Reports are bubbling up from Android users that a strange little banner popped up within Instagram last night. The banner appeared to promote an app called Bolt, but not the Bolt calling app for Android that already lives in the Google Play store. Instagram’s own Bolt app prompted users who encountered it to click through a broken in-app download link.
— Richard Groves (@englishinvader) July 24, 2014
Before we get ahead of ourselves, Instagram’s little experiment in “one tap photo messaging” could have been a few things. For one, it could be a test for a new kind of ad that accidentally went live (On TechCrunch, Sarah Perez puts weight behind this theory too). Facebook is known for extensively live testing and tweaking its products on the fly, though sometimes it jumps the gun a bit.
In June, Facebook let the cat out of the bag on Slingshot, a Snapchat-like photo swapping app that later launched as part of the company’s small rotating band of spin-off apps. Either way, we know that Facebook intends to build its two most successful side apps—Messenger and Instagram—into successful mobile revenue streams like its core cash cow. Facebook is playing around with in-app install ads, which are increasingly proving their worth.
If it turns out that Bolt is in fact another Snapchat-esque messaging app, Facebook would be cannibalizing features that it already offers across products like Instagram’s direct messaging feature, Slingshot, and Facebook Messenger. Still, we know two things following yesterday’s chat with Zuckerberg: Facebook is dead serious about its mission to “open up new, different, private spaces where people can express things that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to,” and it intends to build those spaces into profitable ad platforms over time.