In China, a photo-sharing app has come up with a new business model by making smart use of Augmented Reality.

Ever since Facebook bought Instagram, the number of photo-sharing apps available has continued to rise. Up to now however it has proved difficult to hit on a stable business model for them. Now Vida, a Shanghai-based mobile network for social sharing of photos and videos, has recently added functionality it calls an ‘Augmented Reality filter’, the aim being to give advertising more appeal and viral buzz on mobile devices. So might this new functionality finally enable this kind of app to find the path to profitability?

Creating personalised photos using AR

The Vida mobile app was launched in 2011, and already has over 5 million users posting thousands of photos and mini-films online every day. But the app is more than just a sharing platform; it enables users to transform their photos into diaporamas with added sound, or into micro-videos, and then share them on the social networks. “The Augmented Reality filter is part of Vida’s overall mindset, which encourages its community to recount and share the stories of their lives through images,” stresses Vida CEO Lei Zhang. How it works is that when a user activates the filter and scans an object, the filter immediately generates new photos on the smartphone, thus combining in a fun way photos s/he has already taken with part of the scanned object. So far two versions have been launched: one can be used with the Chinese national identity card, the other with 100 yuan notes. For example, if you scan a 100 yuan note, you will see a book of new photos on the screen of your mobile, and you can then leaf through them in manual mode.

A new way of advertising on mobile

“We’re currently planning to extend this functionality to commercial products,” says Zhang, explaining: “In future, when a person scans a logo, the filter could not only display a promotional video but in addition enable the user to create his/her own video linked to the brand. Then every video shared on the social networks would basically be a micro-ad for the brand.” In fact this is not the company’s first attempt. Last December it launched a filter effect to accompany the release of the film The Last Tycoon. When the filter is activated, the user sees his/her portrait framed on a page from one of the Chinese newspapers of the 1930s, with the name of the film at top left and the name of the director at the bottom. “Apart from the movie world, we’ve signed partnerships with sports brands such as Nike,” Zhang reveals, adding: “As long as the filter effect is well-designed and innovative, we can implant brand advertising and enable users to participate in brand promotion. This will then replace traditional banners, which are monotonous and intrusive,” predicts the Vida CEO.

By Ruolin Yang