Despite the ubiquity of smartphones and the insane number of photos we now save and share, surprisingly, no one has yet to figure out how to shift more personal and private photo-sharing away from old-school methods like SMS and email, and into a dedicated mobile application. A number of startups, however, are trying to do just that. Cluster is one of those companies, and with today’s release, it’s getting closer to solving the sharing problem.
It’s fascinating to watch how so many different companies are attacking the photo-sharing space in the shadow of the world’s most massive photo-sharing site that is today’s Facebook. 300 million photos uploaded daily – how does anyone compete with that?
The space is jam-packed.
Some companies have taken the angle of real-time, location-based albums. Color was a high-profile example of that. Snapchat lets users share photos that disappear. Several have focused on aggregation from multiple channels, or tools for organization, including Snapjoy (exited to Dropbox in December), Everpix, ThisLife (exited to Shutterfly in January), PictureLife, Woven and PhotoSocial. Others still are focused on turning photos into prints or products, like Shutterfly, SimplePrints or Mixbook’s Mosaic.
And then there are the automatic album creators, like Tracks, Moment.me and Bump’s Flock, which use signals like location and time, or social data, to determine which photos should be shared among a group.
Like Flock and others, it also sets up groups – called “clusters” – around locations and times. These groups can now be private or public.
But the biggest difference between Cluster and some of the more automated tools, is that some of its competitors, says Mulligan, are “trying to be too smart.” Other apps either do the job for you too well, giving users less a sense of control, or get too pushy with notifications asking you to add more photos.
Cluster instead inserts the user into the experience, so a notification that’s sent out doesn’t say that some app now wants your attention, but rather some friend of yours does. Because Cluster knows who has photos to share, it can help facilitate this photo-sharing request.
Users can now push out a message to their friends by tapping a “Nudge” option in Cluster. The recipients, meanwhile, are more likely to respond to a friend’s request, than a pestering app.
The company has been busy figuring out several little details like this over the course of eight updates it has released since the debut of its first product this February. Based on user feedback, Cluster has streamlined the design, now emphasizing the cover photo more and showing profile photos (in the now trendy Chat Head-style round icons, natch) of all those contributing to an album.
It has also added favoriting and commenting options, and has introduced a way for people to create more public albums for sharing to Facebook and Twitter.
Mulligan declined to provide details as to installs or active users, saying that the focus has been iterating the product to improve the core experience and engagement metrics first. He thinks they’re doing well with that now, noting that around 85 percent of those invited to contribute to a cluster will upload photos if they have them.
But to become truly ubiquitous, Cluster has to reach those on other platforms besides iOS. That’s the focus going forward, with plans for a Mac app and an upload-enabled web version in the next couple of months, and with Android development planned in the next three to six. Of course, to move forward bootstrapped Cluster’s team of now three will need to grow, and that requires additional funding – which is also planned.
And yes, while there are maybe too many photo-sharing apps out there, Cluster is an idea worth pursuing.
Mulligan cites a recent statement from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who, when asked what the next big trend was, said “the big stuff that we’re seeing now is sharing with smaller groups.”
It’s a wonder that Facebook itself hasn’t implemented a simpler way to more privately share photos between individual users in its own Facebook Camera app, which is today still unwieldy compared with apps like Cluster, Flock, KickSend, and others.
“Although we think we’re solving a problem people have in just moving photos around, I think there’s something interesting around these small groups who have these shared experiences and what comes after that,” says Mulligan.
Yes, there is. But who will nail it?