A couple of days ago, an acquaintance on Twitter pointed out the website for Selfies, a new social app from Automattic, best known as the company behind WordPress. I found it odd that the app was out in the wild and hadn’t received any press coverage, but according to the site’s FAQ, that was the point: to see what would happen if they just put it out there. Selfies hasn’t exactly exploded: after about a week of availability, it’s been downloaded somewhere in the range of 100-500 times.
After stepping down as chief executive officer in January to let founder Matt Mullenweg take the reins, former Automattic CEO Toni Schneider began to work on new products at the company. He told me that he’s been working with a six-man group informally known as the “tinker team” to experiment with fun, one-off concepts proposed in company-wide brainstorming sessions.
Selfies is the fourth such experiment that the team has toyed with. It’s been in development for approximately eight weeks, originally conceived around the time Automattic raised a massive $160 million round of funding back in May.
Right now, the app is extremely simple to get into. Within seconds of starting up the app for the first time you’re taking a pic, adding a caption and filter, and posting to the network. At the moment there’s a single, public stream of selfies in the app, and you can respond to selfies with a captioned image of your own, like a public Snapchat or Slingshot.
“Clearly [the one public stream] is not going to scale,” Schneider says, so the team is looking to add a filtering system to show only relevant or high-quality content as soon as possible. Until then, you can double-dip with the photos you take in the app by quickly sharing them to your other preferred social networks.
I asked Schneider if this was WordPress using its new capital to start building out a family of apps, as we’ve seen from Facebook, Dropbox, Google, and Twitter. He says that’s “already natural for Automattic, as over the years we’ve taken a multi-product, multi-brand approach,” listing off WordPress, Jetpack, and Gravatar as products and services that Automattic has built out simultaneously.
In fact, Selfies started out as a Gravatar app and then “morphed” into its current form, as the team realized that they “wanted to make something more standalone.” That’s actually why Selfies is only on Android — back when it was still going to be an app for Gravatar, Automattic polled its users on the Gravatar blog, asking where they’d like to see an app show up first. Android won.