This is a personal product design exploration initially designed with Facebook Creative Labs in mind (prior to its shutdown). While this post focuses on an independent solution in the form of a native mobile app called “Photos” — I believe it offers important insights that could be integrated into the main Facebook app, providing significant value at both the user and business levels.
I am the co-founder of the now defunct “Remini”. I’m making a point of mentioning it early on since Photos represents an evolution of the concept I was fully invested in for roughly a year and a half.
To read more about the brief existence of Remini, you can check out the following posts I also recently published. They describe what Remini was all about as well as the complications that led to its downfall.
I’d also like to quickly address the obvious before expanding on the product:
- It goes without saying that I’m well aware of the existence of Moments by Facebook. However, despite the clear similarity in name, Photos actually offers a different value proposition that I hope should be made clearer as you read on.
- You might find some parallels in concept between Photos and On This Day that is increasingly popular on the main Facebook app. I like to think that this sort of validates the potential appeal: On top of providing a different approach, I see it as an opportunity to take that concept to a new level along with a rigorous end-goal vision and value.
Ever since I realized my startup wasn't going to be a success, I kept asking myself the same question: “Could it have actually been done if we had Facebook’s resources at our disposal?”
The answer to that question wasn't as straightforward as it seems.
However, the reasoning behind that was simple: The underlying conviction had always been that what we were aiming for could bring remarkable value to a platform like Facebook.
Despite the countless available options, there still exists an important issue with the current photo app landscape that has been ever present since I can remember.
At the risk of sounding too obvious (we've all heard that pitch countless times before), I firmly believe that the problem of having our life moments scattered around different services hasn’t been solved as of yet.
I also believe that “Photos” can change that.
It all becomes clearer if you look at things from a different angle: If we can initially manage to find a way to motivate users into curating their best moments, things should eventually fall into place in the long run.
This is exactly what “Photos” aims for: Hook users with fun & exciting features in the short-term to eventually reach the long-term vision of “becoming the place for your life”.
“Photos is a mobile app that lets you relive, share and visualize the moments that tell your story.”
I always think that the best way to know whether the value you have to offer is simple and straightforward is to look at it from an on-boarding perspective.
On Photos, activation is as simple as it gets:
You first sign-up using your Facebook credentials and then get asked to connect additional photo sources to sync with (on top of Facebook) from either your Instagram account or your Camera Roll.
You are then welcomed with the following walkthrough:
As you can see, the value of Photos revolves around those 3 promises:
1- Relive 2- Share 3- Visualize
In a nutshell:
- You start by reliving your best moments from this day in the past.
- You can then choose to share those of your liking on a newsfeed in an interactive and personalized way.
- Each time you share a moment, it is automatically added to your private profile and the story of your life is seamlessly built up. At any point in time, you can visualize all your moments with an emphasis on a whole new visualization introduced by Photos: Friendship albums.
Here’s a video preview of how it all eventually pans out:
Let me expand by first walking you through the Relive part. This represents the main tab of the app that serves as a precursor for the other two mentioned value propositions.
We all hold dear to our heart those cherished moments from our past — Reliving them helps us better comprehend the building blocks that made us who we are today.
This value proposition is at the core of what Photos has to offer — Reliving your life is meant to be easy, fast and serendipitous. Each time you initiate a session, you are taken straight to the Relive tab where the app will surprise you by resurfacing your moments from this day in the past.
From there on, the experience is fun and engaging: Swipe down to make the current photo disappear, and a new moment that also happened on this day will pop-up (until you loop through your moments again).
This ultimately creates a swiping behavior that engages us by wanting more and wondering what will appear next.
You’ll notice from the screenshots above that for each moment, the source is indicated. At anytime during the “Reliving” process, you can tap on that icon. Doing so, allows you to opt-out of reliving that particular moment in the future.
Although I'm aware that this can always be improved if automated — I think it is vital to give users manual control, as to further limit the occurrences of unpleasant memories during their lifecycle.
You might also be asking yourself the question: “Why limit ourselves to Facebook, Instagram and Camera Roll?”
Well, here’s the thing: If you look at the current photo apps landscape, the very vast majority of us capture, share and store most of our life moments mainly on those 3 sources.
The question therefore becomes: “Why bother adding more services that would only bring marginal added value to the experience?”
I consider this last point to be important, especially considering the fact that Photos should be contemplated as a Facebook product. This is of course obvious due to the nature of this post, but will also be made clearer as we move on to our remaining features.
