First it was platforms such as Twitter and Facebook that empowered the average Joe to share thoughts, opinions, status updates and virtually anything else that came to his mind to the world around him anytime he wanted. Now the phenomenon known as lifestreaming – essentially the continuous streaming of content reflecting one’s life as it happens – is taking a visual turn. Relatively new photosharing applications are capitalizing on the overlapping forces of mobile and social to provide novel new ways for people to capture and share the unique visual experiences of their lives as they happen. Instagram and Picplz have taken the lead in this space and early signs show a promising future for both.
Both services are essentially driven by their smartphone apps (Picplz also has a solid Web presence whereas Instagram has chosen to keep its experience primarily on the iPhone for now): Instagram is only available as a native app on the iPhone while Picplz is available on both iPhone and Android. They both allow users to tag pictures taken with the phone and share them instantly with followers anywhere on the services as well as on social haunts like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc. The apps also allow users to follow and comment on the photostreams of friends or anyone else on the service. The apps even take it a step further and allow users to apply special ‘filters’ to photos that add interesting visual effects and provide a unique creative twist to a user’s photostream.
Founded by two twentysomething buds Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Instagram has managed to attract 1.75 million users who upload almost 300,000 photos a day… in a mere four months. To put that in perspective, Foursquare took just over a year to get to a million users and it took Twitter two years to accomplish the same feat. Also, they accomplished this with only four employees and a relatively small amount of funding: $500,000. Such growth couldn’t go unnoticed for long – Instagram announced its first round of major funding earlier this month to a tune of $7million.
Picplz (as in picture, please) , for its part, is hot on Instagram’s tail with somewhere around 130,000 users and growing. It is aggressively putting its $5 million in recent venture funding to use by adding new features to its service and offering up an API for external developers. The company behind the app, Mixed Media Labs, was founded by former Imeem execs Dalton Caldwell, Bryan Berg and Ali Aydar.
So now that the inner roving photographer in all of us now has not one, but two platforms to show off unrealized skills on, what exactly does this mean for brands? Well, not dissimilar from what Twitter enabled during its ascent, Instagram allows individual users to group like-themed photos by hashtag (#) and, according to TechCrunch, brands such as NPR and Charity:Water are already activating branding campaigns around hashtags on the service. As the mobile photosharing wars heat up and means of organizing themed photos become more prevalent, it will inevitably become turnkey for brands to activate awareness campaigns, promotions, photo-based scavenger hunts and all other means of consumer engagement around the premise that a picture is worth a thousand words.
Such opportunities will only become greater as these platforms grow and scale to millions of more users. Before long, it isn’t inconceivable that most of the brand-driven images you see during an average day are not produced by the brands themselves, but rather other consumers. Hmmm…picture that.