The makers of the private photo-sharing app Cluster have been experimenting with spinning off the service’s technology into different verticals in recent days, including apps designed for documenting your travels, communicating with your community at church, tracking your baby’s milestones, and more. But one of the more successful of the spinoffs, now launching to the public, is Homeroom – an app that lets teachers create private photo albums that can be shared with parents.
According to Cluster co-founder CEO Brenden Mulligan, because the team already built the photo-sharing infrastructure for Cluster’s flagship app, there’s no technical cost involved with running these many experiments. To date, the company has already rolled out several efforts, some of which it has since scrapped for being too “niche” – like an app designed for summer camps, for example.
While Cluster is still the company’s most popular application by far, “Homeroom really surprised us,” says Mulligan. “That makes sense because the Homeroom model is really perfect for what we built,” he adds. “When a teacher downloads the app, they know exactly what to use it for, exactly what content to put in it, and exactly who to invite.”
Under the hood, the Homeroom app uses Cluster’s technology to allow teachers to create private albums that can be shared with parents via an email that contains a link to the online album. That same link can also be used anywhere, including on classroom handouts or on a website, if the teacher chooses.
However, there have been some slight tweaks to the user interface that put a larger focus on the privacy elements of the Homeroom app, plus specific messaging around use cases.
In addition, while in Cluster you share albums with friends by adding them from your phone’s address book, teachers on Homeroom don’t have to enter in all the parents names and contact information. Instead, Homeroom simply sends teachers an email they can then forward on to parents which contains the album link.
In addition, Homeroom differs from Cluster because only teachers or other designed admins can upload photos to an album. (In Cluster, albums were collaborative, where anyone invited could add their own photos.)
Parents can still favorite photos and comment, but they can’t invite other people to join the album. And they can also flag a photo in the album in order to have it immediately removed. Of course, schools generally have their own policies around classroom photography, and forms parents have to sign to authorize photos being taken. But in the case mistakes are made, this feature can help.
Mulligan says they’ve been pilot testing the app publicly via the App Store with over 800 classrooms in the U.S., and those users have now created around 70,000 posts which have been viewed over a million times by members. On average, there are 12 members per each classroom album.
In one of the more active classrooms, there are 30 members and over 700 posts that have been viewed 14,000 times. Another has over 200 members – which is basically the entire active staff of the school and then some.
With today’s version 1.0 release of Homeroom, the company is squashing bugs and expanding support to iPad, which addresses the 20% of users who have been accessing the app’s content through their tablets.
The app itself is free, but if it becomes successful enough, the company may introduce ways of turning that photo content into items that are available for purchase – like yearbooks, for example. The team has also been talking to schools about other communications features, too. Some of these for-pay features could also help schools fundraise, as a modern alternative to hosting bake sales, for example.