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Retro, the photo-sharing app perfect for friends, launches collaborative journal

As big social apps are leveraging algorithmic feeds and personalized content recommendations to optimize for maximum engagement, Retro is looking to go in the opposite direction: The company is launching a new feature called Diary. It’s a flexible way to share photos with the people you love most and create a visual record of what’s important in your life. Therefore, the functionality can be similar to sharing a photo album or used to save private records.

Yes I know. Photo sharing is not new. Many people have tried, but most have failed. Even Marissa Mayer’s latest endeavor, an app called Sunshine, has raised questions. But given the founding team’s resume, it’s worth paying attention to Retro. The relatively new social app was created by Nathan Sharp and Ryan Olson, two former Instagram team members who were instrumental in launching groundbreaking features like Stories.

With a focus on photos and videos of your loved ones, Retro is slowly rolling out features that will quickly turn it into a must-have for long-distance friends, extended family, and anyone who loves curating their photos and picking the best ones tools from their camera roll.

Retro’s main function is to share the most important photos from the past week with your favorite people. When you start adding photos, it creates a story for the week for your friends to see. But this only works if your social graph is a perfect replica of the most important people in your life. That’s why people spend some quality time together and then dump a bunch of photos into a WhatsApp group or iMessage thread.

Retro’s answer to this use case is Diary: a flexible new way to share photos in groups. Co-founder and CEO Nathan Sharp likened the feature to a “photo-first WhatsApp group.”

Retro, launched last summer, remains fairly low-key. Well received by product designers focusing on social mobile applications. But it hasn’t become a mainstream application yet. The startup is still rolling out features it hopes will unleash a “product-led growth engine,” as Sharp puts it.

“The first priority now is to build a perfect product for chatting with family and friends. The second part is making sure your family and friends can easily participate in it… I think journals are a big part of that,” he told TechCrunch. “As a social app, you can’t really separate those two tasks, but what you can do is focus on providing high-utility features to the demographic that appeals to them.”

You can use a journal to organize photos around a specific theme. For example, you could keep a family journal for each child so you can quickly and easily review their early photos without the usual clutter of a photo library. It’s a way to cultivate unique, personal connections.

You can also journal with your partner and share important moments you spent together without spamming all your friends on Retro. Or you can create a diary of a recent weekend trip so everyone can add and share photos without having to add you as a friend on the app.

Three screenshots of Retro's new journaling feature showing how to make an album private, share a link, or create a public link

Image Source: vintage

“One of my favorites was made for Valentine’s Day. I made one for my wife with a picture of just the two of us. It took me back ten years – we’ve been together for ten years,” co-founder and chief technology officer Ryan Olson said. “Now, when there are pictures of the two of us, I just add it in there. It’s so fun to have a creature like this for the two of us.”

Some people may even use journaling for personal projects or hobbies. For example, if you enjoy woodworking and want to track your progress, you could create a journal dedicated to furniture making, with you as the only journal member.

“Photo journaling is like a great format to look back, review, reflect on something that subtly grows over time — but over a long period of time,” Sharp said.

If the startup allows people to use the diary in real life, the new feature could help raise awareness about the retro. For example, organizers might place disposable cameras on tables for guests to take photos to share later.

“If you want to collect photos at your event, we created this really nifty QR code that you can save to your camera roll or print,” Sharp noted. “It’s easy, just enter the QR code and say ‘Hey, if you attended this dinner, please share all your photos.'”

There is also a viral aspect to this feature, as logs can be shared outside of Retro. Within the app, you can generate public links and share them to your Instagram Story or elsewhere online – no need to install the app to view photos. For example, some people might use it to share wedding photos.

Building social consumer applications involves many experiments, and journals are one of them. When people discover the app by clicking on these public links to shared albums, it has the potential to become a product-led growth engine for Retro. Only time will tell.

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