Two Local Startups Launch Mobile Photo-sharing Networks for the Masses

4/9/08Follow @wroush

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racy experiences you’ll find other mobile services like MocoSpace.” (We profiled Boston-based MocoSpace in January. While the teen- and 20-something-oriented service is mostly built around games, instant-messaging, and friend-finding, it does include a photo-sharing area full of self-portraits that verge on soft-core porn.)

Right now, according to Grey, Mobicious’s staff of 15 is handling photo moderation manually. But obviously, that’s not a scalable solution, especially if the service catches on more widely. So the company is investigating an interesting alternative: outsourcing moderation duties to Internet users around the world using Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online “microjobs” marketplace where Internet users can earn small payments for completing specific tasks.

In essence, the company would forward incoming photos to Mechanical Turk workers, asking, in Grey’s words, “‘Are you pretty sure this picture wouldn’t offend anybody?’” If the answer is yes—which it will be 95 percent of the time, Grey says—the picture in question will appear in the public timeline. If it’s no, the photo in question will be forwarded back to somebody at Mobicious, who can make a final decision about whether to exclude it.

Even then, photos can still be shared privately between individuals SnapMyLife users. “Content isn’t being censored,” says Grey. “It’s a bit like Twitter—a given comment may or may not appear in the public feed. We just ensure that the content level is reasonable. It’s an interesting line to try to draw. You want to keep the site interesting, entertaining, cool, and edgy without letting in obscene content.”

At Moborazzi, there’s definitely nobody monitoring the images that pass through the site’s software. That’s primarily because the company consists of one person: Tom Boilard, a software engineer with a background in mobile services. I learned about Moborazzi at the most recent Web Innovators Group meeting in Cambridge, where Boilard gave a quick presentation on his early-stage startup.

Moborazzi Screen ShotBoilard says he set out to build a photo-sharing network because he didn’t see other companies focusing on photo “broadcasting”—allowing mobile users to exchange pictures directly using between their phones, without a PC or a website as the intermediary. “Everybody takes photos with their mobile phones, but they don’t know what to do with them, so they end up stranded on the phone,” says Boilard. “The idea with Moborazzi is that when somebody posts a photo, it’s immediately broadcast to their network of followers.” The photos arrive as attachments to e-mail messages.

This sort of photo-sharing has long been possible within cellular networks; for $5 extra per month, for example, Sprint subscribers can share photos with each other using the Sprint PCS PictureMail service. But Moborazzi lets users do the same thing at no additional cost, regardless of which carrier they use. And to make the idea more interesting, Boilard has built in a way for followers to comment on the photos they receive, simply by sending a few lines of text in a reply e-mail. “You can start a conversation back and forth with the person who took the photo, and it’s all saved underneath the photo” on the Moborazzi website, Boilard explains.

While Moborazzi is fully functional, the whole service is running on one Web server at Boilard’s house, and is more of a proof-of-concept than a full product. Boilard says he’s looking for angel investors willing to put up the $300,000 to $500,000 it would take to build a more scalable back-end infrastructure for the service, which will eventually be advertising-supported, or potentially licensed out to social-networking providers and other online busineses as a white-label service.

With camera phone ownership growing and all-you-can-eat data plans becoming more common, photo sharing is likely to keep accelerating among mobile owners. But it’s unclear how many different photo sharing services the market can sustain.

“It’s a noisy space,” Boilard acknowledges. “It wasn’t quite as noisy last summer when the idea came about, but now there are tons of companies in this little niche. My personal opinion is that there’s always room for several successful businesses in any niche. I think what differentiates us from competitors is our very simple interface. Your average person, from any age group, can come in an understand it. You don’t have to be part of the 18-to-25 Facebook crowd. You can be that 35 or 40-year-old person who really just wants to get their pictures of their kids off their phone.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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