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Moju Wants To Be A Smarter Instagram

On the surface, this app is awfully Instagrammy. But it has big, ambitious plans for your photos.

Moju Wants To Be A Smarter Instagram
[Photo: Flickr user dr_zoidberg]

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Does the old adage “know when to leave well enough alone” apply to apps? If so, Instagram has social photo sharing nailed, and nobody else should come near the category. Despite users clamoring for additional features—clickable links or better maps, anyone?—it dominates the field.

But Moju, a relatively new photo app created by a former chief scientist at PayPal and backed by Facebook cofounder Eduardo Saverin, doesn’t think the game is over. It’s also willing to endure being reflexively compared to Instagram—like I just did—as it sets its sights on bigger long-term goals.

Some of those goals are visible in Moju 2.0, which is available starting today. Among the most notable additional features are flashbacks, face alignment, and chat—all of which will begin to position Moju not as a direct Instagram competitor, but something with a much larger potential impact.

A multiple-image Moju from user @pablolee

With this new version, Moju is is subtly addressing the question of what you’re supposed to do with all these pictures you’ve taken. Beyond each individual picture telling a story about a single moment, combinations of pictures tend to tell a larger story about people, places, or things.

With flashbacks, for instance, Moju will send users notifications about past photos they shot or uploaded to the service. The app starts with increments of time as the measure for relevance—similar to the way an app called Timehop operates—but as it learns more about your locations, people in the photos, and other metadata, it will begin to show photos based around those criteria.

“What matters to us is not just ‘who’ is in that story, but better understanding why and how these stories make you feel,” says Moju founder Mok Oh. “We’re going beyond the obvious data collection but personalizing and computing how these [photos] make one feel.”

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The Moju app first used an interactive lenticular photo experience to attract users. You can snap multiple photos and as you rotate your phone from side to side it shows different angles and dimensions of the scene in front of you. It’s a gimmick, sure, but one that has had me subconsciously tilting my phone even while looking at Instagram and being slightly disappointed that the static image wasn’t changing.

Having the faces of people in photos align (currently in beta) is another way of creating compelling stories that resurface at later times. As photos scroll by and turn a smiling baby into a toddler and then into a young girl, her eyes and mouth stay at the focal point, rather than the chaos of objects changing in the pictures.


In the upcoming weeks and months, users will also be able to connect external storage accounts such as Dropbox to upload other photos they’ve shot and take advantage of features like face align.

On the surface, the Moju app remains very Instagrammy. But Oh and his team of data scientists are working on fundamentally deeper problems around consumption, with a mission that goes way beyond using ads to monetize a conventional photo stream. The big question isn’t whether they’re doing something cool–it’s whether a critical mass of people will find it compelling enough to make the move from Instagram, and bring their friends and family members along.

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About the author

Tyler Hayes is a Southern California native, early technology adopter, and music enthusiast. You can reach him at tyler@liisten.com

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