On a different note, you can already notice from a design perspective that pictures are cropped to fit a fixed size.
This decision is made consistent throughout the app mainly due to the restrictions from different original picture sizes (panoramic vs. squared vs. full view).
However, users will always have the option to tap and zoom-in on the full picture; again a decision made consistent throughout the app.
It is also important to stress that privacy is central to the reliving process on Photos. Before you decide to share from the Relive tab, you alone can see that moment.
With that in mind, the natural innate desire is to share our moments with friends. This is exactly what Photos offers: A fun & engaging content creation process that eventually leads to a public post.
One of the key advantages an app like Photos has to offer can be better expressed along those lines: Unlike other traditional photo sharing apps, content on Photos comes naturally to the user.
In other words: Sharing becomes a breeze since users don’t have to go through the typical thought process of choosing what picture to upload.
Content is instinctively resurfaced leaving the user with the simple choice of sharing.
That said, this form of sharing can become limited over time if users are not given the chance to add their own creative touch — Self-expression is fundamental to any aspiring social network:
Music can and should be considered an essential aspect of reminiscence. Oftentimes, a single song can play a big part in both communicating and reconnecting our emotions to a treasured event from our past.
On Photos, when a user clicks on share, he is instantly given the option to choose a song that fits his mood from that point in time:
One feature that is not necessarily communicated by the screenshots above is the automatic display of the “top hits” from the month and year during which the user’s moment was originally captured.
This allows quick access to relevant songs, making the process easier and increasing the chances of users attaching a song to their post.
Needless to say, you can always choose to ignore those suggestions by searching for your own song or just decide to skip that part altogether. In any case, this brings us to the second step of the sharing process:
Then & Now
Or “Real-Time Sharing” as I call it sometimes — Gives you the opportunity to capture a new moment at the point of sharing. This is done for the purpose of comparing the “then” to the “now”.
Once you’ve gone through (or skipped) the song selection part, you land straight on the following screen where you can capture your present whereabouts:
As soon as you capture your present moment, you are taken straight to the “preview post” screen where you can have a sneak peak of what you’re about to share publicly.
Assuming you have selected a song and captured a new moment, your preview would then look as follows:
Finally, once that content creation process is achieved, tapping on the checkmark lands you on a usual share screen where you can choose to publicly share your post.
Here, you can typically:
- Add a Caption. If you pay closer attention, you’ll notice a pre-filled message that points out the importance of mentioning your friends.
This is relevant as to avoid having a group of friends sharing the same picture in a same day — Hinting at mentioning your friends who were also part of that moment helps reduce that occurrence significantly and make sure conversations happen on the same post.
- Add to Albums or Places. This part is actually the crucial aspect of the long-term vision. It is related to how a user can seamlessly build-up his life on Photos and will be expanded further in the “Visualize” section of this post.
- Share Cross-Platform. I chose here to deliberately exclude Instagram from the main options and make it accessible from the “other” section.
Since cross sharing on Instagram requires leaving the app and going through the whole process of applying filters — I believe that taking that route makes more sense.
Photos is designed around the promise of offering users a way to feel closer to the people they care about most.
In that sense, the whole point of reliving our best moments is to ultimately reconnect with friends by creating conversations about our life.
You might wonder: “Is it a possibility that sharing cross-platforms could cannibalize the newsfeed on Photos?”
The answer is no, since sharing cross-platform doesn’t yield the same user experience — Both the music and then & now features cannot be loyally reproduced on other platforms.
While this might seem obvious at first, I am making a point of mentioning it since the newsfeed is the exclusive part of the app where social interactions happen — Thus its importance in engaging users with Photos.
As you can see, the newsfeed on Photos follows a standard layout with the user name, the picture and the options to like and comment.
What’s unique about Photos however, is the context of the picture displayed above the post — That is the green labels that represent from how long ago that particular moment is.
Moreover, users get to interact around the songs and then & now their friends have attached to their posts.
For the latter, the process is also similar to what we’ve already seen in the “preview post” part mentioned earlier: Swipe left and right (either in normal or in full-screen view) to compare the moment from the past to the one captured today.
As for songs, it is important to note that they auto-play (with the option to pause) and keep playing as a user moves to either a full-screen view or the likes and comments screens – The point being to not disturb the flow of content discovery.
Of course, songs on Photos should therefore be snippets of at least 30 seconds (as provided by the iTunes store API), which should be enough to avoid frequent loops while a user is enjoying a post.
