New York and Seattle-based Viewfinder is officially debuting a mobile application which aims to serve as something between a photo organization utility and private social network. Built by a team of ex-Googlers and others, the app offers a way for users to start private chats, quickly share their photos with friends who can then comment on the items, un-share photos as needed, as well as efficiently search back through their photo history.
Of course, the market for photo-sharing apps is overly crowded at this point, but Viewfinder is aiming to define its niche by not squarely fitting into just one category. It’s not just for photo sharing, not just a utility, and not just a social network.
If anything, the app shares is most similar to mobile messaging apps, given Viewfinder’s focus on real-time conversations, which tend to be centered around photos.
“I don’t think of this app as being about photo sharing. I think that’s one of its constituent parts” explains co-founder Spencer Kimball, who previously spent a decade at Google, most recently working on Google’s exascale distributed file system. “What we’ve tried to develop is something that’s a lot deeper – we want to create spaces for your memories to live.”
Kimball describes these spaces as organic social networks – ranging from those that crop up between a larger group of people attending an event, to smaller networks, such as those between you and your significant other.
However, although the focus is on preserving these memories, Viewfinder does include a feature which aims to address the accidental over-share: it actually lets you un-share photos. Unlike Snapchat where photos quickly disappear, Viewfinder allows users to “un-share” photos within seven days of adding them. There are no mechanisms to prevent downloads, or alerts when photos are being downloaded, so there’s less of a feeling of absolute privacy when on Viewfinder, though.
For example, when you want to search back through your past photos, you can press alongside the right of the screen to reveal a “jump scroll” interface (see screenshots and video below). The design of this scroll wheel is not something I’ve seen in other apps before. Here, it breaks up photo archives by year, month and location – helpful when you’re searching for a set of specific images. And the interface is smart, too. As you expand and contract the timeline by swiping your finger over it, it can filter out the photo groupings which are less important.
“It makes that determination based on how much you’ve shared with people, and how unusual the place is,” says Kimball. If you don’t visit a particular city often, for instance, it would know that’s likely a notable grouping of photos.
Within these organic social networks, users can star photos to save them within their own chronologically-based photo libraries, export photos to their camera roll, and invite other, non-iPhone users to join in via a web-based interface. Meanwhile, the app’s “inbox” keeps you posted on new additions to any group message, no matter how old.
Going forward, the team plans to add Android support, and will begin integrating with other third-party services in order to provide even more contextual info to the photo groups. Kimball didn’t want to go into much detail on this latter addition, but explained that the bigger idea is that users would never have to tag a photo again or organize photos into folders, if using Viewfinder.
The company is currently monetizing by offering a paid version of the service where users can host the full-resolution version of photos $1.99 per month, or upgraded storage for $9.99/month. These prices may change in time.
Kimball is joined by co-founders Brian McGinnis (CEO), formerly of Lehman Brothers; Peter Mattis, who also previously worked on Google’s exascale file system as well as Google Goggles; and professional photographer Chris Schoenbohm. The team is headquartered in New York and has an undisclosed seed round of funding from private investors, which is north of $1 million.
The iPhone app is available for download here.