With the rise of photo sharing services like Instagram, countless startups have tried to create the perfect “group photo sharing” app. And while I absolutely hate nearly every app that fits this category, idealistically speaking, there are plenty of reasons to keep an eye on this space.

Allowing anyone to easily create shared photo albums around events has value, as it helps friends connect and stay connected. In addition, if you’ve ever found yourself looking back on a memorable night, which all of us do, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to quickly bring together your friends’ related photos for instant reflection?

Unfortunately, in the real world there are seemingly hundreds of group photo sharing apps in existence, and every single one I’ve tried falls terribly short. Unfazed by competition in a struggling space, Betaworks (the company that relaunched Digg) has decided to launch Swirl in an effort to create something different.

Simplicity

In its essence, Swirl creates photo albums from social networks — right now through Twitter and Instagram — by indexing those you follow and uniting events via the ever-familiar hashtag. As you and your friends tag photos, they’re gathered into sets (dubbed ‘swirls’ by Betaworks), which are automatically ready for viewing when you open up the app. No asking friends to sign up.

Screen Shot 2012 11 09 at 11.58.14 AM 520x457 Betaworks launches Swirl: A group photo sharing app that wont make your eyes bleed

Out of my many nit-picks, one of the greatest problems with many of Swirl’s competitors is that their apps tend to become bloated, replicating features that other services do better — like filters. With Swirl, there isn’t even a camera and thus no behavioral change. Keep using Instagram and Twitter, and if you want to create a set swirl with friends, tell them to use a specific hashtag. For many of my friends, they do that already (e.g.: #Sandy or #newyears2011)

Of course, other services like Jux (which I worked for in the past), have long been able to pull in photos through hashtags, but Swirl is a different use case focused on bringing together photos from friends.

With rather simplistic features, execution is what really matters for Swirl and I’m excited by how close they’ve come to a solution. Check out Swirl, and let us know what you think.

➤ Swirl for iOS (free)