Category Fotolog

Happy birthday Fotolog

Today is Fotolog's 5th birthday — a few words, and some images to mark the day.   It has been an amazing five years for Fotolog.  The history of the site is fairly straightforward.    Fotolog was started in mid '02 by Scott Heiferman.   Adam Seifer came on board soon after and took over the project and Scott focussed on building Meetup.   

The vision of the service was to cater to new picture taking behavior — as people were starting to adopt digital cameras the use cases around the capture and processing of images was also evolving.  Pictures have always been social – but the digital world was giving images a whole new social dimension.  Fotolog was created as a social media network — the genesis was Photo Blogging, the result was a mixture of social networking and user created media sharing.   This is what Scott's original Flog looked like:     

First Cyper Picture

The layout of Fotolog, was and is intentionally simple.     Fotolog has resisted the temptation to add feature after feature — rather it has stuck to offering a handful of features, similar to Craig's list the focus has been on the content and the conversations.    From the early days Scott and Adam had the vision that the pages on Fotolog needed to be social.    They needed to include not only your images, but also images from across the network, providing a visual navigation that today drives much of the time our members spend on the site, a self formed, organic distribution system, letting members see and be seen.    Complementing this social network of images they added comments and guest book entries — making the experience one where media intersects with communications, day in day out, millions of images collide with billions of conversations.     The growth of Fotolog has been steady and consistent — but it took 2 years to gather real steam — as the chart below illustrates.   In early 2005 we hit a million members — amazing to consider, since we are now adding close to a million a month.  

Milestones Flog

The phenomena started in Brazil.   Adam will tell you that in those early days he was concerned that Fotolog might get stuck in Brazil, Portuguese isn't a global language.   But Brazilian's have turned out to be a strong early indicator of global internet phenomenas — from ICQ to Hotmail to Okrut to Fotolog, Brazilians seem to have a knack for early adoption of global social platforms.  The Fotolog audience started skipping geographies and borders and today we sign up members from approximately 70 different countries everyday.    Our audience is still very large in South and Central America and we have complemented that base with strong European growth.   The primary language of Fotolog is images, beyond that the chatter around the site includes and mixes many different languages.  

This is what the home page looked like when we hit a million members.   Its not that different to what the home page looks like today — again, simplicity and consistency has mattered to the history of Fotolog.  

 1MM Flog'ers

Out of interest I checked how many of the 15 members with images above were still active on Fotolog.    A quick check of member names and recent posts indicated that nine of them have updated Flogs in the past six months.    Four of them have updated their Flog in the past 3 weeks — juju15 , lepadilha, tabata, mash — its amazing that after years members are still coming back and using Fotolog to share their world 

Yesterday we had 673,150 uploads to the site — with our regime of one photo a day and 8.3M member accounts that means that yesterday a little over 8% of the people who have ever signed up to the site, uploaded a photo to Fotolog.    That doesnt included all the members who just visited friends Flogs — but to have 8 percent of your membership coming back everyday is pretty engaging and pretty amazing.   Fotolog also hit #18 on Alexa earlier this week — our highest ranking ever.   The traffic on the site continues to surge — our reach continues to grow (see a ranking vs. facebook), and for people who want to relate us to other US photo sites (which I always say is a poor comparison, given that Fotolog is about self publishing and socializing and photo's just happen to be the medium, they aren't the end), see the relative traffic rankings over the past three years, vs. other photo sites, Photobucket is picking up share, Flickr seems to be flatlining, and Shutterfly is still a seasonal processing site.     Fotolog is a testament to the creativity the internet has unleashed — millions of people sharing moments of their lives through images and conversations.  

A thank you from the team in NY to all of the people and all of our members who have made this global collage of conversations possible.  

And read Adam's Birthday post here .    

The Photobucket Sale and Fotolog

In the wake of Photobucket's sale last week to News Corp., people have asked me two questions: 

(i) How is Fotolog different from Photobucket?
(ii) Why did News Corp. buy photobucket? 

With the week now over, let me take a pass at answering both questions.  

How is Fotolog different from Photobucket?  

Photobucket and Fotolog are both built around media (photos and videos) and they are both related to social networking.  And they are both experiencing rapid growth.    But that’s where the similarity ends. Photobucket is a tool that is agnostic of destination – while Fotolog is a destination. Photobucket stores image-based media, then distributes it to your page on social networking sites such as Myspace, Bebo, Piczo, Friendster, etc. Fotolog is a destination where you post one image a day which then becomes the center of a social interaction/chat with your friends.  It’s intentionally simple – stripped down and focused on the social media experience. 

The Photobucket acquisition affirms the importance of user-generated content of any media type — images, video, etc. — and media's emerging relationship with social networking. I often call Fotolog a social media site because it's all about the intersection of media and communications, two things which were once like oil and water — they traveled on separate pipes and represented distinct experiences. But they are now coming together in fascinating ways. It's early days, but I believe that the combination of media and communications — gifting, sharing and transferring social capital, between users/members, via user-generated content or digital assets that represent identity — is a more than a trend. 

