Iterations: “It’s Delicate, But Potent”

Editor’s Note: Semil Shah is an EIR with Javelin Venture Partners and has been an official contributor to TechCrunch since January 2011. You can follow him on Twitter at @semil.

Every now and then, I’ll get sucked into the distracting, immersive, emotional habit of flipping through pictures online. Rifling through albums can stop time. It’s disorienting, like stumbling upon an old photograph in your drawer, the type of visually arresting trigger that takes you back through time. For me, I keep a small cigar box full of all my old photographs, dating back to childhood. They’re all warped now, fading in color. I keep the box tucked away under the bed, forgetting about it because I know going through it will take me places for hours.

Maybe you’ve heard a song that triggered a memory locked up in the corner of your brain. Maybe you run into someone from your past in real life, and you just stop in place. Or, maybe you see a photograph that ties it all together, jarring and powerful. If you’ve watched Mad Men, you’ll no doubt recall the famous carousel scene in the final episode of the first season, a classic moment where Don Draper talks about a consumer product, based on photographs, that had the rare chance to create a sentimental bond with people.

Back in the Mad Men days, that product was a Kodak Carousel. More recently, that product is Instagram, using filters to manipulate photographs and give them a tinge of nostalgia. And, while we all may be tired of yet another photo-based service, I must admit that I’ve been fascinated by and addicted to Timehop emails for a while.

The triggers used by Timehop have been subtle and measured. It started with a daily morning email sent at the same time, a reminder about what I was doing a year ago that day. Then people started referencing their receipt of their Timehop email on Twitter, but without explicitly sharing the content. Recently, they adopted a technique popularized by Instagram to create a web page for each memory they surfaced to make sharing with friends easier. The folks at Timehop have been gently beating the drum of nostalgia and created a product I want to interact with at least once a day.

And now, with their brand becoming more well-known, with a small but lively installed base of users primed by weeks of subtle emails, and a social sharing rhythm in place, Timehop has launched a new iPhone app into a crowded app marketplace. The app takes what the simple email reminders did, but now has the ability to send push notification based not only on time, but also your location and what your other friends were doing years ago or at certain places. Timehop for iPhone will also access photographs you’ve taken on your phone, many of which don’t make it to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram — and then surface them for you at just the right time.

I could go on and on about the other cool things Timehop could do on mobile, but perhaps the best thing about the service is its ability to draw out emotion through such a simple concept. Aside from the design, there’s no earth-shattering technology here, though tuning which data to resurface is an interesting contextual challenge. The information Timehop surfaces already exists on your other social streams, but there’s no easy way to access or present it. There are also some data structure and organizational hurdles in presenting this data, and so far the app shows no sign of fatigue. Not surprisingly, it is a service I’ve seen many of my non-early-adopter friends mention and remember in conversation, leading me to believe it has the potential to spread naturally because it simply gives people what they want in a new form — the place where you can keep your memories. The carousel of old slides, the cigar box of warped pictures, and the Instagrams you’ve taken, now in your pocket, delivered to you in just the right way.

Photo Credit: Richard Bowen / Creative Commons Flickr