Adam Ludwin sees a lot of startups as a principal at RRE, a venture capital firm that's invested in companies like Moda Operandi, Makerbot, Braintree and Business Insider.
As such, he sees broad trends in entrepreneurship; he knows what every founder is working on, which spaces are the most crowded, and which types of startups investors are looking to financially back.
Two of the biggest trends right now are:
- Social photo and video apps -- Think Viddy, SocialCam, Cinemagram and Snapchat. All emerged as Instagram was getting acquired for $1 billion and Pinterest was receiving a billion-dollar valuation.
- Reinventing the iPhone's default apps -- I nstagram re-invented the Camera app and found success. Spotify is often used instead of Apple's "Music." Evernote is a good alternative to "Notes," the new Mailbox app is preferred to "Mail" and apps like Sunrise and Fantastical are better than "Calendar."
Ludwin founded two companies prior to joining RRE, and now he's trying his hand at another one. He's co-founding an iPhone app with a friend from Los Angeles, Devon Gundry.
And guess what?
- It's a social photo app called Albumatic
- It's trying to smother one of Apple's default apps, "Photos."
"I really don't want to like another photo app," I told Ludwin as I looked at the app. He laughed and said, "Neither do I."
But as I stalked recent photos of CrunchFund's MG Siegler on a trip to Cabo with his girlfriend, I found myself warming to Albumatic.
Albumatic is a social, beautifully-designed alternative to Apple's "Photos," an album app most people forget they have on their iPhones. Ludwin calls Albumatic an "organizational layer" for photos, separating them by event, location, and featured people.
"There were seven or eight of us all taking photos of Devon's new baby," Ludwin explained Albumatic's origins. "All together we had taken 100 photos, but they were all siloed in each others' devices. There are endless places to share photos -- via text message, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter -- but there's no good, social way to bulk combine camera rolls and image galleries."
When you join Albumatic, it helps you find other users on Facebook, in your contact list, or nearby via the iPhone's GPS. From then on, when you and a friend are near each other, you can create and join albums together.
No invites codes are sent back and forth; friends see albums as you create them through push notifications, and they can either "watch" it if they aren't nearby, or they can join the album if they're witnessing the same event. Like Instagram, people can favorite or comment on photos.
Like Path and Foursquare, each user has a profile page that displays their albums, photos and activity. Here's what it looks like:
Only your friends can watch/subscribe to your albums, so strangers won't be able to creep into them (I was only able to "watch" photos of MG's trip to Cabo because Ludwin is friends with him. I wouldn't have been able to do that on my version of the app).
Albumatic could be good if you want to witness a friend's spring break trip you can't make, or a wedding you weren't invited to. Subscribing to an album is like being there in spirit, and you can watch the event unfold in real-time without having to wait for Facebook uploads after the fact.
It's also good for weddings you are invited to, where every friend has a camera and is snapping their own shots. Instead of uploading and tagging each camera roll separately on Facebook, you can join forces and see everyone's photos at once on Albumatic.
Here's what the album view looks like in the app:
One problem with Albumatic is, if events are too big (think South by Southwest), it's possible to have too many people join a single album. If a bunch of friends of friends of friends are at a concert or event together, they could all end up joining the same album and contribute thousands of photos that the album creator never cared to see.
Ludwin calls this idea "album hijacking" and admits it could be a problem. He and Gundry have contemplated capping the number of people who can join albums. He says Siegler has already hijacked one of his from a San Francisco trip.
Here's a view of all the people that have joined or watched an album:
Also, there's no way to remove or "untag" a photo of you once it's in Albumatic, and anyone who's subscribed to the album can see it. Ludwin says the only current solution is to ask the poster to take down the image.
Here's what the group camera roll looks like in Albumatic:
RRE will also be investing in Albumatic, although a round of financing hasn't closed yet.
Ludwin realizes photo-sharing is a packed space, but after months of mulling it over and researching Albumatic's competitors, he's confident in his startup.
When asked why he picked such a crowded space he replied, " Simple: the problem was still unsolved!"
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