Sunsets? Landscapes? Latte art? Look back at your old photos and you’ll notice they’re boring unless there’s a human face in them. Now think about teens on social media. Immaturity fuels bullying and drama-filled comment reels. So RockLive has taken funding from Justin Bieber to solve these problems with Shots of Me, a self-portrait photo sharing iOS app that launches today.
Selfies — photos you shoot of yourself, often with the front-facing camera. That’s what you do on Shots of Me. Take selfies. Share selfies to the app’s Instagram-style internal social network or to Twitter (with Instagram sharing coming soon). Like Selfies from other people.
Yes, you read that right. It’s a social network entirely for selfies. The premise is simple, but it hides the amount of work and detail that went into Shots of Me.
“We were creating these games and had a good, young demographic. Always high schoolers,” RockLive CEO John Shahidi tells me. “We giggled that we knew how to market to high school girls so let’s build something even bigger,” he says.
The idea for Shots of Me came from Shahidi looking at the photo app craze and realizing “People enjoy looking at humans. Not just yourself. People like looking at other people. It doesn’t ever really get old. Looking at a coffee or salad…”, Shahidi trails off, but the implication is clear. Instagram is the home for photos of food and inanimate object photography, as the filters make them look interesting. But they’re not. And people are sick of staring at your lunch.
Does the world need another photo app? Maybe not. But if you suspend your skepticism for a moment, seeing the smiling faces of your friends more often probably isn’t such a bad thing.
Instagram For Selfies
RockLive’s five-person team began building Shots of Me in May and today it becomes available for download. Open the iOS-only app and you’ll find a full-screen feed of selfies from your Shots of Me friends and anyone you pull from your Twitter contacts.
In a cool chameleon design trick, the name/location and caption/likes bars above and below each photo take on the colors of the pic and change as you scroll. It’s like you’re looking through a steamy window. Shahidi proclaims “We want to be a top of the line product. You spend $500 on a phone. Does this app fit the quality of the iPhone, does this feel like a like Mercedes or a Ferrari?” That might be pushing it, but the app has number of flourishes like letting you pick the color of the navigation chrome.
To enforce the selfies-only rule, you have to take photos using the front-facing camera. And similar to Snapchat, you can only shoot Shots of Me within the app. No uploading means the emotions you see in a newly uploaded Shot Of Me is how that person is feeling right now.
What makes Shots of Me functionally unique is actually what it lacks: Comments. “People share photos because they felt so positive at that moment” Shahidi explains. “Drama kills that moment.”
If someone makes fun of your photo of the ocean, whatever. But selfies leave people vulnerable. A hateful comment about your face could really hurt, especially if you’re a sensitive teenager. So rather than comments, Shots of Me has a direct messaging system where you can ping anyone who follows you, similar to Twitter. This way, any drama stays private and randos can’t troll you.
[Update: After some more real-world usage, I find myself really resonating with the idea that photos with people in them are more fun. I think two pictures I might have taken of dead things over the last day (a theater marquee, a T-Rex statue) were much better with my silly face in them.
Still, there are some nagging design flaws in Shots of Me. As you can see above, the navigation buttons obscure the caption and likes bar beneath each photo. Also, the like button is far too small, making it a chore to hit, which reduces the interaction and notifications Shots of Me needs to grow. It also leads to accidental taps into the accounts of other people who liked a selfie. These need to be cleared up as soon as possible.]
The Bieber Seal Of Approval
It was this philosophy of positivity that attracted Justin Bieber to Shots of Me. The pop star was introduced to the RockLive and Shots of Me, and Shahidi says “Honestly, he loved it. He was a bit annoyed by other platforms” referring to the constant homophobic slurs and hate Justin gets on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks.
“The commenting thing was something he really cared about. Not just for himself, but for the kids. He said ‘I want a platform where my fans don’t have to deal with this. We didn’t ask him for money. He said ‘I want to be part of this.'”
RockLive had already raised $1.6 million from Shervin Pishevar, boxer Floyd Mayweather, early Apple employee Tom McInerney and NALA investments. NALA had set terms to put in some more money, but RockLive let Bieber in at the last minute to let him contribute the majority of the $1.1 million second round.
This is Bieber’s first publicly announced personal investment without the help of his manager Scooter Braun, who he’s invested in a few startups with. Shahidi says Bieber “did a lot of due diligence. He asked a lot of questions and he calls all the time.”There’s no business model to analyze, though, as Shots of Me is focused solely on growth, which will be a tough fight.
Some will undoubtedly say Bieber has no business investing in tech, but if he can consistently sell millions of record and huge numbers of concert tickets, he must have a knack for understanding what kids want.
A Photo App Shootout
Overall, Shots of Me feels refreshing because every face is fascinating. There are no botched attempts at artful photos of stale scenes cluttering the feed. Sure, Shots of Me could become a vehicle for vanity, but that’s human nature. You can say it will fail. You can say it’s dumb. But it doesn’t change the fact that people are taking selfies at an alarming rate. Someone’s going to capitalize. Some say selfies are a fad, but we’ve been painting and shooting portraits for a long, long time.
The question now is whether Shots of Me’s focus on selfies, no-drama feed, and aid from the Bieber-nation will be enough to carve out an audience amongst the slew of other photo apps.
Most obviously, Shots of Me will be taking on Instagram and its 150 million highly engaged users. Then there are stalwarts Facebook and Twitter. Snapchat has become a destination for sharing silly self-portraits, and maybe the mysterious, unlaunched startup “Selfie” will seduce some users.
The biggest threat may be the recently launched Frontback, which cleverly lets you share two-photo diptychs that feature a front-facing selfie plus a rear-facing shot to show where you are. With 300,000 downloads since its launch in August and $3 million in new funding, Frontback is capitalizing on its unique format. It permits funny photo mashups, also prohibits comments, and combines eye-catching faces with added context. Beating out all these apps will be a serious challenge.
Shahidi remains confident, noting that “Taking one photo is already a lot of work” and that the non-selfie part of Frontbacks could get stale because “people are typically doing the same thing every day. If you’re in the office, the office is kind of boring”. RockLive actually considered offering the diptych style, but concluded “There’s more opportunities to take photos of yourself than figuring out the other side.”
With any luck, Shots of Me will get Bieber to share selfies exclusively on its app to attract some of his 47 million Twitter followers and 57 million Facebook fans. It could blow past Frontback if just 1 percent of those people checked out Shots of Me. Still, Shahidi hopes his product can stand on its own two feet.
“Before Instagram, there were dozens of apps that could let you take photos with filters, but Instagram was the first to create a home for your filtered pictures. You knew you were going to see elegant photos.” He hopes Shots Of Me will do the same for selfies. “People are going to enjoy seeing their life documented through the app. They’re your memories. If you’re not in the photo, it didn’t happen.”