagram launched a clone of Snapchat’s Stories feature with its very own Instagram Stories. And before that, Facebook tried launching numerous apps like Slingshot, Riff, and Poke to try and peel away Snapchat’s user base. None of those products caught on, and Facebook shuttered the last of them late last year. Despite these failures, Facebook appears ready to try its hand at yet another standalone social app. This time around, the company has the credibility of a living, breathing teen to help bolster the cause, even if he is a Facebook employee.