Sincerely , a San Francisco-based tech startup that makes photo-printing mobile apps, including Postagram, and the newly released Sincerely Ink , wants to become the "Amazon of gifting." It’s a hugely ambitious and high-tech initiative that ironically starts with snail mail.
From Shutterfly to Flickr, Picasa to Instagram , the means to create and share visual content online and on mobile networks ceaselessly evolves. But what’s the fate of so much digital ephemera? And can photo sharing be a sustainable business ?
The Sincerely Ink Holiday Cards app , out yesterday, for iOS and Android devices, lets users make holiday greeting cards from their mobile photo collections, then print and send them from their phones. Few will miss the post office visit or the taste of stamp-glue, to be sure.
Matt Brezina , Sincerely’s CEO and cofounder--previously a cofounder of Xobni--gave Fast Company a pre-launch demo of the app and discussed his much broader vision for the company this week.
Meeting at San Francisco’s Tartine bakery over a morning coffee and bun, Brezina gushed: "It’s a really beautiful experience, this app," and began thumbing through screens on his iPhone.
The app guides users to pick an image from their phone or tablet's "camera roll," choose a holiday-themed template to frame or overlay it, then add a message and send it to a contact. Steph Devino and Michael Bertoni are among the creative talents who Sincerely commissioned to design their 30 (and counting) 2011 original holiday cards collection.
Using Postagram , Sincerely’s earlier, flagship app, users can grab photos from social networks like Instagram and Facebook and their phone's camera roll, to send as postcards. Postagram doesn't include the holiday designs, though.
Within two minutes, Brezina had asked me which one I liked best from the Sincerely Ink holiday collection, entered a mailing address for Fast Company in his phone, and clicked a few buttons. "There, I just sent you one," he said, pleased.
The Sincerely Ink holiday cards end up costing less--considering customized design, photo printing, and postage--than most others offered by stalwarts like KodakGallery  or Shutterfly , and paper goods from Kolo  and others that frame standard-sized photos.
But does the company worry about copyright issues? "Our users aren't using these photos for commercial purposes," Brezina says. "They are using them to make greeting cards or postcards for friends and family. So this hasn't arisen as an issue. Photo rights depend on the source of the photos. A photo uploaded to Facebook or Instagram is owned by the user who uploaded it."
Sincerely may well serve as a panacea for artists or others who find it difficult to monetize the images they create and share. (For further discussion of social media and copyright issues, see this Fast Company story  about WhoSay.com, a new social network for celebrities).
Photo-sharing sites, and companies that own great, original image collections online, began to use Sincerely technology as a kind of share-and-mail button in October, within their own galleries.
LonelyPlanet does this so travelers who upload images from their trips to their online community can also send them as postcards to the Luddites and romantics who still appreciate printed matter. In such partnerships, Sincerely keeps $0.99 of the revenue generated per card, and lets partners determine how much they want to charge for the service and images beyond that. (Sincerely’s other partners  are listed here.)
To Brezina, cards are "the most ubiquitously appreciated gifts in the universe." They are presents in and of themselves, a keepsake, not just a throwaway bit of snail mail. Cue the TLC hit "No Scrubs," and question Brezina's interpretation of the word "gift," and he insists:
"We sell these for the same price as many virtual goods on Facebook or in a Zynga game. These are definitely a step up from giving a friend a virtual hug or a decoration they look at once and forget about immediately. They make a status update or a wall comment look downright lazy."
Brezina sees Sincerely as completely distinct from other photo-sharing tech startups, which seem to spawn every season, among the newer breed: Color , SmugMug , PicPlz , Path , Pregnancy Progress , and ZangZing . There are even apps on top of photo apps now, like Aviary, the "Photoshop of the mobile world ," and Fotobabble , which attaches an audio caption to digital images. They could all partner with and make more money with Sincerely tech, Brezina thinks.
But he is gunning to take Sincerely beyond software and images into the general, mobile commerce frontier. Brezina explains:
"We’re going to be the Amazon of gifting. We want to know: Who are the 30 people you care about most, which occasions do you both care about, and then, do you want to send them something?
Amazon doesn’t really have the best mobile and social features for gifting. It is more focused on buying for yourself or your household. But something like 15-20% of e-commerce is about gifting. I’m fine doing 15- 20% of e-commerce, mobile e-commerce for the near future."
And how does a cleantech enthusiast, motorcycling world traveler, and serial entrepreneur think another e-commerce app will improve people’s daily lives?
"We’re scaling thoughtfulness."