Fotochatter Launches Alpha Service

Fotochatter has just gone public with its service and is pretty nifty, I think.

One of the issues that many application developers tend to forget about mobile phones, is that they are primarily about communication. Overwhelmingly, the two most popular uses of mobiles are voice and sms and this is reflected in the revenue contributions too.

Clearly, this may change as mobile takes over as our primary digital device, but that’s the pattern right now.

Communication is at the very heart of photo-sharing application, Fotochatter, as it offers a quick and easy way to share new photos with friends and for them to comment and feedback to you.

The scenario goes like this.

I sign up to Fotochatter (free) and make up a user group of my buddies, who I want to share my photos with. I then upload a photo to the site (via email from my phone or from my PC).

My buddies then get an sms telling them about the photo, inviting them to comment and providing them with a link to click and see the photo. If they have Fotochatter’s Java app installed, they view it in there. If not, they see it over WAP.

I then get notified of any comments on the photo, also by sms, which I can reply to, if I choose to.

Bearing in mind the cost, complexity and delivery issues of using MMS (especially sending an MMS to multiple recipients), this seems to offer a nice work around. My only worry is that you’re relying on the user to be savvy enough to set up the application, with an email address or upload from camera/phone to PC and thusly, to the website.

It would be much better (but I guess they know this) to provide a way that automatically asks you if you want to share the photo, immediately after you’ve taken it. A little like Cognima.

Having said that, the kind of audience they’re primarily catering for (20-somethings and below, I guess) have proven time and again technically proficient if there’s a service they want to use. Or at least socially proficient enough to grab a geek to show them how.

Fotochatter’s business model is like Flickr’s – grow big and sell premium services, or hope that someone makes you an offer you can’t refuse. It can work brilliantly, of course, but as many of the Social Networking Software companies have found, if you don’t sell at the right time, you can be left without an income stream, just when you need it.

However, there are loads of genuine premium services in this sector, so I think they have a good chance of making real money – or selling when/if they reach some kind of scale.

For me, one of the most interesting issues is their brave/foolhardy/focused decision to delete all photos after 30 days (though you have an option to over-ride that). According to Omar Hamoui, a co-founder, the reason for this isn’t as obvious as it might seem:

The main reason we are not providing storage is we feel that it will
encourage people to use Fotochatter “wrong”. There are a great number
of services that do provide storage, and almost everyone has been
trained to use them in a certain way. From our point of view, there
are two modes of operating within a photo based service:
“storage-mode” and “moment-mode”.

He then explains that Fotochatter is about spontaneous “moment-mode” usage, not about whether something is worthy of storing for posterity. So Fotochatter images could be very poor photography-wise (and let’s face it, many camera phone snaps are poor, at the moment) but very rich in capturing the emotion or feel of that moment.

Thus offering mass storage would send out completely the wrong message to potential users. Fotochatter is about spontaneous sharing and communication. Go elsewhere to store and share your “good” photos, but use this to see what your girlfs think about that new dress you’re trying on or the hunk you’re sitting next to in a bar. Or take a grainy snap of the TV showing the replay of your team’s goal and send it to your mate who’s supporting the other team.

I think they could well have a point.

I like Fotochatter a lot, the more I think about it. It has reinvented a very popular online concept, specifically for the mobile phone and mobile phone user. The mobile isn’t an afterthought bolted on at the last minute. It’s at the very heart of the application and that’s why it just might succeed, despite entering what first appears to be, a highly competitive sector.

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