Not everyone believes the consumer Web is over -- Meet Backspaces

By Erin Griffith , written on December 26, 2012

From The News Desk

Silicon Valley and the investors that fuel its growth have cooled to the consumer Web -- they're now gaga over enterprise. That's stopped a whole class of consumer-facing startups dead in their tracks, and caused others to pivot into an agency model or shift their focus to endeavors that, you know, actually make money.

But there's also a small class of startups that remain stubbornly bullish on the consumer Web. They include Backspaces, a photo sharing app that's designed to tell stories with photos and words.

The company launched a few weeks ago and was immediately featured in the App store. The idea is that storytelling and sharing should go beyond the basics made available by Instagram and Tumblr. Backspaces allows users to cluster multiple photos together with text to tell a fuller story. "We think people want to share not just photos but stories," founder Adrian Sanders says.

Still, it's tough out there for a brand new consumer app. The company's initial run of meetings with investors didn't go anywhere. They all said the same thing: "Consumers are burnt out on photo-sharing apps."

That hasn't deterred Sanders from pushing ahead with his vision. "If consumer is over," he says, "does that mean we're done trying new experiences on the Internet?

His answer is an obvious "no." He believes Backspaces is the first app that's focused on mobile sharing that goes beyond photos, which are just the beginning of an emergent visual language. The biggest takeaway he says he's gleaned from the recent backlash to consumer Web is that consumer is no cakewalk.

"Just like enterprise, consumer is a difficult place to compete," he says. But he's excited about the oncoming "winter of consumer apps," because those that aren't truly passionate about it will fade away. "A lot of people (building apps) are not necessarily obsessed with the specific value they're trying to bring," he says.

The company, like Flickr and a a few others, has benefitted from Instagram's Terms of Service scare last week. One user from the tattoo artist community alone drove 5,000 new users on the day of the news. Presumably most of those who threatened to leave have now returned to Instagram after Kevin Systrom came out and took it all back. Instagram will not sell users' photos without their consent; that that didn't stop this one totally reasonable person who filed a class action lawsuit Monday.

Still, the whole debacle introduced a spate of new users to Backspaces. The company's user base has grown 1,666 percent in the past week. Mark Hoppus from Blink182 is now using Backspaces, so there's that, too.

Several investors who passed on the company earlier this year have expressed renewed interest, too.

The company is positioning itself as pro-user in the way so many consumer apps do...until they have to make money, that is. But Sanders has an answer for that question, too: He's taking a YouTube approach. Any user-generated content must ensure that the users, aka content generators, get an equal or better value from sharing on the platform. "It's not rocket science, but it does take some empathy and a long term vision and belief in what you're building," he says. If he can hold onto that vision long enough, Backspaces might just prove that the consumer Web still has a few hits left in it.