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If drawing is the universal language, Doodle.ly wants to be the app for that. The NYC-based startup, a Web site and iPad (s AAPL) app for sharing drawings online, announces new social features today. The company’s founders hope Doodle.ly will find a place among content-sharing sites like Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest — and thinks the site’s new features will keep it from meeting Draw Something’s fate.
Doodle.ly launched in July 2011 with seed funding from Park Street Ventures. It lets users create hand-drawn art, sketches, notes and doodles from the web or a free iPad app, then share the work on the site and on social networks. Since last year, users — most between 18 and 24 years old — have created about 30,000 doodles. Today Doodle.ly is adding “likes” and popularity rankings; soon users will be able to follow each other.
The new features are necessary because a lot of the drawings on Doodle.ly are bad. The app, with a variety of drawing tools and colors, is fun to use, but unless you’re a pretty good artist, nobody is going to want to like or share your doodles. So far, the bad drawings on the site far outnumber the good ones.
That could be a stumbling block for Doodle.ly in its quest to be the Twitter or Instagram for drawings. Both of those services have their fair share of crappy content, but the average user is likely to be better at writing or taking a picture than drawing or making art. If Pinterest users were able to share only works that they’ve created themselves, the site wouldn’t be as popular or visually appealing as it is. And Regretsy has grown hugely popular by making fun of the worst stuff on Etsy.
The most popular drawing on Doodle.ly is a picture of Steve Jobs created by philosophy professor David W. after Jobs announced his retirement. Doodle.ly calls out artists in the “Talent Gallery” section of its blog.
A lot of new users have trouble deciding what to draw, cofounder Daren Paul told me. “We’ll often see someone draw a balloon or cupcake and then we’ll see many balloons or cupcakes. A big challenge is just people having inspiration.”
Doodle.ly is making forays into partnerships with sports teams, bands and other organizations. In a recent contest with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, fans drew play-off themed doodles for the chance to win season tickets and see their drawing printed on 17,000 rally towels. The contest was successful enough that the NHL asked Doodle.ly to work with other teams. Bands like Fictionist and Graffiti6 are using Doodle.ly to collect fan artwork and run contests. Justin Bieber is one of the most-drawn subjects on the site.
“Go back to the earliest ways of communicating — it was cave drawings and hieroglyphics,” Paul told me. “We wanted to create something that felt like an analog experience — like you were using things you got at Staples.”