Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on T Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on Twitter, Angel List, LinkedIn.
The growth of camera phones and apps have together changed the way many people eat, or at least prepare to dine. Though tweeting about food was the classic early criticism of Twitter — how many people started out complaining every tweet was about eating a sandwich? — food-related photos seem to account for a sizeable amount of content on Instagram and other photo sharing services.
Burpple is a newly launched iPhone app that is zoning in on this segment, catering specifically for food-snappers with a service that combines elements of Instagram, Path and Pinterest to showcase daily eats, connect people and discover new ideas.
The basic premise of the app sees user post photos of food which are categorized by boxes (which act like albums) to give some semblance of order to the culinary collections. Location (optional) and date is added to each photo to give it some context for other users, helping it to be discovered.
A particularly nifty feature of Burpple sees it ‘remember’ the time and place of photos that are added via the iOS camera album, thanks to a integration with the data stored on the device.
Snaps can also be added from inside the app, using its camera, and Burpple itself adopts a familiar layout which users of other camera apps will be comfortable with.
Users can follow other ‘Burpplers’, comment on pics that have been posted, share to Facebook and Twitter and ‘Reburp’ images that they like. While a Reburp sounds much like a Twitter retweet, it is actually works like repin on Pinterest, as it adds the image to the ReBurppler’s boxes – allowing content to be curated across the service.
The updates flow quickly and with plenty of detail so, after following a few active people, it is easy to become initially overwhelmed with the stream. That’s particularly true for users of Twitter that are used to brevity and short notes over screen-hogging photos and other multimedia.
Early signs of encouragement
Burpple launched May 9, having been in beta for two months, and already its three Singapore-based founders say it has been downloaded in more than 50 different countries worldwide.
Understandably reticent to provide raw user figures at this early stage, the trio behind the app told The Next Web that China, Japan, Singapore and the US are seeing the most usage, right now.
They also revealed a particular impressive stat that is testament to the stickiness of the early user experience.
“We’re seeing that [of the “thousands” of users] close to 50 percent of registered users are active daily users,” co-founder Dixon Chan told The Next Web.
A recent comparison that paralleled Burpple’s early growth, when it entered open beta, against that of Instagram, produced more favourable figures, putting early Burpple adopters on a par with those of the photo service that Facebook scooped up for $1 billion.
“We did a parallel study of our early progress compared to how Instagram first launched and we have the same ratio of users who uploaded more than 50 photos (35 percent), and the same number of people who published more than 10 (15 percent),” Chan said.
Even before the site offered sharing with Twitter and Facebook, demand was high, he added, suggesting that the company is tapping into a market with significant promise.
“We’re surprised that people were uploading hundreds and hundreds of photos [during the beta] without any formal integration with other sites.”
Conceived in the US, baked in Singapore
For the vast number of startups in Asia, a possible move to the US is often the dream to pursue, however, Burpple’s first conception is a notable switch on that paradigm. It’s three founders — Chan, Elisha Ong and Daniel Hum — are proud Singaporeans but their paths crossed, and the idea of Burpple came together, while they were in the US. In Silicon Valley, no less.
While Stateside, Chan worked for Gigya, where he rose to lead the business social media service’s ad operations. Ong also worked at a Valley startup as lead designer for mobile video site Qik.
Hum’s time in the US was spent a little differently as he had been studying at Purdue University, however an internship with Microsoft took him to the Redmond, Washington. His past is particularly interesting, and includes two years as an infantry specialist with the Singapore Armed Forces and he co-founded local daily deal aggregator dealzilla.sg.
They could have stayed in the US, as all three turned down offers of employment, but instead they choose to return home to Singapore with their idea, richer for the experience in the world’s tech capital.
“The valley is inspiring. We each had opportunity to travel and view the world, and that has given us a global mindset for Burpple from day one,” Ong said. “All three of us wanted to come back home. Singapore has a young and growing ecosystem and we were all keen to be part of the community,” he added.
Smartphone-based photography is hugely popular in Asia — to the point that many shops and restaurants set up ‘stages’ to encourage customers to snap away — and, combined with the region’s passion for food, the service certainly has many of the ingredients (!) to appeal to Southeast Asia and across the diverse Asian continent generally.
