For critics of the “selfie” phenomenon, the increasingly popular photo-sharing network Frontback is either a small sign of progress or further proof of the decline of our civilization.
The concept: every final exposure is two pictures. The top half is what your phone’s outward-facing camera sees—a landscape, a friend, or, this being the Internet, your cat. The bottom half is generated by the phone’s inward-facing camera, which, of course, is probably aimed at your face.
Thus, as Frontback founder and CEO Frederic della Faille puts it, “My face is the caption of the photo.”
Indeed, the fun of Frontback lies in its potential to elevate the art of the selfie, achieving a juxtaposition of self and surroundings—a beautiful meal and a sweaty chef, say, or a pristine hiking trail and a red-faced hiker. Based on the growing number of users, the increased investment in the company and a recent acquisition offer, Frontback is at a crucial moment of growth and popularity.
The app, which launched in July, has been downloaded 350,000 times, and has grown some 15 percent this month alone. (For comparison, Instagram, the most dominant photo-sharing application, had some 30 million users when Facebook purchased it for $1 billion last year.) Still, Frontback is expanding, recently raising $3 million in new funding and rejected a buyout offer from Twitter, according to Techcrunch.
Spurning a sale and forging ahead into a saturated social-media landscape certainly carries risk. Frontback’s own sharing mechanisms illustrate the crowded marketplace: after taking your photo and your selfie, and creating a composite, Frontback offers to help you share it on Facebook…or Twitter…or Instagram…or Tumblr. Frontback needs to offer a product that’s compelling enough to keep users opening its app in addition to the mainstream social streams. And there are certainly competitors in the photo-sharing space, like Snapchat, the disappearing-photo app that serves 400 million messages a day and itself just turned down a reported $3 billion from Facebook to go it alone. Even Bieber is getting in on a photo-sharing network dedicated solely to selfies.
Della Faille, a youthful-looking 38-year-old Belgian entrepreneur with a digital marketing background, says he doesn’t expect anyone to switch over to Frontback to the exclusion of other networks. Instead, he’s focusing on the novelties his app has to offer. And Frontback is charmingly unique. (If endorsements sway you, you might be interested to know that Ashton Kutcher, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and the prime minister of Belgium are all regular users.)
For one thing, the app is inherently more personal than Instagram—it’s designed to include your face in the shot. That’s appealing to a user base that made “selfie” into the word of the year. Nor do Instagram or Facebook offer any native tools for making photo composites, which is the essential feature of Frontback. “It’s not Snapchat, where you look stupid because it’s super instant,” della Faille says. “First you take the first photo, and then you frame the second photo based on the first one. You stage the final version. The process of creation is much more interesting when you can stage both photos.”
Taking both the outward- and inward-facing shots at the same time isn’t technically possible on iPhones, though della Faille says that could be a feature on the new Samsung phone.
No one could pitch the personal aspect of Frontback better than della Faille, who is omnipresent on the app—during our early morning interview, he posted a photo of his cup of coffee and his forehead. Looking through his own feed, he says, acts as a virtual timeline of the app’s rapid rise; there are pictures of him meeting with the investors, making speeches, setting up the San Francisco offices. “All the most important moments of the Frontback adventure are posted on Frontback,” he says.
There are also some minor moments captured, including della Faille smiling into this bathroom mirror with a caption that says “good night.” And eating french fries at Umami Burger.
“I don’t have a private life,” he says. “I don’t share everything, but I’m OK sharing all that.”