Poparazzi Is the Hot New App. Here’s How It Could Cool Down

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Yinchen Niu/Variety Intelligence Platform

Pop or flop? 

That’s the question on the minds of those keeping a close watch on the tech space, which has seen the quick and seemingly out-of-the-blue rise of a new photo-sharing app called Poparazzi over the past week. 

Poparazzi, founded by Alex and Austen Ma, debuted on Monday and has ranked as the App Store’s no. 1 overall and photo/video app in the U.S. every day since, Apptopia data shows.  

The app’s impressively quick rise to the top caught the attention of VCs including SignalFire’s Josh Constine, one of the first to cover the app days ago, and Pace Capital’s Chris Paik, who predicted it would help “define Summer ’21.” 

And just yesterday, a mere three days after debuting, Eric Newcomer reported that Poparazzi had secured an eight-figure investment round led by VC firm Benchmark, which made early bets on Uber and Snapchat. The investment could value Poparazzi at as much as $135 million, per Forbes.  

Poparazzi’s unique premise is helping to drive the intrigue. The app is all about taking pictures of other people — its camera function can’t be flipped to be front-facing, and you can only populate your profile with pictures others have taken or uploaded of you (and users can curate which photos appear on their profile).  

As the company said in its launch-day statement, “On Poparazzi, you are your friend’s paparazzi, and they are yours.” The purpose is to create a depressurized social media environment and encourage content that’s less manicured than what might typically be found on something like Instagram.  

The app feels gamified as well. You’re given a “pop score” based on the photos you take with or upload to the app. Follower counts are not displayed on user profiles, but the number of views a user’s “pops” have are. Photos on Poparazzi can’t be commented on or liked, but they can be reacted to with emojis, the counts of which are displayed under photos. 

This playful approach to the social media game is likely to catch the attention of some consumers who feel like platforms with public like, follower or friend counts are too stale or inauthentic.  

The app fits in with the wave of newer social platforms, including TikTok and Clubhouse, which encourage more casual and off-the-cuff content than something like Instagram.  

Poparazzi is also launching at a great time — much of the country will presumably be open in a few months with little restrictions, which will put many consumers back in the position of acting as part of their friends’ paparazzi.  

But despite the app’s momentum and fresh angle, its rise to bonafide Snapchat/Instagram challenger seems far from certain. Note that the app’s rise to the top of the App Store charts didn’t just happen organically. Poparazzi was promoted on TikTok videos to create a user waiting list prior to launch. 

And if you give the app permission to access your contacts, Poparazzi auto-follows everyone from your contacts who is on the platform, which is not ideal.  

Meanwhile, the app’s core functionality hardly seems like something that can’t easily be copied by existing social competitors. I recently argued that being copied by bigger platforms doesn’t automatically lead to obsoletion, but I also argued similar features on different platforms can remain compelling to one user only if the content being posted via those similar features is different. 

In the case of Poparazzi, the featured photos from beta do tend to be different (more candid) from what you might find on an Instagram feed post, but you might still find this type of Poparazzi-esque content on someone’s Instagram Stories.  

If Instagram were to, say, feature Stories in which users are tagged on a new prominent section of the app, the Facebook-owned platform could spawn more casual photo posts of users’ friends and have its own Poparazzi-like environment. That could seriously hobble Poparazzi’s growth.  

And some users curious about the Poparazzi hype may not buy into the app’s altruistic ethos after getting to know it. For one, view and reaction counts on Poparazzi photos can still probably contribute to a pressurized environment, despite the app being built to “take the pressure away from being perfect.” 

Additionally, even though Poparazzi is about having casual pictures from others populate your profile, who’s to stop someone from directing the way a friend takes a Poparazzi photo of them or sending a picture of themselves to a friend to upload on Poparazzi? Doesn’t that suggest very manicured photos you might expect to find on an Instagram feed post might still make their way to Poparazzi? 

Integrating big celebrities and brands onto Poparazzi, in the way the app intends for users to post photos, also seems tricky. Again, who’s to stop these groups, which would surely bring waves of new users to the app, from having others just post very airbrushed and polished photos of them to the app? 

Having very calculated photos on Poparazzi isn’t the end of the world, but it takes away from the fun of the platform and makes it feel more like the photo-sharing apps with which we are already familiar. 

And that’s why currently the app feels vulnerable to copycat attempts or having some users eventually flee because they feel it remains somewhat of a competitive social media environment. 

It’s still early days for Poparazzi, so there could very well be changes made (like preventing the uploads of pictures and removing view counts) to give the platform a better shot at longevity. Some of the funds Poparazzi has raised could even go toward hiring engineers who’ve worked at big social media companies and learned from the mistakes they’ve made. 

But if the app remains as is, it doesn’t seem crazy to think we might eventually be looking back on Poparazzi as an HQ Trivia-like story rather than a TikTok-like triumph.