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The new app, Facebook Poke (as it's listed in the App Store), doesn't have much in common with poking of old. It's essentially a clone of other texting apps where all the messages have a built-in self-destruct. It's ideal for clandestine activities, shall we say.
Here's how it works: Let's say you have a sudden urge to send one of your Facebook friends a photo of a, er, cucumber. But you don't want to just send them a cucumber pic that they could post and re-share to the world. Poke lets you send the pic, but the recipient will only have 1, 3, 5 or 10 seconds to view your majestic vegetable. And they need to press and hold the screen while viewing, or the pic goes away.
You can send photos, videos or text messages via Poke, although you can't use it for anything too elaborate since the message content lasts 10 seconds maximum. After that, boom. The message, whatever it was, is gone forever. There isn't even a record on the sender's phone (although a log of who you've poked and who's poked you still remains).
I suspect Poke will engender a lot of frustration because of this limitation. You feel as if it should at least pause the countdown when you remove your finger.
The app also lets you just "poke" people meaning send a message with no content about the only way the app is similar to the old act of poking. Those are just simple notifications, and don't expire.
It gets more annoying: All your poke recipients need to download the app to see them. Poking only works on mobile right now, and Facebook's been careful to ensure notifications for incoming pokes only appear in its mobile apps.
Checking out your profile on the web won't reveal any trace of poking. On a smartphone, a note appears that encourages pokees to download the app.
What if someone does a screengrab of your poke, turning it into something more permanent? There's nothing you can do, but the app will inform you if someone does that, with a "flash" icon beside their name in your feed. If you see your ephemeral wild moment appear on Tumblr the next day, at least you'll know who to blame.
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Poke isn't that intuitive. It displays some basic instructions when you first log in, but would benefit greatly from one of those tutorial overlays that have become ubiquitous among iOS apps. Also, I find it odd that your front-facing camera isn't selected by default. But maybe my expectation for the subject material of most pokes is off the mark.
You can add text and colored line drawings to any pics you send. That's helpful to get the attention on the thing in the photo you really want the person to look at in those three seconds of poke life.
At first I found it frustrating that Poke doesn't let you take horizontal photos or videos. But that's actually a good idea. If you think about it, if the only people seeing this content are people glancing at their phones for a few seconds, so vertical pics make total sense. In the time it took a person to turn their phone and the accelerometer to react, the message will probably be gone. If you want masterpieces, try Flickr.