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Summary:

With the launch of Path, and the frenzy of interest in Instagram and PicPlz, the world seems to be awash in photo-sharing apps. Why? Better mobile cameras, for one thing. But photo sharing is also one of the best ways to build a social network.

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With the launch of the heavily-financed Path app late last night, and the explosion of interest in other photosharing apps such as Instagram and PicPlz, it seems the world is awash in such services. Why? There are some prosaic reasons — better cameras in the iPhone and other smartphones, for example, and the lack of usable (or at least appealing) offerings from established photo-sharing players such as Facebook, Flickr and Picasa. But the big reason is probably that photo sharing is (or at least can be) a great way to jump-start a broader social network.

That point was made by a series of high-profile venture capitalists in an interesting thread on the question-and-answer site Quora on Sunday night, following the highly-anticipated launch of Path, in response to the question “What explains the explosion in social photosharing entrepreneurial activity?” Several of those who responded noted that the iPhone camera has gotten substantially better — and angel investor Shervin Pishevar, who founded the Social Gaming Network, said we may not have seen anything yet: “Wait till Christmas hits. You thought you saw an explosion in growth so far,” he said, noting that the new iPod Touch, which has a camera, will “throw fuel on the fire.”

But in the answer that got the most votes, Simon Olson — a VC with Draper Fisher Jurvetson in Brazil — said that sharing photos is a core activity that can form the “base activity of the ‘social’ pyramid. Whether you are looking at Facebook or Orkut, etc., it is one of the most popular activities that users engage in on social networks. So, if you are going to start building a new ‘social’ platform, you want to start with one of the most popular activities.” Keith Rabois, chief operating officer at Square, made the same point on Twitter, saying photos are the “key wedge” in creating broader social networks.

The best example of this, of course, is Facebook. One of the things the company did early on — along with poking and other features such as status updates — was make it easy to share photos. For some people, that is one of the biggest reasons they use the site at all, and Facebook is by far the largest photo-hosting site on the Internet (one recent estimate was that more than 3 billion photos are uploaded every month). That, of course, makes it even more embarrassing that Yahoo has never really been able to take advantage of its ownership of Flickr, which was a pioneering photo-sharing service.

It’s no coincidence that both Flickr and Instagram started out being very different services — Flickr was originally an offshoot of an online role-playing game called The Game Neverending, and Instagram started its life as a location-based service called Burbn (which Andreeseen Horowitz invested in, and has since shifted its allegiance to PicPlz) — and then they shifted to doing photos. The interesting thing about Path is that the app has virtually no social features whatsoever: you can’t comment on photos, you can’t click to “like” them, you can’t tag them or share them with others through your other social networks.

Given its ruthless focus on making your circle of friends small and private, it seems likely that Path — which conspicuously calls itself “the personal network,” rather than “the personal network for photos” — is going after the opposite end of the spectrum from Facebook (where co-founder Dave Morin used to work) and intends to build a more private social graph around photos, rather than the massively public graph that Facebook represents. Whether Instagram and PicPlz, or other apps like DailyBooth, have similarly large ambitions remains to be seen. If they don’t already, they might want to consider it, because photo sharing by itself is notoriously difficult to monetize.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d):

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr users Spice and Raneko

  1. Flickr is the number one!

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  2. Flickr is not a pioneer of photo sharing service. The first generation are those often associated with photo printing services, like Shutterfly and Snapfish. Even Yahoo’s own Yahoo!Photos is well established before Flickr. What Flickr pioneering is open sharing and tagging. Interesting enough even back then in mid 2000s there are already a rash of photo sharing service coming in the scene. I’m not aware any them that really stick. And I wonder what’s inspiring the current class of 2010s.

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    1. Thanks, Wai — you are right that there were other photo uploading services, but none of them made photo-sharing as social as Flickr did, at least in my opinion.

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  3. Amazing how much chatter there is about photo-sharing sites. My app of choice is Burstn – developed by two awesome Toronto entrepreneurs with a lot of promise.

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  4. [...] is an innately social activity that spurs other activity within the social media stratosphere. As Gigaom’s Mark Ingram put it,  the explosion of interest in other photosharing apps is probably because  [...]

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  5. [...] must constantly evolve to remain relevant to users. I’m also intrigued by the newly launched Path, operating on the principle of Dunbar’s Number, which strives to provide users with an [...]

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  6. The volume of photo sharing will increase day by day. But its not for cameras in the iPhone and other smartphones. Phone’s pics do not stand good in sharing. Flicr may be number one..but its more for professional photographers..and now a days it has became an agent of Getty Images. I hate this.

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  7. [...] The company is planning on releasing an Android app soon. “Android is currently in the works right now,” Pokorny said, pointing out that with more smartphones coming to market with front-facing cameras, it makes more sense for DailyBooth to support them. There has been an explosion in the number of mobile photo sharing applications, with well-known venture capitalists opening their checkbooks for such companies. [...]

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  8. [...] The company is planning on releasing an Android app soon. “Android is currently in the works right now,” Pokorny said, pointing out that with more smartphones coming to market with front-facing cameras, it makes more sense for DailyBooth to support them. There has been an explosion in the number of mobile photo sharing applications, with well-known venture capitalists opening their checkbooks fo&#… [...]

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  9. [...] sum it up, I would just say one thing – it is nice to see companies like Path and PicPlz get the attention, in reality it is technology innovators such as Pelican who really end-up making the [...]

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  10. So What’s With All the Photosharing Apps? http://t.co/dz67CuwF

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