Facebook to make photo-syncing feature exclusive to Moments app

Facebook won’t let the Moments app join its growing pile of abandoned projects. Even after it shut down its Creative Labs division and the experimental apps that emerged from it — including Riff, Slingshot, and Rooms — the company is doing its best to convince its users download the standalone photo-sharing application.
To do that, the company will remove the ability to synchronize photos across multiple devices from the main Facebook app. (You know, the one that has steadily become less important as many of its functions are split into standalone applications like Messenger.) Now the feature will be exclusive to Moments.
A Facebook spokesperson provided Gigaom the following statement via email:

Starting this week, we are beginning to phase out Facebook’s photo syncing feature. This is an opt-in experience that syncs photos taken on your mobile phone to a private section on Facebook, viewable only to you, where you can view or post the photos if you choose. The feature was launched in 2012 when people took photos on their phones, but still posted primarily from computers. People that use the photo syncing feature will have the option to move the photos they’ve previously synced to our new app Moments, where they will be able to view, download, or delete them. If they don’t want to download Moments, you will also be able to download a zip file of your synced photos or delete them from your Facebook profile on your computer.

Some users could welcome this change. Moments is much better at syncing photos than the main Facebook app, and it comes equipped with features like facial recognition and tools that make it easier to get a friends’ photos from an event, so it’s not like Facebook is forcing an incompetent service on its users.
But it’s hard not to view this as yet another of Facebook’s attempts to become the primary interface people use to interact with their digital lives. No longer can someone download the Facebook app and do anything they want with the service — now they must install a bunch of standalone apps to achieve the same result.
The main Facebook app offers access to the news feed; Messenger lets people stay in touch with friends and family; Moments helps people manage photos; Instagram allows them to share photos with the outside world; WhatsApp makes it easy to stay in touch with people who don’t use Facebook; the list goes on.
And we’ve reached the point where even those apps have standalone utilities. Instagram has Layout, Boomerang, and Hyperlapse. Messenger has Selfied, Strobe, and Stickered. It’s surprising that WhatsApp hasn’t been broken into multiple pieces, or spawned a bunch of little apps that augment its service.
Releasing all these standalone apps does make things easier for Facebook users. People don’t have to download Messenger, Instagram, or their add-ons if they don’t want to. Sure, they’ll be limited by what the main Facebook app can do, but they won’t have to jump between multiple apps to accomplish simple tasks.
The gambit also gives Facebook more and more reach on people’s home screens, though, and that could mean more time spent with its products. Instead of being confined to a single app icon, the company could now fill most of a home screen with just its applications. Facebook, in other words, is breaking out of its box.
It’s easier to do that with Moments than with the apps Creative Labs introduced. So even as it cleans house, Facebook appears to be doing its damnedest to make sure people who might benefit at all from Moments’ photo-syncing are going to download it, use it, and devote even more of their home screens to its services.

Instagram’s Boomerang takes on Vine & Apple’s Live Photos with 1-second videos

Instagram has released a new standalone application called Boomerang. It allows users to share 1-second video clips with their friends, effectively taking the “don’t-call-them-GIFs” animations from Vine and chopping them into sixths.
Boomerang “takes a burst of photos and stitches them together into a high-quality mini video that plays forward and backward,” according to the blog post announcing the app, automatically saving the result to a user’s camera roll. The brief animations can also (of course) be shared to Instagram’s main app.
Boomerang users won’t have to sign in to Instagram to use the app, according a TechCrunch report. It’s supposed to be a lightweight tool that does one thing — capture a short video — and one thing only. Instagram users who see a video made with Boomerang in their feeds, however, will be shown a link to download the app.
This is the third standalone application Instagram has introduced since it was acquired by Facebook. The first was Hyperlapse, a video recording app that makes it easy to shoot time lapses and other edited videos; the second was Layout, which allows people to share photo collages to Instagram proper.
All of these apps could have been included as features in Instagram’s primary app. But, as I explained when Layout was announced, breaking them into pieces makes it easier for Facebook to lay claim to more of a person’s home screen:

Facebook knows that a smartphone home screen has limited space, and if it manages to make at least some of [its copycat services like Slingshot or Rooms] stick, it can take control of mobile devices without having to make its own platform. Until then, all it has to do is rip various aspects of its service out from its ‘big blue app.’
That’s where Instagram comes in. The service was so simple when it was acquired that many additional features can be introduced as standalone apps and explained away by claiming it doesn’t want to make things complicated. It gets to take over people’s smartphones, those people get access to new apps, and Facebook gets to control even more of the home screen. Everyone wins.

Sure, Boomerang mimics something the new iPhones can already do with Apple’s Live Photos. (That might be part of Boomerang’s appeal, actually; no need to buy a new phone just to make fancier animated GIFs.) Sure, the videos are shorter than Vine’s and make it seem a bit like Instagram’s playing catch-up.
But that won’t matter if people have fun with Boomerang. Instagram has enough users who want to find new ways to express themselves that it can probably get thousands of Boomerang downloads in just a few short hours. Then Instagram is happy, Facebook is happy, and consumers are happy. That’s how companies take over a home screen — one quirky little app at a time.

