EyeEm revamp heralds semantic phase in photo-sharing wars

EyeEm, Berlin’s most prominent entry in the photo-sharing-app sweepstakes, has rolled out a major refresh for iOS (s AAPL) and Android (s GOOG).

The Instagram rival now has redesigned navigation and live art filters that should keep what was already a good-looking interface competitive, but the biggest development is the addition of a ‘Discover’ feed. Based on suggested tags and other data sources, the feed recommends photos based on friends, locations and topics.

EyeEm, which is nearing a million users, is essentially now in the game of learning those users’ tastes and establishing context. Useful in itself, the Discover feed provides a window into where the company’s heading: and it’s an intriguing future to consider.

EyeEm iOS Home“We’re the first ones out there that put every photo on our platform into context, and slice and dice the context,” CEO Florian Meissner told me. “With every photo – where it was taken, whether it was sunny or raining, who was there and so on – we’re building superior search on top of our data cube.”

For example, right now the revamped EyeEm will recommend you photos that were taken around your current location. As the system learns your taste, Meissner suggested, the next step would be to recommend other places that are trending among people with similar tastes. The same idea could apply to topics.

And it’s not just about the user’s tastes, either. EyeEm is pulling in and correlating all sorts of data – the app’s ability to know whether a photo was taken on a rainy or sunny day involves mashing up weather information with Foursquare-derived location data. Some events can be identified and suggested as tags too, for instance where the user is at a concert.

But at the same time, the company is trying to make itself as API-agnostic as possible. Clearly rattled by the recent Twitter shenanigans, Meissner talks darkly about looming “API wars” and says EyeEm is working on its own location database to ensure independence.

So where’s this all leading? “We’re the first ones who organise and structure social photos,” Meissner told me. “We’re building a marketplace for people to acquire licenses from our users.”

Florian Meissner, EyeEm CEOGetty, which is involved in a photo hack day with EyeEm and Facebook later this month, is no doubt watching this strategy very closely.

A complementary print business could also be down the line, Meissner added, as could the sale of marketing intelligence. With EyeEm’s seed funding only likely to take the company into early next year, these monetization plans are timely.

EyeEm’s semantic twist on photo-sharing is not entirely unique – Everpix has just come out of beta with a similar idea, albeit paid-for rather than free. But the Berlin firm already has some traction in Japan, South-East Asia, Europe and the U.S., and it does also have that pretty UI.

We may finally be seeing the photo-sharing race entering a new phase, where it’s not so much about who has the best art filters, but who has the best data filters.