Picture app Mobli looks beyond sharing, wants to be a visual platform

Mobli often gets mentioned in the same breath as Instagram (s fb) and a raft of social video competitors like Socialcam (s adsk) and Viddy. It’s a nice conversation to be in considering Instagram’s $1 billion exit and the fact that the battle for the “Instagram for video” still hasn’t been settled.
But while the New York City-based company plays in some of those markets, it’s got a bigger goal in mind. The company aspires to be a “visual platform” where users can find timely images on anything in the world. It’s an ambitious plan, one that would seem to suggest some kind of image search engine at some point.
Mobli is still early in its evolution, but that is the potential of the service, said Moshiko Hogeg, Mobli’s CEO and founder.
“Everything worth seeing in the world, there is probably someone taking a picture or video of it with a smartphone. If we connect all these eyes, we can see everything,” Hogeg said. “We are far from achieving something like that but we’re a big believer that whatever you want to see, you’ll be able to see it.”
For now, the mobile app and website are known for being a fun way to share images and videos and get quick feedback. It’s got more than 4 million members, three million of whom have come on board in the last three months. It’s becoming a favorite of celebrities thanks to an investment by Leonardo Dicaprio and advice from Lance Armstrong. And even it’s being used to help cast Bret Easton’s upcoming movie The Canyons, starring Lindsay Lohan.
So how do you get from sharing to becoming a destination and repository for all manner of images? Hogeg told me it comes down to how Mobli is constructed and the way it encourages sharing and input. When users upload an image to Mobli, they don’t just share it to their social networks and broadly to the Mobli community, they get asked to categorize each picture. So each picture gets organized by location and interest. And that allows not just friends to comment but anyone at the same location or interested in the same topic.
The upshot is that users get feedback quickly from people that aren’t necessarily friends. That’s one of the problems of starting a new social network: at the start, you don’t have many friends that can encourage you to keep sharing. And since pictures are organized by a lot of channels and location, it creates more ways for people to find other images.  Mobli is working on smart image and facial recognition to help categorize pictures.
The company has also done cool work on the back end that allows it to offer contextual server-side filters. For instance, at the time of the Euro 2012 soccer championship, users had access to a filter for the two finalists, Italy and Spain. Other filters have been created for the Gay Pride Parade and Wimbledon final.

Mobli CEO and Founder Moshiko Hogeg

Ultimately, these extra layers of functionality help encourage more picture sharing and will feed into a system that captures all these images. Mobli wants to gather up not just its own images but pictures from other services such as Flickr (s yhoo), which is open thanks to an API, and Instagram, which is still off limits. If it’s done well, Mobli could be a better resource for pictures than Google images (s goog), said Hogeg.
“Google gives you an image size, which website it came from and a caption, but we have a lot of valuable information on the who, when, where and context,” he said. “In Google, you might find an image but with Mobli, you’ll be able to find pictures that are taken 5 to 10 minutes ago.”
Realizing Mobli’s bigger vision is still going to take a lot of work and a lot more users feeding the service. But I like its goal. In a sense, it wants to be a next generation Flickr but built expressly for the mobile era, something Yahoo should have done with Flickr. Mobli could fill some of that potential by being a place where you go and find all kinds of pictures on everything you want. And if Mobli can ultimately become something of an image search engine, that could generate a good amount in ad revenue.