What’s the most important part of social networks? According to Noiselab‘s co-founder and Mexican digital pioneer, Hector Mijangos, the answer is simple: You.

This led his music holding to develop Avatr*, a social photography app that focuses on auto-portraits, and seems to have what it take to go viral. Since its soft launch on the iPhone last month, it has already been downloaded over 100,000 times, its team told us when we met in Mexico City last week.

To get started with Avatr*, all you have to do is to take a picture of yourself. While it may look vain on other platforms, one of Avatr*’s advantages is that it takes the embarrassment out of it, since its whole purpose is to share self-portraits.

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“One of the funny things about Avatr* is to see how our users are increasingly liberated. Many of them got started with a picture of their eye or another detail, but they are now taking full-blown pictures of themselves.”

You can make basic edits and add filters to your original picture thanks to Avatr*’s integration with Aviary’s API. Once your image is ready, you  can then share it with your online friends via Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. They will also view it within the app itself, where they will be able to like it and post comments.

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It’s important to note that one of Avatr*’s main purposes is to help you meet new people – its motto is “smile – share – like – meet – smile.” It doesn’t mean that it is a dating app, though the team doesn’t hide that it could be an interesting way to find love interests and hookups. Yet, very few inappropriate pictures have been posted so far, as most users seem to be betting on their looks and personalities to get noticed.

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“We are very impressed to see how some people managed to become attractive and somewhat famous by using the app. You get to see them in a different light,” Noiselab’s Hilda Arjona says.

As Mijangos points out, the app also makes it easy to filter annoying people. “If someone sends me direct messages via the app and I realize I’m not interested anymore, I can stop the conversation very easily, because they won’t have my number or be my friends on Facebook – all they know is my username.”

At the moment, 60% of Avatr*’s users are female, and the team is already noting differences in the way each gender uses the app. “Men tend to rate more often, while women post more pictures,” Mijangos says. “That’s one of the things we learned over the last few weeks – and we keep on learning. For instance, most pictures are posted in the morning, when users dress up before leaving their homes.”

“We also see trends come up – at one point, we were seeing a lot of mouth pictures, then eye pictures started to be the rage. It’s great to see our community take life.”

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Update your Twitter and Facebook avatars

Interestingly, you can also update your Twitter and Facebook avatars via the app and use your most ‘liked’ Avatr* as your profile picture on both platforms without going through their cumbersome process. Avatr*s core developer Huri Sosa is particularly proud of this seamless integration: “It took a bit of work, but we figured it out,” he says.

Other clever tricks include the app’s ability to always display your most liked picture as your current Avatr*. Overall, Avatr* is very well executed, with a simple and intuitive UI that makes the most of the iPhone’s navigation, and a handy tutorial to fall back on at any time if needed. In addition, the team is also working on an Android version – which its users have been asking for.

While Avatr* is Noiselab Apps’ first creation, its parent company isn’t a newcomer. As a matter of fact, it has built a strong following in Mexico’s music scene as an electronic and indie label, which has also been known for helping artists to develop their online presence early on. “We were big users of MySpace,” Mijangos says.

Interesting crowd

Even though Avatr* isn’t exactly a music app, Noiselab’s background has inspired some of its features and shaped its looks. For instance, the team spent time developing original ringtones, and plans to offer more custom options in the near future. While these ringtones and the app itself will remain free, Avatr*’s team has other monetization plans.

avatr mijangos 520x780 Photography app Avatr* makes self portraits social, updating your Twitter avatar instantly This is where Mijangos’ background in fashion design comes into play, as brands could be interested in using Avatr* as a promotion tool. For instance, a fashion label could organize a competition in which participants have to take a picture of themselves wearing a specific piece of clothing, Sosa explains.

The team’s connections have already helped bring an interesting crowd to Avatr* – and a global one:

“Our users are very diverse, despite the fact that we only grew by word of mouth. The US are the second largest country for us, followed by Canada, and Chile is the top South American country in our ranking,” Sosa says.

This is an encouraging sign for Avatr* and Noiselab, but also for the Mexican startup community as a whole. After all, why couldn’t Mexico create products that have a global appeal?

➤ Avatr*, via the App Store

Image credit: Jared Tarbell