Everyone has been waiting on the edge of their seats for the Pressgram app to be accepted in the app store and today it finally happened. Billed as “An Image Sharing App Built for an Independent Web”, Pressgram has received some major national attention, given its direct confrontation of the very unpopular policies of Facebook and Instagram. The project was fully funded on Kickstarter within 30 days, due to the support of a community that is passionate about owning their own data with full creative control.
What is Pressgram?
In case you haven’t been following, Pressgram is a photo-sharing app for iOS, created by Atlanta-based developer John Saddington. It is similar to Instagram but with a few serious distinctions:
- Powered by WordPress + iOS with Filtered Photos added in
- Users will own their own data – your content is always yours
- The target users are publishers
- Currently makes use of open source photo filters
When you use the Pressgram app in combination with the Pressgram WordPress plugin, the images are published to your blog through the typical post publishing process and are stored in the WordPress media folder. They are also stored in Amazon’s cloud storage and delivered to the Pressgram social network from there in order to create a consistent experience for the user within the application.
For now the Pressgram plugin for WordPress simply de-clutters the homepage so that Pressgram posts don’t get mixed in with your longer-form content. In the future, Saddington plans to add more features based on user feedback and suggestions from the community.
An Interview with John Saddington on Community and the Future of Pressgram
I spoke with John Saddington on the eve of Pressgram’s launch into the app store. He was intent on building Pressgram, whether anyone was interested in it or not. He felt so strongly about owning his own data that he long ago cancelled his Facebook and Instagram accounts.
His Kickstarter initiative outlines the many compelling reasons for owning your own data by refusing to “line the pockets of another’s purse”, as he put it. The clear success of the fundraising efforts show that he is not alone in his thinking:
“I was pleasantly surprised by how many other online publishers really “got” my intention and where I was headed with the application. They could see the value of posting images directly to their WordPress blogs and also the philosophical intent. Naturally I’m happy that it reached its funding goal but I would have still built the application out if I didn’t and that’s because I had originally intended on provisioning it on my own device for myself alone.”
Pressgram also shares the community aspect that you’ve seen with Instagram and Saddington has already hand-picked a select few who will be offering their time and resources to help moderate, manage and grow the community that is springing up around this app. “This is so much bigger than just an ‘app’,” he said. “It’s a movement of creatives and artists and digital publishers who are rebelling against the unashamed commercial interests.”
Why isn’t there an Android app?
Given Instagram’s massive success after launching in the Android market, I was curious as to why Saddington didn’t start there first. I asked him how soon he’d be releasing an Android app. He said:
The answer is quite simple – I know Objective-C programming as I’ve built a few apps in that environment but I’ve never built an Android app. And besides, I’ve only owned iOS-devices so the intent was to first scratch my own itch and then scratch other people’s if the interest was warranted and big enough. Apparently it’s quite large as there are a number of Kickstarter backers who are Android users and who are waiting for it to be released! I will have to build out a team though if I’m going to get to Android and that takes time and money.
Since I am an Android user, I won’t be able to try it and will be depending on our readers for some initial reviews.
Using Pressgram Without WordPress
Not everyone hosts their own blog. In fact, if Pressgram ever hopes to gain mass appeal, there must be an option for using it by itself. This is why Saddington made sure to account for non-WordPress users in his app:
You can use Pressgram without ever connecting it directly to a WordPress blog – I believe many users will do this as the philosophical nature of not being part of the Facebook network where they monetize every single thing (and if they could have your soul they would) that you are and do. Some users will just want to be part of a better social network as well as having the capabilities of filtering photos and sharing them.
Saddington left Facebook and Instagram due to the licensing and policies that he did not agree with, but he still wanted to take pictures and add filters to them and wanted others to have the freedoms afforded to self-publishers who are not dependent on social networks. The Pressgram blog has been diligently pumping out posts on why any user, whether connected to WordPress or not, should carefully consider forsaking the data-hungry social networks and find a new way to share online. They’ve been driving a strong campaign for the open web and only time and downloads will tell how successful the app will be.
Initial Proprietary License: Possible Open Source Licensing in the Future
The Pressgram app is currently free to download and Saddington has confirmed that it will be so forever. So the philosophy behind Pressgram is all about freedom – for the user and the publisher. But what about the software itself?
During the final days of the project’s fundraising campaign, the largest backer of the project withdrew when he learned that it would not be open source:
I canceled my pledge for @Pressgram (10k) because project will be proprietary, not OS like I expected. Sorry for misunderstanding.
— Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt) April 9, 2013
When I asked John if the project will ever move to an open source license he said that he is willing to consider it. Given his heavy involvement in working with OS in the past, I was curious as to what aspect of the project necessitates a proprietary license. For him it boils down to a matter of workflow and speed in getting the software out the door:
“It was simply a personal decision that I made that would allow me to move faster in the way that I develop, engineer, and ship products. But again, this was a deeply personal project that had no intentions of being a publicly-used application at first. No one knew that I was working on it for 6 months (starting in September of 2012)! It was a “night and weekend” passion project that has grown into a little monster! In regards to making it OS in the future – I’m not sure yet. I can see the validity from both sides being experienced and a big part of open source for a very long time.
This brings us to a very interesting question – should the developer’s workflow be a factor in the licensing of his project? I guess this is a very personal decision. My hope is that John will opt for an open source license in the future and receive all the benefits of having contributors. You never know how many developers would be happy to submit bug fixes and new features to a worthy OS project, putting it much further down the road than one developer could ever go by himself.
Saddington hopes to reclaim lost freedoms for users in offering them a way to publish their photos to their own sites with full ownership. It’s a very special thing that he chose to use the WordPress platform to help people regain these freedoms.
However, WordPress wouldn’t be the fantastic application-building framework that it is today without its open source license. There’s no getting around that fact. Pressgram is entirely dependent on WordPress in order to deliver photos to the user’s home on the web. Is there any reason why Pressgram couldn’t benefit from those same open source principles that have made WordPress a resounding success?
These are interesting questions to consider. Congrats to Saddington and his team on launching the app today. Pressgram is an amazing example of how WordPress can be used to power a creative application with mass appeal. We’re likely to see many such apps in the future.