Finally, likes and comments could be seen as standard, except that you can also add stickers when commenting on a friend’s post. While not game changing, I still consider stickers a nice touch with respect to the whole “creating conversations” part.
Before moving on to the 3rd and final component of Photo’s value proposition, let’s go through a quick recap:
Up to this point, everything is pretty straightforward: Relive moments from this day in history through a fun and engaging swiping process and choose to share on the newsfeed to create conversations with friends.
As you can assess, sharing is at the core of Photos and there is a double incentive for users to do so:
1- First as was just mentioned: To post publicly on a newsfeed for the sake of interacting with friends about shared moments.
2- Second and as importantly: To gradually build-up and store the moments that tell your story.
This brings us to the “Visualize” section of the app.
On Photos, the long-term vision of “becoming the place for your life” is set around the simple idea that:
As you relive and share your best moments, you can also progressively build-up and curate the story of your life with little or no conscious thought.
All this is done with privacy in mind and the moments you add to your profile are only accessible to you.
In light of this, you always start your experience on Photos with an empty profile.
As time passes and you gradually fill it up, you can start visualizing your moments in 3 ways:
1- Relationships 2- Places 3- Timeline
We are all defined by the relationships we built over the years. They say a lot about our experiences and are the foundation of who we are.
So far, no one has placed enough emphasis on this — The objective with Photos is to change that.
On Photos, the main visualization for your moments is presented in the form of “Friendship Albums”.
Each album represents a friend, and opening it takes you to a feed of photos shared between you and that specific friend.
In many ways, this is very much similar to a “See Friendship” feature, but with an emphasis on pictures exclusively — In that sense, “Albums” are meant to represent the stories you share with each of your friend:
Now to answer the question of how albums are filled up:
You might recall from the “Share” part — The final step proposed to a user before posting a moment is to choose between: 1) Add to Albums 2) Add to Places.
When a user clicks on “Add to Albums”, he is taken straight to the following flow of screens:
Here, a user can choose from a pre-defined friends list where he wishes to move that particular moment.
As soon as the names are selected and the user confirms, it is automatically added to the corresponding albums. Adding a moment to a specific album for the very first time creates it.
As you can see, filling-up your albums on Photos is integrated carefully into the overall experience at the point of sharing, making the whole process seamless.
On a side note, please do keep in mind that I will elaborate further in the “Control & Privacy” part of this post, how those layers of names can be generated.
Another way to go through your favorite moments on Photos comes in the form of a map view.
In “Places”, you can:
- Search for your favorite moments by typing keywords such as the specific venue, the city or country.
- Or, navigate through a map and zoom-in on your location of interest.
Tapping on “Expand” lets you scroll through your moments from that specific place and tapping on a specific moment opens it in full-screen.
As you can gauge, adding the correct location information on your pictures is vital for the sake of filling the map view.
Again, doing so happens during the final step of the sharing process by clicking on “Add to Places”. In that case, there are 2 possible scenarios:
- The picture comes from Camera Roll. This is pretty standard, since GPS coordinates are attached; a user can simply choose between the multiple venues near the original location.
- The picture comes from Facebook or Instagram. If a venue was already attached to the original post (when initially shared on either Facebook or Instagram), then a user should be offered the possibility of choosing it directly without necessarily having to redo it from scratch.
However, in the case where there are no venues or GPS coordinates originally attached the process is a bit different — A user will instead need to go through the following flow:
Here, you can either enter the exact place (best scenario) or the city where it happened if you couldn’t remember the venue name. Once a city is selected, you can choose from a list of nearby venues.
Granted, there could be thousands of venues in one Paris borough alone for instance — But through the relatively simple use of keywords, finding the specific venue you’re looking for should be straightforward.
If you really can’t find the exact place despite your best efforts, then eventually settling for “Paris, France” should do the trick.
Our third and final visualization alternative is “Timeline”. Here, your moments are presented by year in chronological order from the most recent to the oldest.
As I have well emphasized up to this point, building-up your life on Photos should happen effortlessly as you relive and share your life. Sadly, this method is not always bulletproof.
What if you share a moment without adding it to Albums or Places? We can’t possibly force you to do so at every turn.
This is where we can grasp the importance of a timeline view. In “Timeline”, unlike “Relationships” or “Places”, all the moments shared by a user are added regardless of whether friends or venues were chosen.
That way, not only is “Timeline” a welcomed alternative for visualizing your life, but it also serves as a way for users to make up for their sluggishness at the point of sharing.
