Monday, July 21, 2008

PhotoShare: An Innovation Thanks to iPhone + iPhone App Store Infrastructure

On July 11th, as I wrote in a previous post, I came home from the cellular phone store without an iPhone. It was totally sold out. As I was very interested in what's going on around the iPhone 3G (what kind of people are using it etc.), I checked out an iPhone app called PhotoShare. It is a social photo sharing service available on the iPhone and the web, developed by one of my friends Yuichiro Masui and his colleague Satoshi Nakajima. I visited the web version of [PhotoShare] (http://bcphotoshare.com) and there were already almost two thousand photos already uploaded from iPhones. This number was clear evidence that PhotoShare was rapidly getting popular. To be honest, I found this very surprising because on the web nowadays, this type of Web 2.0 service does not typically get this much traction after a launch in such a short time (I mean, within a day). There are too many similar Web 2.0-ish services out there and the web is very competitive space. I wondered, "What is really going on?"
To figure it out I spent some time to exploring photos uploaded by numerous users everyday for a week or so. Some of them are from the so called "MySpace Generation" sexy girls. But most of them are just daily life photos, most of which look uploaded directly from iPhone's built-in camera. I recognized that people were uploading not only in the U.S. and Japan, but also from Hong Kong, Europe, and all over the "iPhone" world (N.B. iPhone is now available in more than 20 countries).

I was excited to see all of the photos, and I felt that there is something innovative around PhotoShare. I reasoned the following.

Most users are not webby nerds



Having seen tons of photos, I felt that the majority of users may not necessarily be webby nerds. Thinking about the price of iPhone 3G, complared with iPhone 1G and 2G, iPhone 3G users would probably include more "ordinary" people, as compared with those of iPhone 1G. Most of iPhone 1G users around me were webby nerds with relatively high income. I definitely sensed that difference this via the photos uploaded at PhotoShare. The style and type of shot on PhotoShare was very different from those of Flickr. I found photos at PhotoShare to be more casual and less art-oriented than Flickr. At Flickr many users really care about the quality of photos, cameras, and photographic techniques used. They invest more time per photograph, from setting up their Flickr accounts to choosing appropriate lighting for a photo.

At PhotoShare people with this much attention to detail were few and far between. PhotoShare seems to have succeeded in reaching people which the current photo web services (at least Flickr) have never reached. I must confess, I am a big fan of Flickr, and I don't use PhotoShare as much as I use Flickr. So, I am am in fact not a person in the market that PhotoShare is approaching. For those who have already concluded that PhotoShare is just another version of Flickr, you may want to reconsider your assumptioin.

Users are enjoying taking daily photos of life and some users are uploading many photos as if they are life-logging



This was quite surprising, too. They seem to be enjoying their photo lives like music! Rather than looking at PhotoShare as another version of Flickr, I think of it as another version of Twitter. PhotoShare founder Satoshi Nakajima mentioned this in his blog.

If my memory is correct, there were only several taps on my iPhone to start using PhotoShare, including purchasing (well, it is free though) from the App store. After installing it, only five taps are required to go from the main screen of iPhone to taking a picture, to completing its upload. It is really easy and quick. This is a very important key for lifelogging. I have been a lifelogger for more than a year. A little over a year ago, I developed a lifelogging web app. Photo-logging was an important part of my lifelogging. I would take a picture of a page of a magazine article that I was reading at a cafe so that I could refer to it later on, I took tons of pictures of someone's presentation at a conference while text-lifelogging on my ThinkPad and so on. What I was doing behind the scenes was quite complicated. First, I had a flickr account. I took pictures with a Nokia N95 smart phone, with ShoZu installed. I set up my Flickr account with Shozu of N95. ShoZu hooked Nokia N95's camera software and it automatically upload photos to my Flickr account via Edge or WiFi as I took pictures.

Then I told the lifelogging app about my Flickr account information. The lifelogging app periodically imported photos from Flickr, just like FriendFeed. Finally, I could refer to the photos as a part of my lifelog. I had to set up several apps, and hardware-wise, I had to go back and forth between the smart phone and my PC. Quite complicated right? Do you think you or your family would like to do that by yourself? Probably not. This is probably the biggest reason why there have been few lifeloggers in the world. PhotoShare, equipped with Apple iPhone and distributed through the App Store, has skipped this complicated processes which one would have to get through if they don't use PhotoShare. Several taps on the iPhone achieves the same thing as my whole process outlined above. Basically, what I was doing with a camera phone, software called shozu, the web app, my flickr account, and several settings with them is now all possible with one device iPhone + several taps. More importantly it is all available to millions of iPhone users! In a matter of day, PhotoShare users have surpassed someone like me who has spent a couple of months figuring out how to do all of that a year ago. Now that the world has PhotoShare on iPhone, there will be more and more photo-lifeloggers. This is huge innovation.

iPhone + App Store could be as powerful the Web



Here is a more general lesson I learned from PhotoShare. iPhone + AppStore has the potential to become a powerful infrastructure or as robust an ecosystem as the Web is. By Web here, I mean world wide web accessible through computers browsers.

Web browsers have been innovative in the sense that they made the distribution cost of services and information ignorable. A somewhat similar thing is now also possible on the iPhone App Store, too. Apple has made it. Apple opened the door of "App Store" on the iPhone infrastructure to developers (although it is not completely open). A good developer can create a successful iPhone app to distribute it to some millions iPhone-addicted users on Apple's iPhone App Store. They can develop anything from a useful office application to games to social web or Web2.0-ish things without using relying on existing web apps (I would say it is a social iPhone). PhotoShare is an early example. Although PhotoShare is also available on the web and they are using the same infrastructure as Web apps' (They are running the service using Amazon EC2, S3, and perhaps SQS, and running Ruby on Rails), from the users' perspective, it is not a web thing (they don't care what a hypertext transfer protocol is).

Everything seems happening on peoples' iPhone. Users don't need to have accounts on the web, even they don't have to have any experience using the internet. An example of the opposite of this is Twitterrific, an iPhone client app for Twitter, which actually won Best iPhone Social Networking Application at Apple's event WWDC08. Although I am a fan of Twitterrific and think it is a wonderful application, I don't think that it shows the fullest potential of the ecosystem of iPhone + AppStore because Twitterrific itself is dependent to the popular web service called Twitter. In order to use Twitterriffic, you need to have an account at Twitter.com. Therefore I find that Twitterrific is an excellent application, but not quite innovative. On the other hand, PhotoShare has demonstrated to me how it is possible to launch a social application from scratch without relying on pre-success on web. They achieved attracting thousands of new users within a week or so without having a preexisting web app thanks to Apple's infrastructure. You may say this quick success at PhotoShare is due to their clever viral marketing strategy or hiring an excellent PR firm, but I would say it may not be the case as viral marketing would take time as we see on the web. So I would say it is solely due to the infrastructure (I will confirm about this with them if I have a chance and keep you posted).

I am not 100% happy about iPhone 3G itself, as written by DHH, but the above lessons are enough to make me happy to have an iPhone. I mean, I am excited about the potential of iPhone + App Store. Props to Apple, and of course, to Satoshi Nakajima and Yuichiro Masui, the developers of PhotoShare. I myself am one of the old-school web app developers, still living within the websphere. Am I going to move onto the iPhonesphere? Well, if my wife decided to purchase an iPhone, then perhaps I would. Until then I will continue what I am doing because there are many things to be done in the websphere, and I am still excited about them.

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