13 2 / 2012

Lost in translation

Why are photos the killer app and glue of most social networks? I was thinking about this after some vigorous mental sparring with Marc about ideas for Chill.

I’m sure there are some thorough studies out there about this, but here are some thoughts to consider:


  • Pictures are universally accessible. All humans “get” them. “A thousand words” and such.
  • Words are not required (duh, Andrew). So photos are both nationality- and intelligence-agnostic. You do not need to be eloquent, intelligent, or speak a certain language. to take or appreciate a good photo.


  • They are democratic. Anyone can participate either as a contributor or commenter with essentially zero friction. Anyone with an iPhone can take a pretty good photo now thanks to the increasing camera/lens quality and easy editing/sharing apps like Instagram. This is a big change from fifteen years ago, when consistently taking good photos required talent.
  • They allow us to live vicariously through other people or be a voyeur. We all LOVE this but don’t talk about it.
  • Photos are potato chips: lightweight snacks that we can consume huge quantities of in one sitting without thinking about it.


  • Images own our vanity. No one wants to look bad. It’s basically impossible to ignore the notification that someone tagged you in a photo. And we never get tired of looking at ourselves.

I often hear someone with an app idea that is basically a repurposing of an existing photo play. Nothing wrong with repurposing. But just because another object can be organized like a photo does *not* mean that ripping off that organization will have the same impact for the new object type. Things get lost in translation.

What do you think? Have I missed something? Let me know in the comments.

"Lost in Translation"