There's no doubt about it: Google is set on social.
Photovine, the company's new photo-sharing iPhone app, marks the company's latest attempt to expand beyond search and into social media to capture more users and give Facebook a run for its money.
The company has quietly launched the free app, billing it as "a fun way to learn more about your friends, meet new people, and share your world like never before." Its tagline: "plant a photo, watch it grow."
Though the app could be downloaded before, it was available only to a limited number of users and by invitation only. The current version is open to everyone--except the users of Google's Android mobile operating system, oddly enough, as Photovine is only available as an iPhone app.
Photovine can be thought of as Instagram meets Piictu, with a bit of Twitter thrown in (Engadget notes Google's app is "remarkably similar" to Piictu). Users can upload photos to existing "Vines," which are essentially public photo albums organized around a theme, from "sunset" to "pets" to "office toys," that any user can contribute to. Photovine also allows users to start their own Vines (though it prompts them to add to an existing vine as they type in the title of their new Vine), to share their photos via Twitter and Facebook, and to comment on or "like" other users' pictures. The app syncs with Twitter and Facebook to let users follow friends they already have on the other social networking sites, though bizarrely there doesn't appear to be an option to look up and connect with Gmail contacts on the app.
The app lacks the filter feature that has helped make Instagram such a success, and also varies from existing services by connecting users more explicitly strangers and the content they post.
On the one hand, opening up everyone's photos to everyone else helps gives Photovine a way around the network effect--most social apps struggle because they're only useful so long as enough users in a person's social circle sign up--and it means the app appears busy and populated even if few of a user's friends have signed up. On the other hand, how interested are we in looking at strangers' pictures? There's an anthropological (or voyeuristic) appeal to seeing what photos people post in the Vine "At My Bedside" or "Things I See When Traveling," but people might tire of browsing through unknown users' images. After all, Facebook's genius was in showing people photos of other people they knew, a feature that quickly got its users hooked.
Take a tour of Photovine in the screenshots of the app below. Let us know what you think in the comments below--does Google have a winner?
The first time a Photovine user logs into the app, Photovine prompts him or her to take four steps: Add a profile photo; upload and share a photo on a Vine; find, add and follow friends; and start a Vine. This dashboard also lets users track how many followers they have and how many people they're following, as well as how many "likes" they've received.
This screen shows how users can connect with other friends on Photovine.
Once a user has selected a photo to upload--which can be pulled from the phone's photo album or snapped that moment with the phone's camera--she has the option to add a caption, share with specific friends, or share the image on Facebook and Twitter.
This is how images uploaded to a Vine appear. The screen displays the user who uploaded the photo, how many times it has been viewed (11, in this case), how many times it's been liked (1, in this case), and how long ago it was uploaded (1 hour ago, in this case). Users can see who else viewed the photo by tapping the eye icon, and who else liked it by tapping on the heart. Users do not, however, have the option of tweeting, posting to Facebook, or emailing other users' photos.
The dashboard at the bottom of the app has five buttons that let users navigate between the app's different screens. Clicking "Vines" lets users see, at a glance, some of the top Vines, or albums, that have been created. Users can sort by "fresh," "popular," or "watching," which highlights Vines a user has contributed to.
Entering a specific Vine calls up the images in the album, with small thumbnails indicating who's uploaded the photos and whether they have comments attached to them.
Users can flag inappropriate photos uploaded by others on Photovine by clicking a small icon of rectangle with an arrow that appears to the bottom right of other users' photos.