Facebook was already taking in 300 million photos a day, and that rate is about to dramatically increase. It’s now ushering users onto its background uploads feature Photo Sync with a big banner at the top of its mobile apps’ news feed. Just two taps and your last 20 photos plus every one you take in the future are auto-uploaded to a private album from which you can share and Facebook can mine metadata.
The rollout of Photo Sync that started yesterday is perhaps the biggest thing to happen to Facebook photos beyond friend tagging and manual mobile uploads. Friend tagging jumpstarted Facebook’s growth with a jolt of narcissism over a half decade ago. If someone tagged you in a photo, you likely checked it out the second you got the notification, along with all the other photos in the album. Later it began offering photo sharing from mobile, but its biggest problem remained the arduous upload process.
Photo Sync sands that friction down to a smooth marble surface and it’s about to get a ton of users. Each of Facebook’s iPhone and Android apps have well over 115 million monthly users who will end up seeing this banner that casually requests you “Get Started” when it’s actually a serious decision.
Once enabled, every photo you take gets uploaded with no work on your part. That means all six tries to get that perfect portrait, the 30 photos you took of that gorgeous sunset, the pic of those cute pants you want to buy, and everything in between. All you do is select which to share, and a moment later they’re visible to your friends on Facebook.
When you might have shared one photo you could share four. Instead of squinting to type in descriptions on your phone, you might share more of those landscapes and other abstract shots because you’ll be able to add descriptions when you share them from the desktop. This will generate more photos of friends to draw them back to the site, and content for them to consume in the news feed.
You’ll see the full force of Photo Sync if Facebook combines it with its facial recognition feature. Rather than tagging friends manually, Facebook will analyze your Photo Synced album for the mugs of friends, apply tags automatically, and all you’ll have to do is approve them.
In the meantime, Facebook is probably going to suck in some terms of service violations and other very private photos. Even if people know that no one else can see them, some might panic when they see photos of them drunk, sloppy, nude, or in otherwise compromising positions within the Facebook Chrome. Right now Facebook doesn’t do a great job of explaining how the feature works so it could cause some to be caught by surprise, freak out, and turn it off.
But that’s probably worth it to Facebook because of the immense amount of photo metadata Photo Sync will give it. As I wrote yesterday, the feature is essentially Facebook’s entrance into cloud storage. While you might not share all the photos you upload, Facebook can still pull out geolocation to help it figure out where you are now and what local business ads to show you.. Eventually, brand recognition like the ability to identify Nike shoes in your photos could aid ad targeting too.
There no big launch event yesterday because Facebook didn’t need one. In fact, it probably didn’t want one, considering it didn’t even notify bloggers like me as it usually does. The banner atop the the news feed of its iOS and Android apps could easily get tens of millions of users to enable photo sync. If its competitors in social networking and now cloud storage don’t realize what’s happened, they won’t be able to react. But Facebook just found a way to to get its next 219 billion photos a lot faster than the first.