Google Photos reaches 100M users in five months

Google has announced that Photos, the image backup tool spun out of Google+ just five months ago, has already reached 100 million monthly active users.
That doesn’t seem like much compared to Instagram, which has more than 400 million users, or Facebook’s 1 billion users. But it compares favorably to Flickr — the most recent figure offered by that service says it’s used by 112 million people — despite launching more than a decade after its primary competitor debuted.
It’s still remarkable that Photos has reached so many people in such a short time. Not that it’s surprising: Google+ was often hailed as a great way to manage pictures, and cutting that functionality out of the all-but-defunct social network gave people a way to enjoy the tool without having to bother with Google+ itself.
Photos has another thing going for it — a lack of competition. Besides Flickr, and the iCloud photo-management tools available to iPhone owners, there really isn’t much of an image backup market. Google has won simply by virtue of its ability to offer a service like this without needing it to make money right away.
This wasn’t always the case. Loom was acquired by Dropbox, which shut down its service after the deal closed. Everpix closed its doors because it couldn’t afford the cost of saving photos to Amazon Web Services. StreamNation bought Picturelife for an undisclosed sum. If the last few years have taught us anything, it should be that independent photo management services are fleeting things.
That leaves people with a few options: Hope that an indie service won’t fold after it becomes popular; use whatever backup tools come with their phones; or sign up for Photos, which has the full support of a company that doesn’t have to charge for most of its products because it draws most of its revenues from ads.
Of course, that means all the images saved to Photos will be analyzed. (The listicle in which Google announced Photos’ popularity included data about what people take pictures of and search for.) But the company has already proven that most people consider this a small price to pay in exchange for nice services.
So welcome Photos as it ascends the throne of photo management tools. Sure, that throne was built on the ashes of other companies that have tried and failed to establish viable businesses in this category, which is so costly to support that all but the largest companies have been forced out of the running. But I suspect that won’t ruin Google’s celebration, or hinder Photos’ continued rise in users.

Twitter takes on Facebook, Snapchat with improved photo tools

New image and video editing tools revealed in recent tweets from various celebrities show that Twitter is, once again, bringing the fight to Facebook and Snapchat.
The new tools appear to allow Twitter users to share images with text overlays, stickers, and other modifications. Twitter’s existing tools merely allow people to crop images or run them through filters that greatly change their appearance, whether it’s by upping the contrast or making them look like old Polaroid shots.
Here’s one of the more popular examples of what the new tools can do, courtesy of Taylor Swift:

Much about the new tools, such as whether they’ll debut in a standalone product or if they’ll be included in Twitter’s existing mobile applications, is currently unknown. Twitter declined to comment to Gigaom on the record. Historically, Twitter tends to add new features to its app instead of introducing new ones.
But it seems clear that these tools are meant to bring Twitter to parity with Facebook and Snapchat, both of which have offered similar tools for a while. The service isn’t content with being the Internet’s live broadcast network; it wants to convince people to use its apps instead of other social media tools, too.
Twitter isn’t alone in these efforts, of course. Facebook has tried to copy various aspects of the micro-blogging service for years, without much success, and it’s reportedly working on a tool it hopes will supplant Twitter’s role as a news wire. It’s almost like both companies are holding funhouse mirrors in front of the other and creating new services based on whatever they see in the reflections.
Yet these features appear to be targeted more at Snapchat. The ephemeral messaging service has offered similar tools for longer than both Facebook and Twitter, and it’s clear that both companies fear their younger competitor. Facebook tried to fight it with stickers and other features for Messenger. Now it’s Twitter’s turn to try to fight off the threat posed by Snapchat’s popularity.
“What’s interesting is that Twitter is still fairly poor at private messaging, and yet other than for celebrities it feels like a lot of these features would be best suited to stuff you’d share with your friends rather than the world at large,” says Jan Dawson, the chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. “So I’m curious to see how Twitter positions these new features when it formally announces them.”
Dawson is right. Twitter is known mostly for the public nature of its service; that’s what makes it useful during live events, breaking news, and other times when it’s nice to have access to a few million opinions just a few clicks away. The company is working to change that, however, and become more private.
Earlier this month, Twitter removed the 140-character limit from direct messages on its service and said that was one of its users’ most-requested changes. I argued at the time that this change makes Twitter more like Google+ and the semi-private “circles” it decided to hang its all-too-ill-fated hat on.
Now it seems like this is part of a coordinated effort to combat Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, and other messaging services that are just starting to become popular in the West. Twitter’s emphasis on public sharing is waning — now it’s giving private communication a chance to thrive on its service. And, of course, it’s giving celebrities new toys to draw a little more attention to itself.
Let’s see if this transition makes a difference. People who want to use Snapchat will probably continue to use Snapchat. The same goes for Facebook, Twitter, and other social websites. All these mirrors, yet both Facebook and Twitter seem so uncomfortable with their own reflections that they try to emulate the other instead of trying to compete by being the best versions of themselves.
Someone get that bird a self-esteem boost.

What’s missing from Apple’s iOS8 photo features

Apple’s iOS8 photo announcements come up short on social site sync and leading-edge search. That leaves plenty of room other apps to innovate on combining metadata, social graphs, and image recognition.

SnapDot app makes stipple portraits on the iPhone a snap

Admit it: you’ve always wondered what your portrait would look like as a Wall Street Journal hedcut. A new iPhone app called SnapDot will help give you an idea in far less time than the five hours it can take WSJ artists to draw one.

Pixable turns photo viewing into a daily addiction

Pixable, a photo viewing aggregation service, said its mobile iOS app recently eclipsed the 1 million download mark on iOS. But more importantly, it’s doing 100 million photo views a month and 60 percent of users are still active, most of them on a daily basis.

Hipstamatic’s new iOS app is like the disposable camera of yore

Synthetic, the folks behind the Hipstamatic app (which essentially came out with a filter-enhanced iPhone photo sharing capability before Instagram made it really cool) has come out with a new iOS app aimed at replicating the experience of using a disposable camera.