A Confluence In Time
Our ancestors have been sharing stories since the dawn of humanity, and although the methods have changed, the subconscious need to pass on our experiences and values hasn’t… we believe it’s more prevalent than ever.
Nowadays, we take photos for all sorts of reasons; to record the best of our lives, to remind ourselves of mundane tasks, and even for communication. In the last decade there has been an explosion of visual media — the only comparable event is the invention of the printing press in 1436.
At the same time we are witnessing a new age of computing, one in which vast amounts of data can be rapidly processed on devices that we hold in our hands.
The convergence of these phenomena; the human instinct to share experiences, the proliferation of photography, and the acceleration of privacy-preserving mobile processing power has given rise to Popsa.
Our colleagues didn't join Popsa to build a printing app.
That’s just a stage we are passing through.
We’re not creating another Photobox or Shutterfly. Our ambitions go far beyond that.
For us, the printing of memories is just one manifestation of a more fundamental human need; our innate desire to understand who we are.
That’s not to say we will intend to dilute the business we have built on printing photos, in fact quite the opposite, we believe that building a better service for these customers will also lead us into building something increasingly valuable to those who don’t have any intention to print at all.
Why do we believe this?
Our customers don't print because they love flicking through pages or because they admire the quality of our binding. When we talk to them it very quickly becomes clear that there are much more subtle – and often subconscious – reasons for printing.
People choose to reminisce in this way to be a better parent, to impress their neighbours, to leave a legacy, to strengthen a relationship, or to come to terms with loss – amongst other things.
All of this sounds quite deep at first, but when you stop and think about it, curating the best of your experiences and relationships is a perfectly rational way of processing your life. Furthermore, the act of crystallising all this into something tangible can serve as a constant reminder of the things that make life worth living.
What is the evolutionary reason for instinctively wanting to record and relive?
Memory – in general – is obviously essential for survival.
But perhaps even more so is an understanding of the events in those memories.
Humans have evolved to reminisce primarily as a way of increasing our understanding of the world around us. And the more we understand things, the more we can improve our chances of success and happiness within that world.
We can make ourselves better people – and lead more satisfying lives – by self-reflection.
However, it is important to recognise that bringing up memories of past events is not automatically a good thing. In fact, there are different types of reminiscence and some are more healthy than others.
‘Obsessive’ reminiscence (characterised by always looking at the past in its most negative light, through the prism of mistakes and missed opportunities), and ‘escapist’ reminiscence (a view of the past that is so positive that we long to go back because our world today is so awful) are extremes on a spectrum.
Both of these can be damaging, but there are other ways of reminiscing that are in fact critical in supporting our mental health.
Popsa exists to increasingly help our users process their thoughts through:
- Transmissive Reminiscence
Best summed up as the passing on of values to your children (this is partly why we feel guilty if we stop recording their childhoods). Traditions in this way can be a good tool for propagating personal beliefs and even culture.
- Instrumental Reminiscence
Turning unfortunate situations around and making the most of them for self-improvement. This helps build confidence in yourself; a sense that you can achieve anything when you put your mind to it. Reliving our happiest moments reinforces this.
- Integrative Reminiscence
Derived from ‘integrity’ in the sense of being whole or well-rounded, this kind of processing of your own thoughts and memories helps you feel calm, assured, and content with life.
All of this processing helps us in the realisation that ups and downs are all part of life’s great story. They are not just random events the world throws at us; we can extract value from negative situations, whilst celebrating the amazing things we do and the wonderful people we come across.
Distilling An Identity
It’s clear that just remembering doesn’t necessarily confer benefits. Quality reminiscing involves some kind of effort at evaluation and the extraction of meaning.
It is worth considering, however, that not everyone can access this ability; or at least, not to the same degree.
Our mission at Popsa is to help these people find meaning in their lives.
In a way, people who already make lots of photo albums are already very good at this.
But most people struggle to access the most healthy kind of reminiscing because there is so much life to sift through, or they feel ill-equipped to create something from all the content they’ve accumulated.
There is a wonderful, natural process that is an interesting parallel to what we’re doing at Popsa.
The human mind is so large and inquisitive – it takes in much more data than it can possibly store – and so it has mechanisms to make sense of it all.
We refer to this mechanism as dreaming.
When we dream, we process short term memories and work out what is important to keep for the long term.
It’s a kind of defragmentation of the mind.
We believe that Popsa can be to a photo library (or people’s digital lives) what dreaming is to the mind.
Not only by sifting through vast amounts of raw data to pick out the important things, but to then analyse what remains and process them into something meaningful, something beautiful, something that can be experienced again and again to feel content and satisfied.
Taken together, we describe this process as helping people to distil their identity. After all, the meaningful events, experiences and relationships in your life are what makes you, you.
And when people are confident in themselves and their identity, they typically lead
more fulfilling lives.
Making Memories Accessible
Given how beneficial such activities can be for mental wellbeing, we believe it is critical to make them accessible for as many people as possible.
A typical response from companies in our sector is to give their users a myriad of options from which they can self-serve.
We believe this approach to be not only ineffective, but discriminatory.
It’s a strategy that is biassed towards people who already have a strong desire to reminisce, whatever stands in their way.
Despite having no shortage of photos, people who are less self-assured face a range of barriers:
- Anxiety About Technology
I don’t want to touch that button in case I mess it up
- Anxiety About Design Skills
I’m embarrassed to show what I’ve made to people I respect
- Lack of Time
I don’t have the patience to do all of that
- Lack of Imagination
I’m not sure what I should create
That sounds complicated
Therefore Popsa is harnessing technology to make the whole process much more accessible.
What you see in today’s app is nothing compared to where we’re going.
