Will Lightt fade in Instagram’s shadow or could its future make it more than just another image app?

lightt web siteYou can’t launch a new photo-sharing app without being called an Instagram challenger, and the unfortunate label has not escaped Lightt. The new app launched yesterday, revealing a new take on the photo feed. Instead of creating a network based on stills and filters, Lightt takes 10-second videos and plays them back fast-forwarded with no sound. Will Lightt face the same fate as the amibitious yet ill-fated Color, or will its future integration with Google’s Project Glass keep it safe from being buried in the underbelly of the App Store?

How Lightt works

Your Lightt sign-up experience is nothing new: Download the app, create your account, idly flip through the initial instructions pointing out icons and what they do, and you’re off. Perhaps the strangest part of the whole thing is your profile picture: Instead of letting you pull a still from your gallery or even take a photo, you create a short video that Lightt speeds up and turns into your avatar. It’s disorienting… and honestly, the result is a little strange – it’s like one of those haunted house paintings where the eyes follow you.

light web viewerAfter that, you should just jump in and start using Lightt. You hit the center camera icon to take quick videos. You can take one (10 seconds), or keep hitting the icon in order to continue to capture the scene – or what Lightt calls a highlight (“A highlight is a burst of pictures that captures about 10 seconds of time in one tap. Your highlights upload immediately and play back faster than real life, like the speed of our memories,” per the Lightt blog).

You can share photos to Facebook or Twitter – though realize that they aren’t grouped together and you’ll just be posting continuous blocks of this content. From there, you’re sent to a Web viewer, but this is the only way to see your media via desktop, to share it out, and then hit the link. There aren’t any embed options right now, either, so you can’t host your Lightt content on your Tumblr, WordPress, or any other blog yet. 

The app has a home page, which is segmented by your feed, a “happening now” feed, and a “featured” feed. You can also navigate to your own page, your friends list, and an activity bar. Users are able to leave comments or like highlights – and you can strangely share other users’ highlights to your own social networks.

mobile screenshots

While Lightt hasn’t given us an embed tool yet, here’s a screencast just so you can see what the results look like via the Web viewer. 

The Color connection

If you immediately started playing with Lightt or looking through the available feed and thought things seemed familiar, you’re not the only one: My first thought is that this is  exactly what Color tried to do. When the beleaguered startup first launched, it had a rather simple photo-sharing mechanism (no filters, no editing, no video, no captions, just point and capture) but did introduce what was a rather revolutionary location-aware social network.

Eventually Color pivoted into a video streaming application and became a Facebook Timeline app. The idea was to “show the world what you’re up to,” and users with the app would get an invitation to “visit” the recorded moment in real-time via Facebook. However, when I tried to use the Color app, I recieved this notification from Facebook.

facebook color misconfigured

This, on top of the mountain of rumors that Color is not long for this world (which, honestly, could end up meaning very little if the company is indeed acquired by Apple, not to mention the money it stands to make off patents), all points to the fact that the app wasn’t a hit with users.

And there are some similarities between Color and Lightt. There’s the fact that they are both image, media-focused apps. But that’s not exactly a novelty anymore (you could create a daily newsletter full of these app launches). Then there’s the location element; Color bet heavy on this and ended up scaring the crap out of users. Lightt is using location as well, but it’s not nearly as important to the app (you can choose to have location settings turned on or off, though Lightt will prompt you to give up the data so it can auto tag the vicinity of your content).

The big difference between the two apps is the fact that Lightt has a much more user-friendly, explanatory interface. Color was without words, without explanation, without guidance; you were thrown into this entirely new and unfamiliar territory with no gentle hand to lead you through it. Lightt didn’t make this mistake. And in Color’s defense, the team never thought they’d get the type of early fundraising or attention that they did – the startup has been honest about that fact that mistakes were made.

Don’t look a GIF horse in the mouth

While Lightt falls squarely into the photo-sharing genre, the media it creates is actually far more similar to apps like Cinemagram or Gifture, which take your short-form videos and turn them into animated GIFs.

[Via cinemagr.am]

Lightt sees the result as more of a visual timeline of your activity, but the rest of us are surely going to see the sped-up, stop-motion effect as an animated GIF. This medium has at once become the pride and joy as well as the scourge of the Internet. Twitter has fiercely fought animated GIF avatars (you’re no longer able to upload them to the site), and there’s a quiet but budding movement supporting cleaner Web design that eschews the ostentatious, attention-demanding art form. Despite any of this, they are assuredly the Web’s bread and butter, and it’s hardly an exaggeration to say Tumblr is bursting at the seams with the stuff.

Animated GIFs are the Internet’s comeback kid: After a brief love affair with them in the 90s, they died down for whatever reason. And now, they’re back with a vengeance.

However, while there are a handful of apps tapping into this popularity, they aren’t able to produce as high quality of results. The limitations of working on a small screen with nothing but your hands and the video you can capture with a smartphone means your creations probably won’t enjoy to the viral success many Web animated GIFs do.

While Lightt makes the process far easier (anyone who’s tried Cinemagram, Kinotopic, or Gifture knows the inaccuracy and frustration of coloring in the desired moving segment of media with your finger), the effect isn’t quite an animated GIF. Not that Lightt wants it to be – but maybe we want it to be.  The jury is still out on how well we’ll ever be able to make these with mobile devices, or whether we even want to, but what you’re able to make with Lightt right now sort of feels like a half-hearted effort. 

Instagram, you’re safe 

Instagram killer, Lightt is not – but the most interesting part about the app is where it’s going, which is to Google Glasses. This is where Lightt could make sense; walking around, holding my iPhone up while I record a scene still just feels awkward. That’s the beauty of Instagram: It’s instant. It’s a quickly captured moment. Lightt is still a little too much work, but the minute you implement it into something I’m wearing, the results could be stunning.

For the time being, the actual quality of what you create using Lightt isn’t up to par – Instagrams, and photo apps for stills in general – are still much prettier to look at. Video is a trickier beast, it’s a much more complicated process under-the-hood. Which is why time will only tell if Lightt can bring something compelling to the table when it hits Google Glasses.