It has been a phenomenal year to trace the future of social interaction and how the tech giants have been chasing it in their own way. With Snapchats IPO recently, Facebooks F8 Conference and Google’s I/O all taking place in the last few months, it is clear that the next few years would be defined by a massive camera push for the web interface.
If you look into this, it seems pretty obvious how well camera fits into this narrative and why it is the most natural successor to text as the Internet content creator. The internet and the online interactive experience that we’ve had so far has been largely dominated by text. The problem with text is that it is hard to come up with too much of text at a time and also a piece of text has a limited amount of information which might not even be necessarily useful.
This is why photos are amazing. In the last 5 years, computer vision has made huge leaps and understanding images are not a very complicated task anymore. Companies like Facebook, Google etc have also spent a lot of years and money to put together an infrastructure that can identify all the information contained within the images. Moreover, images are more readily shared by the users and more often as compared to text making it much more easier to obtain information on the user.
Moving from text to images is highly strategic in that sense. Users are more keen to share their pictures and by designing an experience that revolves around the camera, the platforms are able to understand their users much better and must faster than ever before. What remains interesting though, is now different companies have used this strategy by sticking to the core of their mission, leading to 3 amazing new platforms for image based interaction developed by Snapchat, Facebook, and Google.
Snapchat pretty much deserves all credit for making the world realize how images hold much more value than what was previously imagined. Snapchat’s biggest contribution so far has been to prove that a camera centric social product is something that can actually work, paving the way to the camera-centric experience that all major platforms seem to be heading to.
The interesting thing about Snapchat though, is that it has decided to be our personal camera and a way for us to interact with each other. Snapchat is not focused as much on understanding our intent as it has in cementing itself as the synonym for the camera in our minds. Snaptacles were a clear move towards this.
What I find interesting about Snapchat is that it needs to be assessed as a camera with internet connection. It is hard to think of a mobile app as a successor to the consumer grade digital camera but thats what makes Snapchats trajectory so fascinating to track. Snapchat is a new, modern, internet driven, sticker and annotations based alternative to the good old digital camera that each family used to take out for their candid pictures. Each one of snapchats new features are a clear indication of being able to adapt a digital camera into the social communication tools that users desire.
Facebook has always stood by its core mission of connecting people and has transitioned it amazingly over to the camera. Mark Zuckerberg has focussed on using Facebook as a platform to share experiences with your loved ones and based on the last F8 Keynote, images are going to play a central role in this strategy.
Facebook, although, has a very different strategy. Facebook wants to be your everything as far as social interactions are concerned. I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook’s end goal is to be able to enable users to come together with their friends and create an augmented and private version of the real world around them to enjoy together, much like the screengrab from the F8 keynote above.
This would be the ultimate win for Facebook if every user, works with their friend to share pictures from certain locations, with their friends after overlaying stickers or designs that are directly related to their interest as a group. This is a phenomenal collaborative experience for the Facebook users and much more than that, this is a much greater and more important source of user information for Facebook that the regular status updates could ever be.
And Sundar Pichai said, “Because we know where you are and what you are looking at, we can give you the right information in a meaningful way”.
The implications of Google Lens are astounding. Google has stuck to its core mission and organized all of the world’s information and now it is taking its next leap. Google has spent years mapping a huge chunk of the planet to understand what is where and just like Facebook, it is turning information collection on its head with Google Lens. With Google Lens, the expectations are two-fold. Google is leaving it up to the users to take pictures of the world and share it with Google and at the same time provide contextual information about your experience with the real world.
Google Lens as a product lets Google break out of its traditional paradigm of Internet Search. Google has already crawled all of the existing web and not it has its eyes set on crawling the real world. Understanding this is very important because the success of Google Lens would mean that going forward every time you make a Google Search, you would be searching the entire internet as well as the physical world we inhabit.
Of all the companies that are trying to use the camera as the center of the user experience, Google so far has the most audacious goals.
It will be amazing to track the evolution of these platform in the next 3–5 years. I would imagine that even in this strategy Facebook and Google would end up being tough competitors to each other since this will end up being a fight for user attention and ad revenues for them. Snapchat, on the other hand, might end up becoming a competition to the Mobile OS manufacturers. Apple in the most recent WWDC has already shown interest in taking control of the camera and with its brilliant ARKit library it ends up competing with Snapchat to be the first camera for the user controlling the user’s experience funnel. This is going to be another avenue where these platforms might end up separating themselves in their focus. Especially if either Snapchat or Apple ends up taking control of the user’s camera experience, what would that mean for the Facebook/Google usage? It could end up being either a complementary tool or direct competition.
While it is too early to make any guesses I am quite certain that camera is here to stay and the could prove itself in the long run to be a better way to deal with information exchange than even VR.