7moments serves up simple, private photo albums for the web and iPhone

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As the concept of ‘social’ evolves, many startups are trying to tame it by creating a solid wall around what’s meant to stay private. That’s the thinking behind social networks such as Path and, to a more extreme degree, Pair.

More recently, we can look to Quilt and Everyme (which picked up a couple million in funding last week) for fresher examples of private social networking efforts. Both of those go heavy on the photo-sharing aspect, but now there’s a new startup out of Berlin that’s concentrating entirely on that angle.

7moments, which is all about private collaborative photo albums and nothing more, has a solid heritage. CEO Stefan Kellner was a co-founder of Plazes, along with Felix Petersen, now chief at the much-hyped Amen. That service was sold to Nokia in 2008 and recently shuttered.

Plazes was somewhat ahead of its time, being a Foursquare-anticipating location-based services app at a time when smartphones weren’t all toting mobile broadband and GPS. But the time certainly seems ripe for what 7moments is doing.

“I did a hiking tour in Nepal, and there was no service that allowed people to all put their photos in one place and do something with it,” Kellner told me. “We could have several Flickr accounts and pool it, but that wasn’t feasible because people were so heterogeneous and I didn’t want to force them into something. So I then decided we should build something to do that.”

The service is available as a web app and on the iPhone. You can invite people to an album by email, and can also import photos from and export them to Facebook.

Part of the attraction of 7moments’ approach is the fact that it doesn’t involve trying to segment groups of friends out of a larger pool – users need to be invited to each album, which pretty much removes the need for management. As CPO Markus Angermeier puts it, each album effectively becomes a tiny social network of its own.

The service went into beta earlier this year with a strong focus on event albums, but, according to Kellner, the response led the team to also think in terms of continuous photostreams for set groups of friends. In terms of other features, there’s no tagging (why would there be in small, private groups?) but users can like and comment on photos.

I think this idea has something going for it. Most people I know have had new-social-network fatigue for some time, and juggling the privacy settings around groups of friends on the existing networks is a pain.

When it comes to private photo albums, there’s real value in having stripped-down, singleminded, virality-free functionality. It makes for a clean and accessible user experience.

The trick, of course, will be in keeping it clean. Kellner says various monetization strategies are being considered, including analysis tools to tell the user which of their photos are good, and a possible shift into real paper photo-album printing.

As long as it stays simple, they could be onto something.

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