Photos + Hashtags = Swirl, the newest Betaworks studio project

By Erin Griffith , written on November 9, 2012

From The News Desk

Sometimes Betaworks invests in companies. Other times it builds them from scratch. It's latest new project, Swirl, is one of the latter. The company, started by Summer Bedard, launches today out of the Meatpacking district startup factory.

It's an image index. With hashtags. Check it out.

The idea is to pull images around a hashtag from Instagram and Twitter a la Instacane into a nicely organized index. (Here's the #sandy swirl.) Sets of publicly available photos are created automatically by hashtag. On the mobile app, it's social, so you get to see when several of your friends use a hashtag like #streetart. Or if you are Dennis Crowley and you tag your most gluttonous meals #fatdenny, you get this.

The probem Swirl solves isn't world-changing but it isn't completely frivolous, either. Plenty of apps are trying to do group photo sharing -- Pinweel, Everyme, Popset. As Betaworks pointed out on its company blog today, Swirl makes it easy by not requiring a person to create a set and invite friends, or by attempting to guess which photos are related and auto-creating sets.

Beyond that, Betaworks Entrepreneur-in-Residence Paul Murphy says the company's pretty visualizations are more than just that. "Swirl is definitely a commercial venture - we think there's tremendous value to be had in helping organize and discover social data, particularly photos," he wrote in an email.

Bedard hinted at the potential for brands. People tag images with their favorite brands, like, say, Nike, or Starbucks. "The unique thing about Swirl is that you will always be able to view the brand through the eyes of your friends," she says. Intrigiung, albeit a little abstract. I can't imagine seeking out a branded hashtag, but perhaps I'm more brand-averse than your average consumer. If you need me I'll be in a journey down the #pugstagram rabbit hole for the next couple of hours.