Visual language is increasingly the primary means by which we share our experiences, ideas and information. The written word isn’t going away, but its primacy is being supplanted.
The web began as a medium bound to the metaphors of the printed word. The page — the atomic unit of the book — was the fundamental unit of the early internet. Of course, the web is now exceptionally visual, and mobile has been the real accelerant — for the first time millions of people are now carrying devices that can easily take pictures, videos and are connected to the internet. There are 60 million photos uploaded daily to Instagram. There are 400 million Snaps sent each day on Snapchat.
When we started GoPop, we took inspiration from this dramatic change in visual culture. What struck us was that while images are increasingly pillars of our shared vocabulary, there is not a public space for visual conversation. Instagram is an extraordinary place for sharing images, but you can only respond through written comments. And Snapchat is full of vibrant visual dialogue, but it’s private. Twitter is the most powerful public space for conversation today, but it was originally built around text and so visual media plays a secondary role.
While using GoPop, we discovered something surprising — it’s especially interesting to see posts by people you don’t know. It was almost more interesting than posts by your friends. Intrigued by this experience, we re-read this 2011 article by Alexis Madrigal about early Instagram. He writes, “I’ve never been interested in random people on social networks. I always wanted to connect with people I already knew or with whom I had interest-based affiliations. But Instagram is different. Looking at random people’s stuff has become the dominant way that I use the app.” This same phenomenon struck us using GoPop and we constantly heard similar stories from the community. The power of new media formats is that they open up novel windows into the world, allowing us to see with fresh eyes. It is precisely the uniquely emotional capacity of images — their ability to not be as literal and rational as the written word — that makes them so engaging.
Today we’re releasing a new version of GoPop that has an entirely different approach to a feed. Everyone who opens the app sees an animating grid of what’s being made by the community around the world. We’ve been thinking about this new feed as an experiment to create a digital “agora.” The Agora was a central spot in ancient Greek city-states, the literal meaning of which is “gathering place” or “assembly”. The Agora was the center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the city. From the beginning, creating an Agora has been an utopian aspiration underlying the web. With the rise of visual language, we feel it is ever-more important to make an Agora for visual conversation.