The first generation of social-networking sites stressed self-publishing over connections (from Geocities, to Tripod to Blogger).  The next generation focused mostly on connections (sixdegrees, and friendster are the classic examples here — tools to gather friends and connections, as social capital accrues in theory to the people with the most connections). The third and current generation of sites blends media with connections — each with a different emphasis. 

Focusing in on Photobucket and Fotolog — the difference between the two is clear when you look at traffic and usage data. Both sites are on a tear. Alexa (link #1 below) ranks Fotolog as 24th largest in the world — Photobucket is 44th . As CEO of Fotolog, I'm obviously privy to more data, but focussing on proportionate growth — the Alexa link shows rapid growth for both sites. Comscore measures Photobucket with 28M uniques and us with 13M. Comscore is panel-based, and at Fotolog we are working with some other data shops to confirm this data.  We recently starting dropping Quantcast pixels on our site and they track us at 26M uniques — data sources aside, the point here is that both sites are large and growing fast. 

Site usage patterns tell a different story. See the table below with Comscore data from March — the average minutes per day is hightlighted. Photobucket averages 7 minutes per day while Fotolog averages 23 minutes per day. Fotolog does 261M total visits, compared to 90M for Photobucket. Media-wise Photobucket has 2.5BN photos, Fotolog has about 1/10th that number at 230M – but in order to maximize user response, Fotololg only permits one up load per day.  Photobucket also offers video, which Fotolog is targeting for the future. Socially, the sites couldn’t be more different, given Fotolog’s status as a destination with an emphasis on conversations.  Our site has more than 2BN conversations posted, approximately 10 per image. 

Data table

In terms of user profile, Photobucket and Fotolog are both very international. Alexa tracks 29% of Photobucket's audience as US-based (Myspace-related) with a further 5% in the UK (Bebo) and the remainder apparently pretty evenly spread worldwide. I do wonder how accurate this data is — as approx 60% of Photobuckets traffic is tethered to Myspace which in turn is mostly US traffic. I know in Fotolog's case the Alexa geographical ratings are different to our Google analytic ratings. Last month a fifth of our traffic was in Southern Europe (Spain, Italy, Germany), which doesn’t come across clearly on Alexa. Fotolog has members signing up every day from 70 different countries, with the bulk of our audience in South/Central America (where the viral growth first took off) and Europe. The site is growing in some European countries, month over month, at a blistering 28%. Numbers like that compound fast. And the growth is 100% organic, with no marketing or member incentives. 

So why did Newscorp buy Photobucket?

The first reason that is much cited for the transaction is defensive — News Corp. / Myspace bought Photobucket to make sure no one else bought them. News Corp. understands that the media on its social network is vital to the experience, and having a third party manage the bulk of the media on MySpace was a risk. This concern can only have been exacerbated with the rise of YouTube and its purchase by Google.   Moreover, Photobucket's push into video must be attractive for News Corp. as a foil for its competition with YouTube – it’s no coincidence that since that deal, Myspace has been so aggressively promoting its videos on its homepage and elsewhere. So media matters — but this is more than media or UGC – It’s also the most common form of digital personalization.   Taking photos out of their analog construct, they are a very simple form of digital customization, it’s far easier to take a picture of something than to render some customization in photoshop. On Fotolog we have tens of thousands of pictures of people's computer screens while gaming, or desktops, or pictures of people sneekers – Fotolog members have posted over 60,000 pictures of Converse / Chuck Tailor's — or custom images.  In other words, this is about personalization, and the camera or a "picture" is just a tool.  

Beyond this strategy my guess there is a broader opportunity — Photobucket is a photo and video tool that could become a web-wide locker for the storage of digital media. Just as eBay's acquisition of Pay Pal wasn't meant to just serve just eBay, my guess is that NewsCorp’s purchase of Photobucket isn’t just meant to serve MySpace.  The opportunity is to serve the web, I suspect that’s the broad strategy.   Granted, there are risks to a broader strategy — eBay didn't effectively execute and while Pay Pal has recently picked up share the first few years after that acquisition amounted to treading water at best.    The fact that Google is now driving into the payments business is a testament to that failure — eBay had the running room to be the web payments platform.   There is also an audience risk — Photobucket users might not pick it as a the service of choice for other media types, the audience may move on and News Corp. could be faced with a whole new dominant parasite on its host in 18 months.    Given all of this the deal once again distinguishes News Corp. as one of the media companies in the world driving headlong into building digital media assets that are indigenous, not extensions of existing franchises.

Lastly, people wonder what the Photobucket deal means in terms of valuation and monetization of social media sites. On this front, the acquisition is good news for Fotolog and our peers. In contrast to You Tube, Photobucket demonstrated that UGC could be effectively monetized, a path that we are following at Fotolog.   The market has valued highly a popular tool that facilitates social media networking communities.   That only reflects well on both the segment and both the destinations and tools associated with it.