Monday, February 27, 2012

The Next Big Thing?

Since photo-blogging website Lightbox launched in June 2011, two million users have downloaded its Android mobile phone app.

According to co-founder and CEO Thai Tran (above), the site was originally conceived as a photography bolt-on to Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. It soon evolved into something rather more ambitious when it became clear that many photographers – both amateur and professional - were using it as a stand-alone gallery for their work. Version two, launched in December, added social features enabling following and sharing, and very quickly established its own stand-alone community.

As well as direct access to the Lightbox website, the Android app contains an optional integrated QuickSnap camera. Like the popular Instagram and Hipstamatic apps for the iPhone, it offers in-phone image editing tools, but allows a choice of less stylised image outputs than the iOS programmes.

Tran isn't worrying about income streams – both access to the website and the app download are free. Twitter took three years to turn a profit, and Facebook took five, by which time it had 300 million users worldwide. For now, and for the next eighteen months, the priority for him and his eight-strong team is building the Lightbox user community, not revenue.

Will it be the next 'big thing'? The venture capital funded company is unusual in being so directly focussed on photography, but it is just one of several hundred tech start-ups now operating out of what has been dubbed 'Silicon Roundabout', the run-down but rapidly gentrifying commercial district around the Old Street roundabout, just north of the City of London. The government is hoping the area will become a London version of California's Silicon Valley, birthplace of some of the biggest businesses on the planet, and set up its Tech City initiative in 2010 to help make this happen.

Tech City has its critics, but IT entrepreneurs are widely seen as crucial in rebalancing the UK economy away from its over-reliance on the financial sector. Whether this happens, and whether Lightbox makes it up there with the global US brands, we'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, take a look at the Lightbox website. There's a surprising amount of interesting stuff on show.

More pictures of Silicon Roundabout are here.

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