EyeEm: Social Stock Photos to Take on Instagram

Six months ago, Instagram was valued at $1 Billion when they were bought out by Facebook, an amount thought absurd by most. Shortly thereafter came huge changes to their Terms of Service, explicitly stating that they could store and sell any photos uploaded to the site. Users were angry – and rightly so.

The online stock photography market is worth $5 billion each year – and commission photography worth $12 billion. So I guess you can see why Facebook and Instagram wanted to cash in, especially as neither had decent revenue streams. They’ve since changed their terms of service back, for the most part, but the reputation damage was already done.

Now, a new kid on the block is becoming more and more popular – EyeEm. It’s a German “visual search engine” and social network for photographs. The new contender is far from ready for prime-time, and is much smaller than the mighty dominant Facebook. But on the Internet, it’s users’ clicks that matter, and they’re flocking to the new service. Could it be the next Instagram?

Going Mobile

In order to use the service ,users need to have either an iPhone or Android device. Much like Instagram, you use your phone to take pictures, add filters, edit and upload. After this they’ll be live on your EyeEm profile and will appear in the timeline of people that follow you.

The Android Application

The Android Application

Basic features from the web service are also available in the mobile apps such as the trending albums and some account services. Although the mobile services are necessary for the service to operate they’re not at the heart of the operation. Really, the web app is where most of the community gather. It’s also where future business prospects for EyeEm lie.

Big Data means Big Business

Algorithms analyse the metadata in a photograph and make it available for appropriate search terms on the site. With that, once can find everything from the camera used to take the shot to the apps used to edit it to the flash mode used when taking the photo — along with location data and any notes one left on the photo.

Beautiful, simple visual search engine

Beautiful, simple visual search engine

EyeEm analyses every uploaded photo resulting in an extremely effective, and extremely visual, search engine. Although still in its infancy there is discussion of further enhancements to the algorithms to determine at what events photos are taken, presumably by reading banners, posters or street signs in the background. This is their main unique selling point over traditional photo sharing sites which often act as a dump for forgotten snaps.

EyeEm also automates much of the upload process by making use of data such as your location to suggest tags and categories for images.

Everyone Gets a “Fair Share”

Right now, if you share a photo on Instagram, it theoretically could be sold without your consent or any of the profits heading your way. Snaps of your Starbucks mug with a vintage filter aren’t exactly a scarce commodity, but many pictures of new events, sporting occasions, brands, concerts and so on are highly valuable to companies looking to boost their social media reach and to blogs, websites and other publications in need of high quality, cheap snaps. No one’s selling your Instagram shots yet, but there’s the possibility of it happening.

With EyeEm, they’re aiming to become the next ‘social’ stock photography company. They’ll rely on the activity of their community to upload snaps. Their intelligent search engine and algorithms can then get the photographs to customers looking to buy. When a transaction is complete both EyeEm and the uploader will get a cut.

All indications are that there service will be an ‘opt in’ one, requiring users to allow their photos to appear on a marketplace, which is yet to be launched.

It’s estimated that the time to kick in monetisation will be around the 25 million users mark. With a growth rate of 1 million users a month along with sporadic viral periods (often millions per day) it can’t be long until we begin to see this next-gen image marketplace go live.

The Website

For the end-user, EyeEm’s offering is extremely simplistic without a whole load of features. But then, that’s the point. Things are supposed to be visual.

Each user has a personal profile

Each user has a personal profile

Upon logging in, the default tab in operation is ‘Friends’. This brings up a timeline-esque ream of photographs recently uploaded by people who you’re friend with on the site. There are basic sharing and liking facilities for each photograph. Users also have profile pages.

Where EyeEm really comes into its own is under the ‘Popular’ and ‘Discover’ tabs. These look the same as the ‘Friends’ timeline layout but display photographs which are currently going viral on the site or are part of a larger collection.

The Discover tab groups photos under tags, hashtags and trending topics.

The Discover tab groups photos under tags, hashtags and trending topics.

The Discover tab will group photographs together under different keywords or hashtags in the same way Twitter groups together related tweets. This is great for browsing multiple photographs on one subject matter.

The popular tab draws on the more artistic side of the community with only the most popular photographs being displayed. These are almost always of a professional standard.


The idea for EyeEm was spawned in New York and executed in Berlin. It will face competition from the Silicon Valley as well as European competitors such as Finland’s Scoopshoot.

They insist that users will retain all rights to their images and they merely facilitate a direct transaction between users and purchasers.

I think this represents a clear step towards a more cooperative relationship between websites and their users. But will it be enough to thwart major US competitors with hundreds of millions of current users?


EyeEm is a Berlin based photosharing network that is growing at an alarming rate. The company uses complex algorithms to sort images shared by users into a visual search engine and real-time stream. Plans for the near future will enable users to sell their photographs and earn a cut of the proceeds.

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