One of the big things that iPhone brought with it was an easy way to manage photos taken with a cell phone. With the old "feature" phones you could take pictures, but getting them off the camera and into something usable and sharable was a significant hassle.

In this week’s column we’ll look at three photo apps that take advantage of the social capabilities of technology. Using photos to connect with other people has been around as long as portable personal cameras.

Now that cameras are in the pockets of anyone with a mobile phone, and people’s social networks are embedded into websites and mobile services, expect social photography (and eventually videography) to become more pervasive in our online experience.

Some of these services are new and not yet fully baked. So my usual beta warning: give it a try and start playing with these to see if they make your life better. If they don’t, then stop using them.

One of the big things that iPhone brought with it was an easy way to manage photos taken with a cell phone. With the old "feature" phones you could take pictures, but getting them off the camera and into something usable and sharable was a significant hassle.

In this week’s column we’ll look at three photo apps that take advantage of the social capabilities of technology. Using photos to connect with other people has been around as long as portable personal cameras.

Now that cameras are in the pockets of anyone with a mobile phone, and people’s social networks are embedded into websites and mobile services, expect social photography (and eventually videography) to become more pervasive in our online experience.

Some of these services are new and not yet fully baked. So my usual beta warning: give it a try and start playing with these to see if they make your life better. If they don’t, then stop using them.

Color

With $41 million in startup funding (I think that gives it a bigger budget than a few enterprises), Color is a mobile app that has certainly made a big headline launch. Some of the app’s early issues, however, highlight one of the key troubles with launching social technology: it’s not as much fun when there aren’t enough users.

Color is an app that determines who is near you geographically. It gives you the option to form a group with those people and form group photo albums. This is a lot of fun when you’re someplace that has a lot of early tech adopters playing with Color. Otherwise it’s lonely — and no one plays with social tech to feel lonely except "emo kids," right?

Color has all the basic social features that you’ve come to expect: low-commitment positive sentiment (aka "thumbs up," or "like" or "+1"), commenting, and content-spreading via other social nets and email. Except all of the social activity is based on the photos uploaded.

I see Color in some ways related to Foursquare: both are most useful during conferences or other group events. Foursquare lets you know where the party is, while Color gives you a sort of social scrapbook of the event.

Going through your group history on Color definitely beats sifting through various Facebook galleries — if lots of people you know are using Color.

It’s also useful because the only relationship you need to have with someone is a shared proximity. It’s a very low commitment: you aren’t signing up to get that person’s Facebook posts or email newsletter, you’re just sharing pictures from an event.

Color
Network based on: location.
Social commitment: very low.
Best use: documenting an event with other Color users.
Marketing application: meeting new people based on shared location.

Instagram

If you were to imagine a mashup between Twitter and Hipstamatic, the end result would be Instagram. Instagram combines hipster nostalgic photo filters with commenting, "favoriting," and social spreading.

You can quickly add all of your Twitter and Facebook friends to your Instagram account, start snapping pictures and applying filters, and then be on your way.

Low-engagement use of Instagram consists of simply taking images and publishing them to your social networks. This is important, as it layers the use of Instagram on top of your other social nets. Instagram becomes an interface for publishing on Facebook or Twitter.

More involved usage of Instagram is possible through its commenting and "like" system. For example it’s possible to engage with others around specific topics of photography (architecture, for example) if you spend the time to find that niche among Instagram users.

Instagram
Network based on: existing social connections (import from Facebook, Twitter, contacts list).
Social commitment: medium. Must already be connected or know the Instagram handle of other users.
Best use: Sharing "hipsterized" photos on other social networks.
Marketing application: meeting new people based on shared topic interest.

Path

The third social photography app is less open in terms of network connections. Path is tied exclusively to Facebook as your social network. It only allows you to share images with your Facebook friends. In addition, the interface discourages bulk imports of all of your friends.

The concept behind Path is labeling pictures with an associated person, place or thing, and then sharing them with a small group of people. Path doesn’t even call them pictures or photos or images. Path calls them "moments."

As pretentious as that sounds, it’s a clever positioning statement. The thing about pictures is that it’s rarely the photo itself that people care about. It’s the time and place and emotions — the moment — that the image signifies.

Being able to share meaningfully in this way has the potential to be pretty powerful. But it isn’t powerful on a mass scale. Doing stuff like that on a large scale is about as real as a reality television show. Which is probably why Path is built to discourage having a large network.

One neat trick that Path has is the ability to share photos on your Facebook wall that are only available to your Path connections. So even if your Facebook friends aren’t using Path you can publish your "moments" to a place they might see them.

Path
Network based on: subset of your Facebook connections.
Social commitment: high.
Best use: sharing meaningful images with people you know.
Marketing application: deepening existing relationships (hate to call that marketing but you know what I mean here).

 

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