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AppSmart: Ephemera in cyberspace

New York Times

Not all messages need to live forever. And with the right smartphone app, it is simple to deliver text messages, photos or videos with a short life span.

Snapchat is probably the best-known temporary messaging service. Popular and free for iOS and Android, Snapchat is a one-stop shop for all your temporary messaging needs.

The main idea is that you can safely share a “moment,” like a photo or a short video, and the “moment” you share isn’t kept on the recipient’s phone or the company’s servers, but is deleted by default. You can share self-destructing messages with a single person for one-time view; you can chat using text, photo or video with another user; or you can put your “snaps” on public display for everyone to see.

Snapchat’s interface is minimalist. On the main page, where you make recordings, you simply tap on the screen to take a photo or hold your finger to record a video clip. The few icons on the page let you control settings and add friends, among other things. Swiping left or right on the main page takes you to a list of recent snaps from friends or your contact list. The interface sounds straightforward, but be careful: It’s bizarrely easy to get lost among the options.

Does Snapchat work? Yes. My friend frequently uses it to send me silly messages from her world travels. There’s no particular reason for her to send “self-destructing” messages, but she thinks it’s fun.

You can, of course, imagine what a lot of people tend to use Snapchat for: images that aren’t really for public viewing. Recently, some private user images thought to be from Snapchat were posted online, but the company says this was possible only because people were using an unofficial Snapchat client on Android. Even with the official version, remember that users can save screen shots of the messages you send them.

If Snapchat’s messaging system is too slick for you, Wickr , also free on iOS and Android, is a slightly simpler alternative meant to be a lot more like a traditional instant-messaging service.

While simple, Wickr has a few neat features, like expiration dates, so messages can’t be viewed after a certain time, or the ability to chat with a group of users. My favorite feature is being able to sketch or add graffiti and clip art-style stickers to shared images.

The interface is easy to use and looks great. Because of its more traditional design, you may feel more confident using Wickr than Snapchat – at least that you’re not going to accidentally broadcast a personal message to the world instead of one person.

Because Wickr is not as popular as Snapchat, your friends may not be on it. But there’s nothing stopping you from inviting them to join.

Burn Note (iOS, Android) and Confide (iOS, Android) are even simpler than Snapchat and Wickr. Both are text-messaging services that never fully reveal all the content of a message on the screen at once. To read a message, you slide your finger over it to see just a snippet at a time. The rest of the message is covered. The idea is that it’s easy to read, but tricky to take a screen shot of the messages, and even people nearby will have difficulty seeing what’s written.

Both Burn Note and Confide seem to take security seriously. Once a Burn Note message is opened, a countdown begins. When time expires, the message is deleted from the recipient’s phone and the company’s servers, so it should, in theory, remain unreadable. The maker of Burn Note says this level of security makes it more intimate than reading a traditional text or email.