Picture this: As you’re sitting at home going through your profile in timeline view, you notice the following discreet, non-invasive calls to action on some of your pictures.
These are meant to point-out the fact that a particular moment either wasn’t moved to any albums or added to your map — Prompting you to make up for your previous indecisions.
Tapping on the “Add to Album” icon lets you move the moment to the corresponding albums while clicking on “Add Venue” also lets you choose a location. Both processes happen in the same manner as explained in previous parts.
Why are these subtle hints necessary?
Simply because we would otherwise need to rely on users filling-up the gaps a year later when they get to relive that moment again — That is if they actually choose to share that same picture as opposed to another, newer one.
I’d also like to point out the fact that those hints become ever more crucial if you consider the following:
Since users are not asked to fill-up information on their real-time moments (Then & Now) for the sake of avoiding clutter in the sharing stage — They can progressively do it this other way, or even a year later for that matter.
Finally, before we jump to the “Control & Privacy” part of this post and address the remaining unanswered questions — I just wish to quickly add the following 3 points regarding the profile:
- Creating Connections
As previously indicated, albums on Photos are created progressively as you share your life. In that regard, one significant advantage Photos has to offer is in the way it facilitates connections.
As indicated in the screenshots above, each album has its own corresponding icon on top of it. To clarify things:
- If your friend hasn’t joined Photos yet, you can simply tap on the “Invite” icon and choose to let him know about Photos via Messenger, Mail or WhatsApp.
- If your friend is already on Photos but for some reason you haven’t established your connection yet, tapping on the “Add” icon will send him a friend request. If you’re already friends, you can know so thanks to the “Checkmark” and tapping on it will give you the option to un-friend him.
- Eventually, if a request is pending (from either side), then tapping on the “More” icon lets you either cancel your own friend request or accept/reject your friend’s.
- Albums Deletion
This can be done by long pressing on any album. Doing so, also allows you to move your albums as you wish. Deleting an album removes it from profile and deletes all the pictures that are not also present in Places or in another Album.
- Visiting Profiles
Since profiles on Photos are private by default, when you click on a name, the only information you see is the friends in common with that person.
In case a friend has not yet joined the app, tapping the name (from the relationships view) should redirect you to his Facebook profile:
While only having access to “Friends in Common” can be seen as limited — Another alternative down the road could be to also show you the “Recently Shared on Photos” moments from that person. For the time being however, I chose to not focus on the latter.
Control & Privacy
One of the biggest lessons I have learned from my previous startup experience is knowing how to build products with “Control & Privacy” in mind. Being aware of that led to some critical decisions being made for Photos:
As you can recall, when moving a moment to the corresponding friendship albums, you can choose from a pre-defined list divided in 2 parts:
- Friends on Photos. This is straightforward; when you friend someone, his name is added to the list.
- Other suggestions. It is here that lays the key to making relationships view work on Photos.
Put into perspective:
If I have to wait for my close friends to join me on Photos in order to friend them, to only then be given the opportunity to add moments to my albums with them — Then this would completely ruin my early experience on the app, or even worse, it would lead me to churn pretty fast.
Adding that second layer to the list is crucial to give more control to early users who can now hit the ground running with respect to curating their life moments.
So how can “Other Suggestions” be generated? Well, it is actually made up of those friends with whom you initially have pictures on Facebook.
In other words: If I am originally part of 50 pictures on Facebook and 15 of my friends are tagged in them, then those 15 name tags will be added to my “Other Suggestions”.
That is until they join me on Photos and we become friends; in that case their names will be moved up to the “Friends on Photos” part.
This is possible because the app scope ID that will be assigned to them once they join, is the same app scope ID that was assigned to their name-tags on my pictures when I joined.
Therefore a cross-reference can be done to make sure that there isn’t any duplicate between the “Other Suggestions” list and “Friends on Photos” list.
I believe that to be the most viable solution to the problem if we assume that despite Photos being part of the Facebook family, the Facebook API rules must still be respected (if not then the issue obviously becomes non-existent).
That way, we can ensure that users will always have the opportunity to curate their moments in albums regardless of the stage at which they join Photos.
On Photos, all social interactions happen on the newsfeed and users are always in complete control of what they decide to share or add to their profiles.
As tempting as having public profiles sounds, I believe that restricting it plays a big part in cementing our value proposition.
A few scenarios that clarify the probable mishaps from having public profiles:
- Lurking Relationships
While this could have the potential of stirring engagement — It could eventually make for bad user experience if we agree that users should organize and curate their profiles to their own taste.