We are now focussing our efforts on three objectives, and it’s the combined results that we believe will help people overcome these barriers.
Not only does this approach provide the most value for our customers, it’s commercially savvy too. As we innovate to remove these barriers, Popsa will be able to serve wider audiences and increasing numbers of people who would otherwise be put off today.
Using Data For Good
Popsa is a data company, not a printing company.
We wholeheartedly believe that data can be used for good, to boost people’s self-esteem.
And we also believe that an intelligent and sensitive use of this data can give us a competitive advantage in delivering value that customers will pay for.
This is a win-win relationship for everyone involved.
There’s an important difference between Popsa and other companies known for their use of data, and it’s that Popsa’s interests are directly aligned to our customers’ interests.
Unlike the Silicon Valley giants, we don’t need to profile user data for use in advertising. We only generate revenue if a customer purchases our products.
As such we only use data provided by our customers for their benefit, by generating incredible artefacts that help them express themselves and reflect their identity.
For us, data is directly linked to accessibility. It’s the key ingredient by which we can empower our customers.
Building the Platform of Tomorrow
Popsa seeks to add new kinds of value for our customers, not just convert the grid of photos on your phone to another one in a book.
We believe that the value of data can be magnified through the lens of design to create a result that is so much more than the sum of its parts.
What does this mean in practice?
We’re working on an ambitious plan to turn today’s app into a far more sophisticated platform for storytelling.
So, in the future, instead of selecting a product and then some photos, we’re going to resurface the most significant events in your life for you.
We’re building an intelligence layer that sits on top of the photo library (for those who opt in) which learns what is sentimental to you and helps you identify special moments you might want to keep.
This involves a suite of machine learning, procedural and heuristic algorithms, all with a bias towards keeping the data on your device to ensure high privacy and low latency.
To make sense of it all, we’re developing an ‘experience graph’ which preserves relationships between these data points so that machines can best interpret significance from background noise.
Once we’ve put together these collections (ranging from the barbeque you had at the weekend and the night out with your mates, to your best bits with mum for Mother’s Day or your child’s first year) we need to do something useful with them.
To be more than the sum of the constituent photos, we need to add something extra. That something is narrative.
We’re working on the next-generation of our physical products. Where today there are simple collages, tomorrow there will be richer, modernist designs that make use of typography and are embellished with chapter cards, bibliographies, maps, life milestones and graphical annotations that aid the storytelling process and elevate the surrounding photos.
We’ll be going from a relatively basic slideshow to something more like a journal or magazine.
And not only that; our intention is to fully automate the creation of these narratives so that our customers have the time to focus on the finishing touches and add emotional content; the in-joke on your holiday, the joy you felt when your daughter was born, or the advice your dad gave you before he became unwell.
The net result is a platform that can take raw data, detect context, and then output something that is appropriate, beautiful and engaging; a platform that can help people tell the story of their lives, no matter their skills or background. That’s our goal.
From Utility to Destination
Whilst Popsa started as a great tool for making physical products, our ambition is to become a destination in our own right.
This includes being a place that is interesting and useful for individuals who might never purchase a product themselves. Attracting those people can be beneficial to others and for the platform as a whole.
For example, some people might want to enjoy the digital version of the narratives we generate or want to use our technology to tidy up their photo library, and others might want to store their photos where they’re not analysed for advertising. All of these use cases can help train our models to improve the results for everyone else.
Another ambition is to facilitate other companies in building apps on top of Popsa so that (with user consent) their services can access our experience graph and use that value to deliver more value for the user outside of Popsa.
There is a behaviour that our customers already exhibit today that we are aiming to make easier for them; a desire for collaboration.
Many people use WhatsApp to work together on their Popsa designs. This is a painful experience and results in lots of compressed photos sent one way and screenshots of layouts going the other.
So we’re going to solve this problem and bring real-time collaboration to our sector for the very first time. Think a consumer version of Miro or Figma.
Embracing such network effects will help make Popsa self-perpetuating.
Our photos contain snapshots of our social lives, and our physical products are typically enjoyed together, sparking laughter and conversation. So why should the creation process in-between be a solo one?
Achieving this goal means we’ll be able to close the loop of social interactions and maintain that engagement throughout. That’s ultimately when Popsa stops being a utility and becomes a destination for friends and family to meet.
Evolving Our Brand
Our sector is far too commoditised; common supermarket products would not look out of place on the websites of our competitors.
Today’s Popsa is not radically different but our product roadmap will see us rapidly diverge. Instead of asking our customers to choose a container to then fill with photos, we’ll start with your meaningful content and offer appropriate suggestions for what to make of it. We’ll go from a passive model to a push model.
We plan to dramatically reposition our brand to reflect this approach.
Starting this year, we will undertake an in-depth study of who our customers are and how we can best represent their lives. We will develop a new set of values and principles that everyone who works at Popsa can subscribe to, and which will guide us as we build a platform for storytelling.
A new tone of voice and visual identity will encapsulate and express our world view, rooting us firmly in a new paradigm.
This will give us a launchpad from which to drive mass-market awareness in our core markets of the US, UK, Germany and France. We’ll also start a brand partnerships team, develop a transactional web offering from first principles, and deploy a modern content strategy to support organic discovery and SEO.
Making A Difference
In an increasingly digital world, we're in danger of losing those special moments when family and friends used to gather around the photo album, sparking memories and debate.
Whether it’s supporting mental health or just bringing a smile to someone’s face, we’re proud to be building something that will make millions of people around the world… happy. 🙂
It's definitely something worthwhile to contribute to society.
If you want to come with us on this journey become a member of the Popsa team.
If you're one of our customers, get in touch, your feedback helps us build an even better experience for you. We'd love to hear from you.