Mobile Photosharing, The Final Social Frontier

Despite Consumergeddon, it’s still a mobile photosharing jungle out there. Unless of course you are Snapchat, in which case welcome to being the prettiest girl in the room. Which, while fun at times, still sucks.

Because welcome to everyone being intimidated by you (as Facebook is with all heavily used communication apps) or accusing you of (warranted or unwarranted) salacious behavior or copying you or all of the above. So yeah.

This is my seventh opus on photosharing. Because I personally feel some strange affinity for it: It might be the closest that an Internet business can function as a gateway to the mainstream. We <3 photosharing because humans are very, very visual creatures and have been for about 200k years. In modernity, the average time we spend watching TV is around 168 minutes per day, which completely blows away our time spent on Facebook.

Seriously, we just have an insane impulse to look at and obsess over the human likeness. It’s crazy how irrationally obsessed we are with photos. For example, right now there is a photo I am dying to share but am holding off and only thinking about sharing it while simultaneously clicking on photos of my married friends that I am jealous of while also keeping tabs on a racy photo that is making the rounds via text throughout our friend group because of its incendiary nature. The latter photo was originally posted to, and pulled off of, Facebook, but not before it amassed 100+ Likes. And all of this has taken up at least an hour of my time today.

We totally should have used Snapchat. ;)

But because photosharing is so endemic to human behavior, it’s most easily overlooked when presented as a legitimate business on multiple levels. The biggest exit to date in the space, Instagram, exited sans any meaningful revenue, adding even more resonance to the classic Silicon Valley joke, “A million guys walk into a Silicon Valley bar.  None of them buy anything. The bar is declared a rousing success.”

But Instagram is important, just like Facebook was important and Myspace was important and Snapchat is now important. Listening to radio, you increasingly hear the words “Check us out on Facebook and Instagram” versus “Check us out on Facebook and Twitter.” If I were a Twitter Biz Dev guy, I’d be shivering in my boots.

Instagram’s traction, distilled into actual numbers, obviously concerned Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who made a ~$500 million bid for Instagram before Facebook outbid it last April. Instagram made Facebook and Twitter look like legacy products — because they were built on the web first and (in the latter case) struggled with mobile.

But its value goes beyond this. Instagram is the camera brand of my/our/the iPhone generation, comparable to Nikon or Canon for my/our parents. It must be a huge pain point for Twitter that the “camera” used to upload a significant amount of photo content on its platform belongs to its competitor Facebook. And that it is now fighting a two-pronged battle between competitor 1 and competitor 1A: Competitor 1A, Instagram, is the software; while competitor 1, Facebook, is now the storage piece/flash disk for all these photos.

This battle is specifically over high-quality, user-generated content, where brands at some point will ostensibly bid very highly for the opportunity to run humanized branding advertisements that they don’t actually have to create. Twitter is actually making bank right now on this very principle, with $350 million in revenue for 2012 and a run rate to hit $1 billion in 2013 we hear. So yeah it’s a big deal.

Advertising against UGC will be the fulcrum of both Twitter’s and Facebook’s earnings statements in 2014, so everyone is stockpiling or making their bold moves a year ahead before we all head off on vacation in Q4 2012. Instagram removed its Twitter Card integration. Twitter’s weapons in the fight are the press, its own product teams, and its ability through Aviary to build its own Filters product. None of this is enough.

Don’t even get me started on Flickr.

Independent developers on the Instagram ecosystem already earn more than $1.5 million in revenue annually. Today’s Instagram TOS changes could mean at least 10x to 100x that if users don’t become turned off by the app’s attempt to derive value from the value it already adds to users’ lives with its fancy filters and light social sharing. While $10 million is meager, $100 million in revenue seems just fine for a Facebook app, especially if it’s mobile, especially when compared to the 1% of its value that Facebook originally plunked down for Instagram.

And now I’m really curious about what Facebook offered Snapchat — assuming it did before it outright copied it.