The Selfies are Coming. The Selfies are Here. (Part 1)
The beginnings of a social network for selfies
A few weeks ago Alaric and I built a social network for selfies in 4 days. When we saw that Apple had approved our app we had to decide, “Are we doing this for real?”
We launched Selfie. In the middle of the night. With no marketing. We started the project as a weekend hack to synthesize mobile interactions down to core behaviors, but now the experiment is growing beyond our initial expectations. It’s worth a closer inspection.
- Part 1 covers how we arrived at the product.
- Part 2 attempts to diagnose how the Selfie app is different than the current social networks and where we can go from here.
Part 1: How we started
For 5 months Alaric and I worked to build a product based on our mutual love of photography, storytelling and community. Chasing perfection, we’ve been waiting to ship Imagist until the pieces are in place. In doing so, there was a lot of pent up energy to “move fast and break things.” So we went looking for things to muck up.
One weekend, we spitballed ideas. Many many ideas. There was dark humor and a few beers. We thought all about the ideas that were lauded and funded, the products that we found impossibly corny or “too simple” or uninspired — and we decided,“You know what? Let’s do something that we would never seriously do.”
We didn’t have requirements, save a few. Build it fast, as our main product Imagist was waiting. Make it open ended to test a few theories about networks that intrigued us. And have fun.
We also satirized two current tech trends in product development: the almost-religious worship of visual design and the oxymoronic railing against and funding for the ever increasing number of social networks. It wasn’t serious, it wasn’t rocket science, but we were inspired to sketch features really fast.
It happened about 2 hours into the weekend brainstorm. Alaric suddenly said, “I keep coming back to the idea of only using the front facing camera for an app…” He was on a roll, because he continued, “Faces are always the most interesting part of a photo. What if we make something based just on faces?”
I stared at him for a while.
“Can we make it ugly?” I asked? “Can we make an ugly social network for faces?”
“A social network just for selfies!”
In two weeks, close to 1000 people have downloaded Selfie. Not a braggable number, but interesting enough for us to push version 1.1 and fixed barnacle bugs (they annoyingly hang on to every MVP).
More interesting, users have spent roughly 45 secs per session snapping photos and liking photos and who knows what else — a decent sign for engagement. It’s certainly higher than our expectations of the 10-15 secs range.
Anecdotal feedback kept coming back positive. We had stumbled on something cool. Something oddly satisfying. Something fun. Something that made people laugh during their day.
That was the most interesting point for us. Both Alaric and I found ourselves chuckling at some of the photos that popped up on our screens. We were new to “selfies” — but taking many of them became daily habits.
Selfies are experiencing a pop cultural moment. The headlines are plastered with their news. I gleaned from the wires at random one morning (Aug 14) and saw a plethora of selfie-related stories:
- Val Kilmer announced he was selfies king on the Conan O’Brien show.
- Prince joined Twitter and proceeded to splash in the pop culture pool by posting a selfie.
- Lindsay Lohan inserted herself comeback rumors with a selfie titled “back@work”.
- Interrupt Magazine just completed a pop up gallery in New York that turned real selfies into art.
- An Australian politician is obsessed with taking photos of himself.
A wider look at Google Trends confirmed the meteoric rise in news articles that referenced selfies.
The phenomenon, while new, seemed more than a fad, something primal in our psychology —
Narcissism has always been a universal condition, studied through the ages — from Greek philosophers to Sigmund Freud to Jacques Lacan. The trait has popped up in literature and art sprinkled through the history of humanity.
It’s as if the collision of social technology against changing cultural norms in the past decades have enabled us to be comfortable with our innate narcissism. And with readily available cameras at our constant disposal, it’s normal to gravitate towards our own images.
Where then does a social network for Selfies, created over a weekend, fit into this landscape?
To be continued in Part 2.