Five people might read this story, or 500,000 people might read this story. That’s the nature of sharing content on the web. You never know if a link will find its way to Reddit and become the next must-see thing on the Internet for five minutes.
SnapChat responded to this idea by giving media a very short shelf life (just a few seconds, shared only with friends) to preserve your privacy. A new site called BlinkLink, by Clay Allsopp, has a different approach: It puts a limit on how many times an image can be viewed before it self-destructs.
“I see my friends using Snapchat all the time, but it doesn’t have a web presence or counterpart,” Allsopp explains. “I wanted to see if disappearing content would even work on the web, where things like copy+paste and screenshots are much easier to pull off.”
BlinkLink is like the antibody to a viral web. As the number of views remaining counts down–because that’s always in plain site for anyone who visits the page–the content has less potential to be shared, and it becomes inherently more precious. Someone sees a BlinkLink shared over Twitter, and somewhat paradoxically the initial uptake might be faster, as friends race to be the 100 people (or as few as one or two people) who get to see the image before it wilts away.
“With views, you get immediate feedback that your content is being seen and it’s going somewhere–strangely enough, it feels good to see the view counter go down,” Allsopp explains. “But if you’re just using a time bomb [like SnapChat], you don’t get any positive feedback.”
There’s just one, strange catch to the experience: You can set your photo to rise from the ashes when a new person tweets the link. That option can encourage virility, of course, but it also makes the service’s core value proposition a moot point. The photo is given infinite life so long as people are talking about it, which is exactly how the news cycle works today, isn’t it?
Like any social-networking tool, it’s hard to predict how well BlinkLink could catch on. After an initial release that found a lot of uptake by marketers teasing new products (which is a great use case for sure), activity plummeted. But that’s okay. For Allsopp, BlinkLink is just a hobby outside his work on Propeller. It’s less his ticket to big VC bucks than it is a means for him to explore the psychology of the internet, and specifically the FOMO (fear of missing out) that drives us to refresh Facebook feeds in a relative depression.
“Interestingly, there’s been about 200 new blinks in the three days since the postmortem, which is like 25% growth?” Allsopp writes. “There’s definitely something going on here, and I’m paying careful attention to what the data is saying.”