Co.Design

The Team Behind Bump Aims To Crack Photo Sharing On Smart Phones

Flock helps you share the photos you’re still hoarding from that 4th of July barbecue. (Just don’t compare it to the doomed Color.)

Sharing the occasional photo you take on your phone with a friend is hardly a cumbersome task—whether via email, MMS, or uploading to Facebook, it’ll get where it needs to go fairly easily. But when you take a dozen photos at a party and want to share them with friends who were there, the options run thin, and often take a long time. "With the iPhone, people now have this pretty great camera with them at all times, so everyone is taking way more photos than they ever have," says Jake Mintz. "And yet, it’s no easier—and in some ways harder—for us to share those photos."

Mintz, along with David Lieb and Andy Huibers, wanted to devise a solution that tackled two problems they had with sharing photos: First, people often forget to share their photos at all, so precious group memories end up buried in the wasteland of a single friend’s phone. And when they do remember, the process of sharing those photos requires too many steps, from figuring out who was there, to locating all of their contact information, to physically getting the photos to them. So the founders of Bump Technologies, whose flagship Bump app lets its 100 million users share files across smartphones simply by "bumping" them together, are today launching Flock, a new iOS app designed to reduce the act of sharing group event photos to just a few painless taps.

Flock finds photos you take while out with friends and family and brings everyone’s photos from that day into a single shared album. To figure out who you’re with in any given photo, Flock uses algorithms to make sense of the geolocation data embedded in them. After the party’s over and everyone heads home, it sends you a push notification asking if you’d like to share your photos with friends who were there. If you say yes, friends on the receiving end will also get a push notification saying you’ve uploaded new photos from the event. It’s a one-touch way to share photos instantly just with friends who were there. And since Flock uses location data to vet out who’s included in each album, it inherently establishes a sense of intimacy and privacy similar to that provided by apps such as Path.

One neat feature for new users is that the app can work backwards in time to scan photos in your Camera Roll—which are usually geotagged—from before you installed Flock. If it picks up that any of your friends are in them, it’ll let you create albums to share with those friends. (Creeped out yet?)

Perhaps potentially even creepier, Bump designed Flock so once you’ve downloaded it, you’ll never have to remember to use it, because it will quietly run in the background, pulling together all kinds of contextual information without your ever having to do anything. "You don’t have to set it up, tell it who your friends are, or remember who was there," Lieb says. "You just live your life as you normally do." For Lieb, that means spending more time with friends and family. It’s one of a growing breed of apps that exist solely to enhance your existing way of life, rather than interrupt your natural behavior patterns.

The key to making the app feel more useful than creepy, Lieb says, is that Flock doesn’t assume you automatically want to share your group photos. Instead, it first asks permission, then lets you select which photos to share in the group album. "Some apps do lots of automatic things on your behalf, such as check-ins, but we don’t think that’s the right approach," he says. "You need to do a lot of work for the user, but then stop at the point when the user has that last moment of control and asks, 'Do I really want this app to be doing whatever it wants to do on my behalf?'"

The other challenge Flock faces is users’ wariness of push notifications, thanks to a history of games and spammy apps who have abused it before, rather than reserving them to only convey information that’s valuable to the user. Flock is required to ask you whether or not you want to receive push notifications, and in the event where you say no, the app won’t work properly because it won’t be able to remind you that you have photos to share. "I think when we go through this launch, a lot of people are going to instinctively want to hit 'no’ to push, so we’re going to have to work really hard to educate people and earn that trust."

But for the narcissists at heart, it’s hard to think of a more compelling push notification than one telling you there’s a photo of your fresh-faced self just waiting to be unlocked.

[Image: Gorbash Varvara/Shutterstock]

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