DailyBooth's iPhone App: Picturing the Future of Status Updates

DailyBooth is updating its iPhone app today, which is likely turbo-charge the service’s user base — and if it works, you too may be taking a picture of yourself every time you tickle out a few lines and update your status.

DailyBooth is a San Francisco-based startup that was founded in early 2009. It started out as a place to post a daily picture of yourself, usually a simple headshot shot with your computer’s Webcam, capturing your feeling that day — happy, sad, excited, frustrated. The idea was inspired by a video posted to YouTube in which a New York photography student strung together over 2,000 daily photographs of himself, showing how he’d changed over time.

In the past two years, however, the service has morphed more into a stand-alone communication tool, along the lines of Twitter. Participants post text comments, or captions next to their pictures. They reply to each other using photos (posts are also called "booths"). And as with other social networks, they follow other people’s "booths," as the photo streams are called (following in the taxanomical footsteps of Twitter's "tweets").

The photos are mostly as mundane as you might expect, given that most are taken with computer Webcams—washed-out headshots of users. And yet, this has nevertheless captured users’ imagination—in some of the same ways, perhaps, that ChatRoulette did. A guy taking a picture of himself holding up his coffee mug somehow inspires a string of responses from other users also holding up their own cups.

"DailyBooth is an entirely new form of social communication," Daily Booth CEO Brian Pokorny tells Fast Company. "Just as the tweet fuels a network of shared information on Twitter, the 'booth' enables a real-time stream of images to create an immersive, emotive thread of human interaction."

Company executives wouldn’t tell Fast Company how many people are using DailyBooth. (Nor would they tell us why they wouldn't tell us.) They would only reveal that the site has over 11 million "booths." Previous stories have cited figures of 4 to 6 million unique monthly visitors to the Daily Booth website. But if you do the math—11 million total posts divided by 6 million unique vistors—you'd have to conclude that the majority of those visitors are just passing by (perhaps to gawk at investor Ashton Kutcher or his wife).

Still, the company has an impressive coterie of backers. It's raised $1 million, including seed money from Y Combinator and additional funding from Sequoia Capital, super-angel Ron Conway, and Flickr founder Caterina Fake.

To understand why this isn’t ephemeral trivia—much less the latest form of digitally enabled narcissism—you have to understand who uses DailyBooth. According to company executives, 90% of users are under 24 years old—a generation who grew up in front of digital cameras that were increasingly attached to mobile phones (iJustine is a popular DailyBoother). For them, publishing pics to the Web is a reflex. And photos are more a way to send information than to present a public image. A picture, as the old saying goes, is worth a thousand words.

The photos being posted on the site are evolving beyond the Webcam mugshot. People are taking pictures of themselves meeting up with friends, or of the places they live, or even more traditional snapshot-type pictures. "mrskutcher" posted a picture of herself at the dentist (and also, unsurprisingly, in a bikini while ... not at the dentist). And with the new and improved iPhone app, DailyBooth will witness a growth in pictures of users out and about in the world.

The updated app carries over one of the most popular features from the website: the mesmerizing live feed of photo updates. There's also a 3-second timer built into the snapshot interface, which gives you time to get into just the right pose before taking a snapshot. There's also group chat, picture-in-picture replies, and a private messaging feature.

But the most interesting addition is called "Photo Ghosting." A popular trend among DailyBoothers is to mimic the pose of the person you are replying to. The Ghosting feature places a see-through version of someone else's picture into your snapshot, so that you can get the the pose just right before snapping your own copy of the same. It's a unique aspect of the app that is likely to become popularized elsewhere.

As DailyBooth enters the mainstream consciousness, hastened by the release of the app, it will almost certainly meet with the same kind of derision that first greeted Twitter and Facebook. Many will dimiss it as a tool for trivia and self-absorption. Gradually, however, the bolder among us will start playing around with it. Many will find it useful and delightful (just, as Pokorny’s mother has, and she’s north of 60). And by this time next year, maybe you will too.

Follow E.B. Boyd on Twitter.

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