Phlow's co-founder
Rebecca Wayman

Could this new photography app change the future of photo-sharing?

Meet photographer and entrepreneur, Carlo Nicora, who intends to shake up social media and change the way we share our photos.

When it comes to photography apps these days, the list is virtually endless. From editing, pinning and sharing, anyone has access to photography in some way from their smartphone… So, how do you stand out in such a competitive market?

Let’s introduce Phlow, a free photography platform co-founded by Carlo Nicora, who’s trying to do just that and crack the industry one ‘hobby’ or ‘interest’ at a time.

You see, Phlow doesn’t count followers - the app doesn’t care if people have a million or one little devotee - and it certainly doesn’t track comments or ‘likes’. It is simply interested in its users and what they want to see.

Carlo, 40, is a photographer and entrepreneur, who co-founded the startup and app with his business partner, Alexander Szewald, 45, in September 2015. The platform allows users to share and view their favourite images by downloading the app via iOS or Android.

It does sound very similar to Instagram or Flickr, but Phlow’s concept is different - instead of following users, you instead follow themes you’re interested in, meaning you see content you want and not what your ‘friend’ has posted.

Although Phlow was set up in London, the startup’s team is all over the world. As I speak to Carlo, he’s writing from his native country, Italy, where Phlow is expected to have a future base. Carlo moved to London in 2006 and that’s where his passion for photography began.

Like most photographers, he began it as a hobby, taking photos of London’s vibrant streets and its eclectic mix of residents, capturing the ‘candid’ gaze of a passer-by - he nailed it before Instagram was even born. Soon, this turned into a career; a completely different life for an IT graduate of 1996.

The idea sprung to mind after Carlo experienced a lot of issues with social media; he found he was unable to market his photography and garner a suitable audience that would be interested in his style. Carlo says: “After a short span in fashion [photography], I discovered my niche: boudoir photography.

“Together with my wife, Fabiana, I launched a boutique studio… I grew not only as a photographer but as a business person.” Then, with Phlow, he was able to target his photography at people who like that specific subject - and now wants photographers all over the world to do the same.

But he wants to do this without the help of social media, which he seems to think is a curse more than a blessing and in some way, it’s true. Social media is that person you love to hate. The celebrity who supposedly has it all, you’re not really sure why you want to be like them…

Carlo almost describes social media as an online popularity contest, where those with more followers - or simply because of who they are - gain better ratings and ‘likes’. Alexander, Phlow’s co-founder, echoes Carlo’s thoughts.

Alexander would look for ways to find “visual enjoyment” in the images he followed, but never received it as it was always what his ‘friends’ posted and not what he was interested in. So, with Carlo’s IT experience and a little self-funding, together they decided to set up Phlow.

Still think this sounds far too similar to the social media you know and love (or loathe)? Carlo is here to convince us it’s something more: “You don’t follow people, you follow themes. We aim to bring relevance back to photos, not the social networkers [who post them].

“You’re not dictated by social circles or norms; if you don’t know the person who took the image, your reaction to it is more authentic.”

The business partners plan to fund the app through advertisements after opening a small private fund at the beginning of the year, focusing on providing relevant content for their users, with the goal to “show things that won’t ruin their visual and emotional experience.”

However, for Phlow, this won’t be the only source of revenue; Carlo hopes his users’ photographs will be promoted and licensed, although he says his brand will not become a photo stock agency. Clients will be able to view these photos for inspiration and enjoyment, but not save them as their own.

This is where the idea of avoiding “seeing the same image twice to give users a fresh experience” comes to mind. With Phlow, users will only be able to see an image once - unless they save it to a feature on the app called ‘Magazine’, which acts like a virtual moodboard, or what Carlo describes as a “collection of images….

“It’s different [things], a flexible idea. For photographers, it’s a great way of sharing a moodboard. For others, it’s a way of curating a trend. For me, it’s about publishing photos in an editorial style, to tell a story.”

Of course, getting to this stage has had its challenges in such a competitive industry of startup apps.

He agrees: “We took some wrong steps in the beginning, which we are now over. People are usually sceptical about new photo-sharing apps [but] we’re showing we can deliver something more - images they love without the noise social media brings to our phones.

“We are getting an amazing response from young photographers. Students and professionals of tomorrow grasp the idea behind Phlow better than anyone else. They’re [also] facing the reality of social media marketing and its limitations. They understand Phlow can provide a wider audience for their images.”

Still not convinced? Let’s just say that by removing the social interactions we receive and often judge ourselves on, we focus on the quality of the photographs instead, which Carlo agrees “is healthy for every user… Phlow bases its communities on shared passions.”

So by changing one simple element of ‘who’ you follow to ‘what’ you follow, the experience is something a lot more personal and, in some way, positive for each individual user.

Carlo knows there is a long way to go still; like anyone in tech, you have to be one step ahead or keep your competitors on their toes: “It is difficult to predict what trends will be here in five years… [We think] portability is the name of the game - we’re available on the web and mobile. We will keep ease of accessibility as a goal for the future.”

The only way that Phlow could ever be compared to social media is its use of analytics to see how well your photos are doing: “Phlow is a behavioural-based platform. The more we share the insights on our photographs, the more photographers can grow. The more photographers grow, the better photos they produce.”

Living in London has been a huge help for Carlo; without the city he wouldn’t have found Phlow’s co-founder and events to market their creation: “Phlow was officially launched at The Photography Show [at the NEC, Birmingham]. The plan is to host and participate in many events this autumn.

“The goal, more than pushing an app, is to help photographers get better at what they do and Phlow can help them.”

Of course, we couldn’t leave without asking about Phlow’s name: “My wife told us that she liked how the images were ‘flowing’ [on the app]. She said, why don’t you call it ‘Flow’, or even better ‘Phlow’ - as it’s all to do with photography!”

So it is possible that Phlow could become the great escape for photographers around the world to engage with one another and share their subjects with an audience that’s interested. What do you think?

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