Today Facebook announced the ability to add contributors to a photo album, allowing groups to curate together. As happens whenever Google/Facebook/Apple/etc add a feature, some speculated this was a Very Bad Thing for existing photo album apps. Now I’m biased because my friend Brenden founded Cluster, which recently shipped their v1, but let me tell you why I think Facebook’s move is No Big Deal yet for startups in this space.
It’s all about utilities vs experiences. Products like Facebook, which are already very complex for users, can expand the utilities they offer, sometimes with success, but find it very challenging to build new experiences – broader and deeper than just a set of features. Think of a utility as a single-action feature, while an experience is a set of features which together are greater than the sum of their parts.
Here’s an example: the photo apps which in their attempts to fast-follow Instagram assumed that #filters were just a feature. When was the last time you used a filter in Facebook Camera or Twitter? Instagram built a standalone, smooth, dedicated experience and that’s why no competitor adding filters changed their growth. Now compare that to the ability to attach a photo to a tweet? That wasn’t an experience, that was just a utility, so when Twitter added that native capability from mobile, hosting services saw a decrease of person photo sharing (hold aside animated gifs and memes)/
Think back to 2010 when Facebook shipped the ability to post your current location to your newsfeed. Turns out the check-in is an experience, which is why Foursquare keeps growing. Location passively added as metadata to a photo, etc – that’s a utility, which is why geo on Facebook is mostly metadata instead of an experience of its own.
So back to present day: If Cluster (and others) can create an experience around group albums that consistently performs the way users expect it to – remember, on mobile especially simplicity is key – then they shouldn’t worry about Facebook. In fact, the best case scenario is that Facebook’s entry here chills both entrepreneurs and the venture market to pursuing group albums.
So Brenden + team still have the challenge ahead of them to build something people love, but best thing to do is largely ignore whatever the large companies do and focus on honing their experience.