Today’s hottest internet services all involve pictures. Draw Something attracted 15m users in its first six weeks before the game was bought for $200m by Zynga, Pinterest has rapidly become the third-most popular US social network and Facebook is paying $1bn for Instagram. This week, snapshots of three picture-taking services.
Pinterest offers simple web-based pinboards of images for people to follow, “like” or create themselves.
Looking at the stream of pins displayed on its front page as I write, I see pictures of zombie garden gnomes, a muscleman, a woman in an elegant dress, crockery, a sign that says “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way”, baked muffins and a cute cat.
Users have added comments, “likes” or repinned the images to their own pinboards.
The range is typical – users collect fashion and home items, recipes, fluffy animals, humorous quotations, oddities and beautiful people.
Pinterest first caught on with women in the US Midwest, collecting images for arts and crafts and clothes they liked. It is generating a lot of sales for companies whose items are featured and the range of uses is growing – some people add images in a swatch-like way to help with ideas for home redesigns or other projects.
I had an account within a day of requesting an invitation. You can log in using Facebook or Twitter credentials, embellish your profile, start following friends. Starter boards are provided for your pins with subjects including Favourite Places, For the Home, Products I Love, My Style, Books Worth Reading.
Images can be uploaded from your computer or by using a “Pin It” tool that sits in your browser’s bookmarks bar. An iPhone app adds photos taken by the built-in camera.
Pinterest has become so popular that it already has a number of tools and plug-ins designed by third parties to make it easier to use – rather like Twitter’s ecosystem grew up around it in its early days.
Pinterest needs this, because it still has only basic functionality. For example, I created a board for an event and uploaded photos, but there was no way to drag and reorder pictures to make a coherent story out of them.
Pinterest could become like YouTube – where most users watch and comment rather than upload content. But images are easier to add than video and I’m pinning my hopes, and photos, on a more creative outcome.
Mark Zuckerberg may have been looking through a rose-tinted filter at Instagram when he paid $1bn for the photo-editing service this month – its wide range of filters improve the dullest iPhone photos, but many other apps offer the same thing.
I prefer its longtime rival Picplz, which offered an Android as well as an iPhone app from its early days. It also has a website for uploading, editing and viewing photos.
But part of Instagram’s attraction to its 35m users and to Facebook is that it has focused its efforts on its iPhone app – and it shows: it was named the best app of 2011 by Apple. It only introduced an Android version this month and still does not have a browser-based version.
There is the standard ability to follow friends’ photos and post to other social networks, but Instagram’s main strength is how it makes your photos look better, working faster and providing easier tools than competitors
Photos are proving more popular than video online – they are easier to record, improve and upload, and are quicker to absorb when scanning social streams.
But discovering them all can be a problem and Pixable’s iPhone, iPad and web apps help you keep better track of friends’ pictures as they post.
It aggregates them from different social networks and photo services, organising them by location, popularity, hashtags and a range of other criteria and displaying them in tappable grids and swipeable full-screen images