Poparazzi photo app blows up by banning selfies

The future of social is multiplayer

Hyping up your friends is actually a lot more fun than self-glorification. After a decade of Instagram, the whole “Look at this photo I took of what I’m doing” game is growing stale. In fact, it’s a bit asocial just lobbing your solo snapshots into the feed. A true social network doesn’t just make consumption social (Likes, comments, reshares), but makes creation social too by insisting on collaboration.

That’s the concept behind new social app Poparazzi that launched this weekend. It’s so new it doesn’t even have an app ranking yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it debuts pretty high on the charts given how many signup notifications I’m receiving from friends. [Update: Soon after I published this, Poparazzi premiered at #1 on the App Store charts. Pretty remarkable for a tiny startup!]

So what is Poparazzi? It’s an app where you can’t post photos of yourself. Instead, you have to tag a friend. Selfies are persona non grata. There’s not even a front-facing camera to help drive the social norm that this one app isn’t about you. Instead, you become your squad’s paparazzi, snapping them in single shots or multi-photo sequence GIFs like they’re a celebrity you caught stepping out for coffee.

Poparazzi is only on iOS, but will be available on Android soon. Functionally, it’s centered around a reverse-chronological feed of Pops of and from the people you follow (and seemingly those in your phone book too). Your profile shows the Pops you’ve shot or been captured in, with a shout-out to your “Top Poparazzi”. There are no captions or hashtags or comments to futz with. It all about letting scenes speak for themselves

It’s the perfect app for Hot Vax Summer.

The app could come to characterize the post-pandemic reunion with friends the way Clubhouse embodied the physical isolation from friends at the start of lockdown last year.

There are a few things I love about the Poparazzi:

  1. The haptic-happy onboarding flow: Your phone buzzes to life as you watch the intro video, emulating the haptic feedback you get when you shoot a photo. As the app shows you a slew of examples of how to use Poparazzi, the machine gun vibrations make you feel like you’re actually a photographer trying to score the perfect shot of a celeb — and the awkward frames in between. It’s a subtle message that you’re going to take a lot of photos with this app.

  2. No follower counts means you shoot for your friends: While you can react to Pops with a range of emojis, the app takes a firm stance against the popularity competition. Profiles don’t show how many followers someone has. If you’re desperately trying to drive up your follower count rather than entertain or big-up your actual friends, it distorts what you capture and instills the wrong incentives. Instead, it feels like the goal is having fun, not world domination.

  3. Stay in the moment: Because you can’t edit your pics, overlay bells and whistles, or add witty captions, Poparazzi pushes you to shoot your shot and get back to living. Compare that with Instagram, where I constantly find myself either divorcing myself from the joy around me to polish it up before sharing, or procrastinating on that final step and never actually sharing.

  4. Remind men they’re photo-worthy too: There’s a reason you see so many “Guy holding a fish he caught” photos on Tinder. Society makes straight men think they’re only deserving of being photographed if they accomplish something material, not just because they look cute on a sunny afternoon. Dudes rarely stop their buddies and say, “ahh you look great, let me grab a pic”, so they’re left with mostly selfies. A lot of guys literally don’t have other decent solo shots of themselves. I hope Poparazzi encourages men to hype up their friends. Yass, King. Or this case, my bestie Johnny.

There are some UX choices that could cause some concern or backlash. The app auto-follows everyone in your phone book, which you could see as a growth hack or a privacy issue. Those contacts might include people you don’t care about, would be embarrassed to follow on a social app, ex-lovers, or even stalkers. Poparazzi may need to let you nix certain contacts before you follow all, rather than just letting you block them afterwards. The app also asks you to rate it immediately upon launch, which feels aggressive and perhaps even counterproductive. There’s also limited info available on who’s able to see your photos. A more detailed Privacy section in the FAQ and onboarding should probably be a next step for the company.

The Future Of Social Is Multiplayer

There’s a lot of debate about whether social networks are bad for our health. But the water is muddy until you distill social into two types of behavior. There’s active interaction like creating, messaging, and commenting that can actually make you feel closer to the people around you. But then there’s the endless passive, zombie-scrolling. That’s what makes people feel isolated and drives the envy-spiraling where you compare your lowest moments to other people’s life highlights. I dove into the research supporting that theory back in 2017 in my TechCrunch post “The Difference Between Good and Bad Facebooking”.

I think we all innately sense the distinction. The sharpest consumer startup founders are building products that lead users towards the healthier interconnection that social networking promised. These apps don’t always succeed, but they inspire us to think beyond single-player experiences with some Likes tacked on at the end.

  • Squad: Screensharing as a way to hang out

  • Houseparty: Group video chat as the default

  • Dispo: Collaborative photo albums

  • Clubhouse: Multiple speakers hashing out ideas

  • TikTok: Remixes, duets, and stitches breathe crowdsourced life into memes

Even the existing social networks are finding their top innovations embrace the multiplayer model. Instagram leapfrogged Snapchat Stories by adding tagging, questions, polls, and other interactive elements.

Alex and Austen Ma, the founders of Poparazzi, have brought this concept to the original breakout social networking feature: photo sharing. With at least $2 million in funding led by the smart folks over at Floodgate, they’ve developed a mechanic that would be tough for Mark Zuckerberg to copy. While it might seem like an arbitrary constraint to only allow photos of others, it’s the edges of the canvas that give shape to a work of art.

Thanks a ton for reading! If you enjoyed this newsletter, subscribe for more of my theories on the creator economy and social apps. And if you’re a founder building something special, I’d love to hear about it! Email me at josh at signalfire.com