Thus, having mismatches in say the existence or position of an album or the number of pictures within that album could create confusion and mistrust between friends.
- Playing with Identities
Here the problem becomes clearer if we look at it from the perspective of both an early user and one that joins at a later stage.
If you are the first of your friends to join Photos, then there shouldn’t be any issues — You go through the normal process of reliving, sharing and building-up the story of your life.
However, if you join later say after all your friends have been using Photos for a while, you could be in for some nasty surprises. You suddenly realize:
Not only have your friends been sharing pictures of you without letting you know (a forgivable action that is typical to any existing social network), but more importantly:
Those moments were also added to an album entitled with your name pointing to your offline identity, for everyone to see and lurk at while you were away.
It goes without saying that activation on Photos could turn nightmarish if profiles become public as opposed to staying private.
- Data Ownership
As we’ve seen up to this point, Photos aggregates your pictures from Facebook, Instagram and your phone Camera Roll.
On the latter two, you generally are the owner of your moments; you create them individually at your own pace.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Facebook. You could be part of a moment because your friends tagged you in it — All your pictures could essentially belong to someone else.
On Photos, when users fill-up their profiles with Facebook moments, they ultimately appropriate ownership from the original poster.
This could eventually create confusion as to who owns the right to delete a picture on Photos if profiles are rendered public.
With a private profile, this issue is avoided since users are in complete control over what they decide to add or delete from Photos.
Settings & Account Deletion
When designing social products, I believe that understanding early on what the user settings are can come a long way in making sure mismanagement of data doesn’t occur.
With respect to account deletion, the process on Photos is typical: If you opt for it, then Photos should make sure to remove all the moments you have added to your profile since joining as well as unlink your Facebook, Instagram and Camera Roll pictures.
Re-activating an account does not bring back previous content, as you will need to rebuild it from scratch.
Finally, on Photos, user settings are similarly straightforward as you can assess from the following screenshot:
As I mentioned early on, what kick-started my initiative with this post, is the utmost conviction I have in the value that Photos can bring to the Facebook Platform.
That being said, I wish to focus on the following:
Data represents the most fundamental aspect of Facebook’s competitive advantage. It is essential in delivering value to all sides of the platform, from users (Graph Search) and developers (Open Graph API) to businesses (Advertising) — I believe that Photos has the potential to further improve those offerings:
First, in providing incentives to upload new moments: By resurfacing pictures from your phone Camera Roll and giving you the option to share them; as well as through real-time sharing (Then & Now) during the content creation process.
This is particularly relevant knowing that Facebook is currently facing an important decline in original and personal posts, despite overall sharing remaining strong.
Second, as mentioned in the “Visualize” section of this post; when users build-up their moments, they also get to fill-up missing information on pictures such as the location or the corresponding albums.
Songs also represent another form of valuable data, also created during the sharing process — Having access to this type of information should provide valuable insights on users’ interests.
- Connecting People
The goal of connecting people is at the very core of Facebook’s mission. I believe that Photos can provide an additional missing link in that regard.
Photos is all about allowing us to reconnect with our past for the purpose of engaging with our friends around it. It is designed in a way that permits social interactions in a smooth and clutter-free manner.
Not only is Photos first and foremost a social app, it should also eventually translate into something truly meaningful over time.
Curation and relationships are at the heart of our value proposition. In a world where we capture every single moment (valuable or not), algorithmically aggregating them is bound to become a mess in the long term.
While Google and Apple are each trying to achieve their own solution to this problem, I don’t see users identifying with these apps the same way they would with Photos.
In that sense, I truly believe in the feeling of meaningfulness that comes with progressively building up your profile with the moments and people you care about most — It helps create a more genuine experience and representation of your life story on top of being more suited to Facebook’s way of doing things.
Roadmap & Conclusion
I wish to conclude this post by quickly pointing-out potential features that I haven’t discussed.
You might have already wondered why there isn’t any mention of videos in this post. Of course, it goes without saying that videos are essential, but for simplicity’s sake I intentionally avoided discussing it for the time being.
Other forms of fun content creation can also be introduced at a later stage such as the possibility of adding “Quotes” just to name one.
Finally, in due time I’d like to explore in further detail how the value of Photos could translate to the main Facebook app.
Thanks for sticking with me up to the conclusion of this post. Looking forward to hearing valuable feedback.
If you like what you just read, please recommend 💚 this post so that others might stumble upon it. To see more of my work, you can go on edsab.com