If you've been to a wedding or concert in the last year, chances are you have seen people snapping tons of photos with their smartphones. Often at events like this friends try to collect all the photos in one place by using a hashtag, so that everyone can like, comment, and re-share great pics easily in real time. "That's basically a clever hack," says Adam Ludwin. "People want to be able to solve this problem, so they do a hashtag on Instagram. Color tried and failed. So did Flock. Photo Streams never caught on. Nobody has really cracked this nut yet."
Today Ludwin and his co-founder Devon Gundry are debuting their stab at solving this problem, a new app called Albumatic. The premise is simple. You sign up, find friends, then start creating photo albums for others to share in. Friends who are nearby can join, meaning they can add their own photos. Friends who are farther away can watch, meaning they can see your pics but not add their own. "We try to keep things very limited on purpose," says Ludwin. "It's a friends only model, and the range is very tight, so you need to be close to the actual event to join."
The Verge tested Albumatic over this past week, and the app is slick, intuitive and fast. It has two modes for displaying photos, a grid, and a more Tumblr-style feed. You can like, comment, or save a photo to you camera roll, but not share out to Twitter or Facebook directly from the app. The range finder works well, but not perfectly. I was able to join the group "Working on Albumatic" and add a photo of myself at the Verge office, even though I was a dozen city blocks away. "You can join an album if you are nearby one of the people who has joined it and they are your friend. An album's location follows its members," explains Ludwin. "It's all about friends together now."
The real challenge facing the app is how to solve the ghost town problem that crushed Color: how do you make a service that relies on a large network of friends useful from scratch? The app lets you search for friends in your contacts list, through Facebook, via name search, and based on who is nearby. Granted the app isn't launched yet, but I only managed to find three people, two of whom were Verge co-workers I had sent the app to. Later I added a few more folks by searching for their names. The first day I had a blast sharing goofy photos at work. But by the second day I forgot about it, and nothing prompted me to open the app.
"Color's implosion left a crater ten miles wide in the collective psyche of Silicon Valley."
If I were to show up to a wedding or weekend picnic with my friends who aren't techie early adopters, 99 percent of them would be sharing their photos on Instagram. I could certainly show them Albumatic and try to convince them to download it. If they did, we might have a blast. But it might be less work to just open up Instagram and come up with a clever hashtag we can all use. For now, Albumatic is iOS only (available for download here), so using it would also mean cutting out my wife, who uses Android, and a number of my other friends and co-workers.
Albumatic is trying to solve a very real pain point in the mobile experience. The app is well designed and in our testing worked quite well. But it's facing a stiff challenge by trying to break into a very crowded marketplace without leaning to heavily on the existing social networks. Ludwin acknowledges the difficult path ahead. "Color's implosion left a crater ten miles wide in the collective psyche of Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs who come close to this space get laughed out of the room. But we really think its a problem consumers want to see solved, and we've gotten a great response to our approach from everyone who's tried the app."