Former Microsoft Engineers Launch Pixotale, A Social Networking App For Visual Storytelling

A pair of ex-Microsoft engineers, Robert Mao and Haitao Li, have launched what they describe as a new social network based around photos and videos with Pixotale, an app that aims to re-imagine long-form storytelling for the mobile era.

Mao, previously having spent five years with Microsoft Research, says that to create Pixotale, the two had to basically “unlearn everything” they had learned while at Microsoft. Co-founder Li was there for a decade, as one of the core engineers on the Internet Explorer team, having lived through IE’s defeat of Netscape and more.

pixotale-iphoneAfter leaving Microsoft, the former colleagues wanted to explore the world of mobile applications, and started a new company called Pixomobile last January to test the waters in today’s App Store.

Since that time, they’ve released a half-dozen somewhat utilitarian apps, all centered around photos and videos. The most popular of these is Levitagram, an app which lets you edit photos to make it appear as if the subject is floating in the air – a photography trend which grew popular in places like Japan and Indonesia, but has now spread worldwide. That app has grown to a half million users, which accounts for a significant portion of the company’s 1.5 million-plus users in total.

The revenue generated by Levitagram’s paid version has helped to fund the development of Pixotale, the company’s first effort to create a social networking-like app, instead of just a utility.

A Storytelling Network

Explains Mao, today’s social networks make it easy to get connected with others, but make it difficult for you to have deeper relationships with those connections. As one of the first bloggers in China, he remembers an era where users told their personal stories on their own websites, and formed communities around the commenting section and through trackbacks – which were the pings you’d receive when someone referenced your post in theirs.

With Pixotale, the overall goal is to connect people again via these sorts of personal stories – something that’s been a bit lost in the age of social media, Mao believes. After publishing your stories, you’ll be alerted to any likes or comments from fellow app users.

The app is also designed to make creating longer-form content easier on mobile, with a simple interface for adding text, photos, a map and soon video and audio. You can tap to add elements to the story or adjust its layout on the page before publishing. You can also work on stories while offline, and save them to publish later.

Catherine's Artwork - PixotaleThe end results are polished, professional creations you can then share to other social networks, like Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, and more. The stories are also viewable via the web, which you can see here, here, here or here, for example.

While Pixotale is simple to use, it doesn’t currently offer image editing controls, which means your photos will need to be cropped and straightened and filtered the way you want before launching the app.

For now, the bootstrapping company is looking to grow Pixotale’s user base before turned to other means of monetization, but the team imagines that they’ll eventually sell in-app upgrades to help users embellish their content further, at some later point.

Pixotale is a free download on iTunes.