Unlike many of its predecessors that once held the title of world's most dominant social network, Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) has never been content relying just on its core product.
The company has made a concerted effort to diversify its product portfolio beyond its namesake app. That has resulted in the $1 billion purchase of Instagram, the $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp, and the successful spinoff of Facebook Messenger into its own app.
Both Messenger and WhatsApp have been downloaded over a billion times, TechCrunchreported, making them wild successes in their own right. Instagram isn't quite as big, having about 300 million users at the close of 2014, according to Statista, but that's still a large user base.
This approach has left Facebook in a much stronger position than the once-popular social sites that came before it. MySpace, Friendster, and all the rest had their moment in the sun, but when it all ended (mostly because of Facebook's rise), they had nothing left outside their main platform.
Facebook has diversified so well that it's not crazy to think that someday it could remain a strong product even if its original social-network platform is supplanted by the next big thing. Now the company is attempting to build on its empire by launching Moments, a new tool for privately sharing photos.
What does Moments do?
Moments makes it easier to share photos taken with friends and family with only those people. It's an organization tool that's also a tacit acknowledgement from a company that based its success on public sharing that not all moments are to be shared publicly. The new app makes it easy to share and organize pictures with a select group of people without having to endlessly email pictures around.
In the announcement of the new service, the company gave an example of how this tool might work:
When you go to a wedding, for example, there are many people taking great photos throughout the day. You all want a quick way to share your photos with the friends who are in them, and get photos that you're in back. The same is true for smaller events too, like a kayak trip or a night out.
Syncing photos with the Moments app is a private way to give photos to friends and get the photos you didn't take. Moments groups the photos on your phone based on when they were taken and, using facial recognition technology, which friends are in them. You can then privately sync those photos quickly and easily with specific friends, and they can choose to sync their photos with you as well. Now, you and your friends have all the photos you took together.
The use of facial recognition to identify people is a strange mix of scary and useful. Some people will undoubtedly not like the idea that Facebook is identifying them without consent, but that fear may be muted a bit by the fact that the app doesn't make the photos public.
Moments has already been released in the United States for Apple iOS and Android. Facebook didn't specify when it will be released to the rest of the world, saying only it will happen "over time."
Will this be a hit?
Though the launch of Moments has been somewhat low-key, you can expect Facebook to market it to people posting event photos. The app has a chance of succeeding because it solves a problem. In general, sharing a large volume of photos shot by multiple people among a big group is a pain, especially if some (or all) of the people in them don't want them posted publicly on social media.
There are other solutions for this issue through the various photo-storage sites, and even by using privacy settings on Instagram, but all of them require that all the members of the group join that service. That's an unwieldy process made even more complicated if not everyone in the pics or taking them knows each other well. The same could be said of simply sharing over email, and that has the added problem of then requiring the people receiving the emails to add their own layer of organization.
Moments, because it's a Facebook property, could become an easy solution. People can even share on Facebook that they're using the app and invite people from the social event into it. Those people may well feel more comfortable adopting it than joining another service. Think of Moments as extended Facebook functionality that your mom or grandparents might be willing to adopt.
Being a Facebook app is not a guarantee of success, but it can certainly help, and in this case, the company probably has a winner on its hands. It won't be big like WhatsApp or Messenger, because the use is too focused, but it should attract a significant user base.
Daniel Kline owns shares of Apple and Facebook. He mostly takes pictures of his cats and posts them on Facebook. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Facebook. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.