There are reports that Facebook is coming out with a comprehensive new photo sharing application for the iPhone that will disrupt the entire iOS photo application ecosystem.
According to documents obtained by TechCrunch, the application is codenamed "Hovertown" or "WithPeople" and will incorporate the best features of the existing market leaders in the photosharing market such as Color (a technological leader, if not an actual market leader), Instagram and Path. The questions become: Is the app as innovative as its hype suggests? And how disruptive will it really be?
Facebook's Push Into Implicit Social Data?According to TechCrunch, the application will be built on top of Facebook's social graph. What will a photo application on top of the social network's explicit graph look like? If the rumors that it incorporates features from Color (the ability to see other users' photos from the location where you took it even if you do not know them), then the idea of Facebook stepping into surfacing data with an implicit social graph becomes a reality.
The idea of the implicit social graph is to make connections when those connections are not directly related to the subject. The ability to obtain this data becomes much easier on mobile platforms, such as iOS (which Facebook's new app will be built for), because smartphones have a variety of sensors that record location, wireless network information and the presence of other smartphones. Think of it like this: you take a picture with your new iPhone Facebook app and it will make a recommendation to friend somebody who has also taken a photo in that location. The goal would be to make implicit relationships explicit.
This is speculation, of course. But if you think about those aspects of Color, it would make sense for Facebook to target the acquisition of implicit data through mobile sensors and photos.
Community Creation and Privacy Concerns
Now, if you take Path and Instagram features, the idea would be to restrict the implicit data's relationship to the user and secure privacy. For instance, a friend recommendation would not be made just because two people took a picture in the same spot. Multiple implicit connections would have to be made for a recommendation to be triggered, so as to determine if the people live close to each other or if one is a local and the other is a tourist who just happened to take a picture while passing through.
Instagram's features revolve around community and photo filters. Facebook could add friend and location tagging to create implicit "groups" of people who take pictures in similar locations (with or without the filters that Instagram offers). Think of Flickr groups where like-minded people tag photos of similar subjects and locations and then make Facebook communities around those photos.
Disruptive or Not, It Will Be Huge
In terms of disruption, there are several limiting factors to Facebook's initiative, as reported by TechCrunch. The biggest would be that the verticals are restricted to iOS and Facebook. Those are big verticals, of course, but not everybody owns an iPhone or decides to share photos on Facebook (like me, for instance). Yet with six billion photo uploads per month and 100 billion photos being hosted by Facebook, any play that the social giant makes into mobile photo sharing will be an instant success and will create a great amount of user data that Facebook can utilize on top of its existing social graph.