The Photo-Sharing Wars Aren’t Over Yet. Snapchat And Cinemagram Are Quietly Blowing Up.

When Instagram’s roughly $750 million sale to Facebook closed, it seemed that the photo-sharing chapter in mobile app history closed. Instagram had definitively won, while many startups like Mixed Media Labs’ Picplz and Path either pivoted or completely redid their apps. But if you look at the top charts today, maybe this race isn’t so finished. In fact, there are a couple of younger photo-sharing apps that have quietly blown up over the last month or two.

No, these ones aren’t necessarily about filters or video-sharing (although there is an app Vintique that is doing well at a #2 U.S. free rank thanks to being Apple’s App of the Week).

There are two others that have had a sustained presence on the top free app charts over the last few weeks. Both Cinemagram and Snapchat have very unique takes on the photography genre.

Remember Snapchat? It’s the app that’s totally not for sexting (the company swears despite its sexualized marketing imagery to the right)! It’s a mobile messaging app that ensures that recipients only see your photos for 10 seconds before they disappear from existence. It alerts you if the recipient tries to take a screenshot of your photo. As an extra safeguard, you actually have to hold your fingers on the screen to see any photo, which prevents you from taking a screenshot or a picture of a picture.

The app has reached a ranking of #20 on the overall free charts in the U.S., is being pursued by several VC firms and a source with visibility into both companies’ data tells us that Snapchat is seeing roughly the same number of photos shared per day as Instagram. Yes, that sounds crazy, considering that Instagram sees at least 5 million photos uploaded per day and has more than 100 million users now.

But you have to consider that because Snapchat’s photos don’t last forever, it lowers people’s inhibitions and makes them more likely to take many more photos than they would otherwise. If that photo’s not going to be around for all (digital) eternity, it doesn’t matter how risque or ridiculous it is, right?

On Appdata, which can track mobile apps and how many Facebook users they have, you can see the app has a healthy growth trajectory. The daily active usage looks low with 40,000 DAU, but that’s because AppData doesn’t show Snapchat’s overall userbase. It’s the number of Snapchat users who connect to Facebook every day, which happens to be a small portion of the app’s total user base. What matters is that you can see a nice upward trend on the graph, unlike Path, which is seeing a flatline on AppData.

Snapchat’s co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy declined to comment for this story, but we suspect they’ll have something to talk about soon, given the backchatter we’re hearing. Snapchat has raised around a half-million dollars in seed funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners.

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Cinemagram is a more recent standout. It’s ranked #10 on the free charts in the U.S. and is a hybrid between photo and video-sharing. Cinemagrams are photos that are partially animated. Basically, they’re animated GIFs. The app has been around since early February, but it didn’t start to take off until the last month or so.

Temo Chalasani, one of Cinemagram’s creators, says that a lot of tweaking and optimization have helped the app become faster and more user-friendly.

“Our latest update fixes a lot of key problems with video — speed, the difficulty of sharing and engagement around consumption,” he said. “I think that’s really what’s driving the current explosive growth.” Indeed, simplicity and ease of use are what helped Instagram take off quickly. Co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger were laser-focused on cutting the amount of steps required to post a photo down to three or less, and didn’t force users to enter in additional data like location or tags.

Apple also featured Cinemagram in its New & Noteworthy section, but that placement recently ended. The app is still managing to stick in the top 10, however. Chalasani said Cinemagram went from seeing 8,000 to 10,000 downloads per day, but is now in the “tens of thousands.” He adds that the recent updates and fixes have pushed core engagement up by two-fold. However, he’s not sharing any stats on overall daily or monthly active usage or Cinemagrams shared per day.

But you can see on AppData that there’s a noticeable upward tick over the last few weeks. (Again, a disclaimer: the chart below does not show total overall usage as 350,000 MAU seems low. This is just the number of Cinemagram users who connected to Facebook this month. Visualizing the hockey-stick is what matters.)

Will these new users stick around? Only time will tell.

The company currently has some seed funding from Montreal’s Real Ventures.

So this leads us to the question: is there room for another Instagram-style deal?

Probably not one of notable size in the immediate future, as Instagram nailed the basic use case of sharing photos with friends from phones. Plus, Snapchat and Cinemagram have very different use cases.

But you can never say never in this category. When Facebook launched Photos in October 2005, the company’s management assumed that the market had mostly been settled with established competitors like Yahoo’s Flickr. Facebook’s Photos product didn’t have competitive features like printing or high-resolution photographs. But the company unexpectedly found traction with tagging and now more than 300 million photos are uploaded every day.

Likewise, Facebook didn’t anticipate that a small photo-sharing app called Instagram would go on to attract 100 million users in two years, laying the basis for a competitive social network on mobile devices (which had been the company’s Achilles heel). Facebook, Google and Yahoo are all actively looking at deals in the mobile messaging space, so Snapchat is an obvious target.

Stay tuned to see if this second wave of mobile photo-sharing apps has staying power.