Facebook’s new Poke app – borrowing the name of its “remember me?” digital jab to the ribs, but the functionality of “sexting” app Snapchat – is an interesting start, but ten seconds sells it short. The headline grabbing purpose of flaunting your undercarriage (and the one to which Facebook coyly and obliquely refers to with a reminder that you can report anything you’re uncomfortable with) will undoubtedly get plenty of use from teenagers and cheating spouses, but with some timer tweaking Poke could become a legitimately useful “Getting Things Done” style tool.
There are times when ten seconds are more than enough. With all due respect to my friends on Facebook, any longer faced with their whimsical bon-mots or grizzled genitals and I’d probably be violently ill. But there are plenty of times when a non-permanent message that lasts longer than the average coughing fit could be very useful.
Email isn’t fashionable, but it’s still a sizable part of our lives. The number of mailing lists, sale-now-on notifications, “let us know by X if you want Y” reminders, and other time-sensitive messages that drop into my inbox seems to only increase, no matter how many I unsubscribe from. Sometimes they’re useful there & then; sometimes I think they might be useful later down the line. Right now, my casual (read: awful) triaging system basically marks as unread anything I might want to act on in future, with flags saved for the most important.
"I forget about things tomorrow that were Very Important today"
I miss a lot of stuff that way. I forget about things tomorrow that I marked as Very Important today. And I’m left with hundreds – maybe thousands – of messages that are old, expired, no longer important, but which are cluttering up my mail and keeping me from inbox zero.
A self-destructing message – one that automatically counts itself down to invalidity, and then deletes itself at that point – has plenty of appeal. Even better, a message that might remind me that the time for final action is upon me, before vanishing once my opportunity is gone. Since it’s Facebook we’re talking about, think along the lines of a virtual to-do list, an “I saw this and thought of you” system where you can ping over suggestions for the weekend that automatically expire come Monday morning, or ideas for a birthday meal venue that fade away along with the torn wrapping paper.
We also know Facebook is eager to sell the space in front of my eyes to as many paying advertisers as possible, and I might be willing to ease my ad-antipathy if the deals came with timers. I’d probably be more likely to sign up to mailing lists through Facebook rather than email or some other method, if I knew they’d clean themselves up along the way. Plus, it might get me looking at my phone – and adverts – more frequently, helping Facebook to monetize its mobile users.
Poke as it stands is a gimmick, briefly fun but with questionable longevity. I honestly can’t think of that many times – smut aside – when I’d want to fire over a transient link or photo to somebody. If Facebook can coax it into being a topical to-do list and recommendations engine, though, using everything it knows about context and relevance, that might earn it a place on my smartphone homescreen.