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Waddle: A photo-sharing app without the oversharing

When we learned Waddle about a month ago, our first thought was, “Why do we need another photo-sharing app?” We already have Instagram, Huddle, Hipster, Path, PicPlz, Lighbox, Photobucket – the list goes on and on. And that doesn’t include the wide number of other apps for which photo-sharing is just one part; this includes social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus and Facebook. 

Fortunately for us all, Waddle delivers something no other app offers – or at least, something that no other app offers well: the ability to share photos privately with a select group. 

Waddle defines itself as a “mobile group photo journaling app,” which is as accurate a description as you can get. Basically, Waddle users can start a “Waddle,” invite their friends to join, and everybody can post pictures to the Waddle that nobody not in the Waddle can see. Members of the Waddle can then comment on the photos, and share their comments with other members of the group. Waddle doesn’t automatically post photos to Twitter or Facebook, and it doesn’t share your location for everyone to see.

So unlike apps like Instagram, (or any others, really), which are designed for sharing with as many people as possible, Waddle is just the opposite – and, if you ask us, it’s a much needed addition to the big, jumbled photo-sharing app family. Sometimes, you just want to share your pictures with just a few people, not the entire world, which is why Waddle exists in the first place. 

We had the chance to speak with two of Waddle’s three co-founders, Parker Emmott and Audrey Tsang, about the company’s mission, and how it plans to survive in the shark pool of the start-up world.  Nick Renolds rounds out Waddles trio of founders.

“We know that people are using camera phones more and more, and point-and-shoots less and less, but that these photos end up stuck on peoples phones,” says Emmott. “As we dug in and conducted ethnographic research to find out why, we were struck by how much people enjoyed looking back at the pictures and the stories they told. But they were rarely, if ever, sharing or looking back at these photos without being prompted to do so.  

“The reasons people weren’t sharing were combinations of privacy concerns with public sharing/Facebook, not wanting to spam their Face Book graph with pictures that are only meaningful to a small group, and generally feeling that single photos lacked the context to communicate their meaning or significance.”

Despite the plethora of photo-sharing apps available, “most people were still using MMS and email to share pictures with a select group of people,” Emmott adds.”…So we set out to design a product that made pictures part of the communication medium, just as cameras are now part of the communication devices we carry in our pockets.”

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Waddle, which is free from the iTunes App Store, only takes a matter of minutes to sign up. Simply launch the app, create new login credentials — no Facebook or Twitter logging in here – and you can start creating Waddles. 

“Waddle is a great way to share photos with friends who are in different locations,” says Tsang. “You can see what each other is up to even if you don’t live close to one another. It’s also good for families, or if you want to share photos from an event you attended with other friends who were there, too.” 

Of course, the one downside to Waddle is that only other Waddle users can join in the photo-sharing fun. And right now, Waddle is only available for iOS devices. An Android app is on the to-do list, say Emmott and Tsang, but the Waddle crew is currently “working on perfecting” the iOS version. So, for now, you are limited to the people in your circles of friends and family who both own an iOS-based device, like an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, and have the Waddle app. 

While this is a “challenge,” says Emmott, building a userbase is simply part of the business. And it’s one the Waddle crew feels confident that they can overcome. To help enable the word-of-mouth spread of Waddle, the company announced today that it will now allow users to find other friends who have Waddle by connecting to Facebook. Users can also invite friends or family to Waddle through email or SMS text message.

Of course, one of the other primary challenges facing Waddle is finding a way to compete amongst the group of already-established photo-sharing options that are currently available. Still, the Waddle team remains confident in their defining vision of privacy and “intimate” sharing. 

“Clearly, Facebook is the 800 pound gorilla in the photo space – particularly social photos,” says Emmott. “But while we would be naive to not recognize them as a competitor, we see our approach as wholly different from that of Facebook’s photos. Waddle is a place for private and intimate photo conversations, while Facebook is a place for public photo sharing.

“So when we think about competition in our usage scenarios, it is still really the status-quo of MMS and email that poses the greatest threat. Therefore, our goal and key challenge is to craft a product that shows people that there is a better way.”

In addition to standard photo-sharing, users can also send each other physical post cards through Waddle, printed with their favorite Waddle shot through photo-card partner Sincerely.

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A web-based interface is also on the way, which Emmott and Tsang say will allow users view pictures and leave comments with the added benefit of a bigger screen. Through the Waddle website, Tsang says users may also be able to share individual photos, or create a “curated Waddle,” for non-Waddle users. As of now, users can share individual photos through Facebook, but not entire Waddles. For the most part Waddle will remain an exclusive experience at its core.

In addition to Facebook Connect, and a number of other new features and tweaks, Waddle also announced today that it has closed a round of funding from Chinese Internet giant Tencent. Until now, Waddle was entirely self-funded, though the company benefitted from participating in Highland Capital Partners’ startup incubator this summer.) Tencent owns and operates the popular instant messaging service QQ.

So, while we definitely feel as though the photo-sharing app market is getting a little over-saturated, Waddle is a welcome addition to the mix.

Download Waddle for iOS from iTunes here. Watch a video about how Waddle works below:

Updated with additional details at 9:45pm ET.

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