Instagram may have a section to highlight popular pics, but that’s not doing enough to help the best content on the mobile photo sharing service rise to the top, according to the founders of Instafocus, a new venture from Solaria Foto in Victoria, BC and Santa Barbara-based mobile development firm pixl3. But it’s not that founding team Jeremy Anticouni (managing partner at Pixl3), Rebecca Foote and Brandon Shelley (co-founders of Solaria Foto) think that Instagram is broken; it suits its purpose of creating a social network around photos very well. There is, however, much more value to be derived from Instagram and its content, in their opinion.
“As avid Instagram users ourselves, we realized that there’s a fundamental divide between the people who want to be photographers, and the people who are just there to share moments in their lives,” Shelley said in an interview. “And the photographers were just being beaten down, and there’s been a mass exodus of people for quite a while now. So we came up with this idea, and basically due to technical limitation for now, we hand-picked 350 people to be on this curated list.”
Instafocus is that curated list, providing a showcase of what the founding team has deemed are the Instagram photos with the most artistic merit. And while for now that limited pool has been hand-picked by Foote, Shelley and Anticouni, later on there will be ways for the community to influence whose photos appear in the Instafocus feed, helping to ensure that the cream of the crop rises to the top.
“It’s essentially a replacement for the popular page, so that people who are interested in photography and want to see beautiful photography all the time, they go up there and it’s the first thing they see,” Shelley said. “It’s a great opportunity as well for maybe some of the great photographers out there who aren’t necessarily known to be recognized and appreciated.”
For those amateur photographers, Instafocus is thinking this could be a way to not only gain recognition, but also possibly work and revenue down the road. Anticouni told BetaKit that one possibility the company is looking towards in terms of revenue generation later on is providing a way for Instagram printing services (including companies like CanvasPop and the just-launched Static Pixels) to sell to users looking to buy physical versions of shots from photographers they admire and appreciate.
For mobile photographers, selling photos is getting into relatively untested waters. Services like Foap allow people to turn their smartphone snapshots into cash in a stock photo-type scenario, but selling Instagram prints as works of art is a relatively unexplored market. And it’s still a ways off for Instafocus, which for now is still limited to providing what amounts to a showcase gallery of Instagram’s best and brightest, albeit with an interface that may outdo Instagram’s own in terms of aesthetics and usability.
Instafocus also has other ideas around revenue opportunities, including a plan to allow users to have their own work featured in a special section for support via a “Pay what you like” in-app purchase mechanism. It’s an interesting approach, but one that doesn’t seem quite that out there in the wake of multi-million dollar Kickstarter campaigns and other crowdfunding success stories. And there’s already a proven appetite for high-quality digital photography; 500px has shown this with its popularity. But while 500px focuses on mostly traditional photography, Anticouni says that the vast majority of Instafocus’ pictures come from users taking photos with mobile devices, so it’ll be interesting to see if that’s something users and photography fans appreciate.
Another challenge for Instafocus is being built on top of another company’s product. That’s something that’s often cited as being a feature, rather than a product in your own right. But really, Instagram is just a way to build a pool to launch with; there’s nothing ultimately stopping Instafocus from developing its own tools, or partnering with other photography apps like Hipstamatic should Facebook/Instagram decide to cut off access. But since Instafocus should really feed the appetite to use Instagram if it accomplishes what it’s trying to do, there’s also little reason to expect that to happen.