That’s a view that, understandably, Burpple’s founders share, saying that Asia has “lots of untapped potential” and plenty of mobile users to market apps to.
Already Burpple has enjoyed the backing of the Singapore Tourism Board for a campaign they started to help put ‘Kopi’, Singapore’s own brand of coffee, on the global map, after the organisation approached it to promote the coffee.
The founder’s estimate that the “How to Order Kopi like a Pro” infographic — which was also made in to t-shirts — reached more than 2 million viewers since its inception in November 2011.
The campaign has also generated interest in the service, thanks to the subtle but close branding the site has with the creative initiative.
Serving up a unique experience
Burpple isn’t the first dedicated food app but the founders do believe that it is offering something unique to the market with the app, which they say is inspired by Pinterest, Path’s user interface and the Instagram user experience.
With 3 million downloads to date, Foodspotting — which updated its iOS app last week — is probably the best known in the food app category, the Burpple trio argue, their app is complementary rather than a rival.
“We’re not really competing with it,” Chan says. “We’re focused on helping people to journal their food and share it with friends. It’s a different form of discovery to that which Foodspotting offers.”
The founders talk passionately about their belief that the app is about documenting users’ eats and love of food. However, they say, feedback from one user succinctly put their sentiments and beliefs to a neat phrase, which Ong shared on Quora:
Foodspotting is like my travel guide. And Burpple is my Moleskine for food.
While monetisation is not currently a focus at this stage, the team is developing its thoughts on how Burpple might generate income, in time, they explained.
Event-based tie-ups are one element under their early radar, following a successful pilot event that they undertook at Savour Singapore 2012, a gourmet cuisine event that got more than 12,000 attendees.
The app was soft launched in conjunction with the show and, the founders say, it accounted for more than half of all photos from the event shared that were shared to mobile social networks. The team is rightly encouraged by that and is looking into possibilities to build on that promise and help showcase events and get the app in the hands of food lovers.
Another, more obvious option is the involvement of restaurants and other food businesses. Already, Chan says, Burpple has seen restaurants jump onto the service to upload their menus to the app and share them visually with customers.
Given the use of location and the simplistic but effective organisation of boxes, it is easy to see how Burpple could appeal to the restaurant industry. An aesthetic, visually-pleasing menu, combined with discounts for followers or those close-by, could provide an interesting monetisation strategy, which would be beneficial to users.
For now, however, the team is working to optimise and enhance the service, specifically by building its user base and providing a quality service for foodies.
“We’re still careful in rolling out new features as we dont want to lose credibility with our users and are focused entirely on the experience of the app”, Hum said.
The Burpple guys are not drawn into specifics on what is in the pipeline but, they say, users can expect the service to centre around the social experience. Upcoming features will build on the journaling aspect, and add to the curative side of Burpple.
The team hints at greater integration with Twitter — perhaps including sign-in via the microblogging site — although Instagram-style filters are a difficult issue. They want content on the site to be as real as possible, which is absolutely understandable. Where’s the fun in turning every meal into a master piece by simply adding a filter.
However, I get the sense that a compromised, with less ‘Insta-looking good’ type filters, could be a possibility in due course.
A more certain addition is an Android app, given the popularity of devices built on the Google-owned platform – which accounted for 50 percent of new smartphones bought in Southeast Asia alone, last year.
Those aside, we’d like to see the search option enhanced to help us find more of the doubtless interesting content that lies in hiding on the service.
For now, searching bring up lists of recommended users, presumably based on the description of their images, but this seems like it is underserving the thousands of photos on Burpple.
While in-app search is considerably more of a challenge that the open web — due to screen size among other issues — it seems a shame that reburpped or commented photos aren’t prioritised based on keywords, location or a Like-style system.
Indeed, there is no clear tally to endorse a ‘Burp’ — in the same way Twitter has retweets number and Facebook has Likes — though we’re sure that a feature to help measure the popularity of updates will be introduced in time.
Overall, we’re certainly a fan of this app, if no reason other than the fact that it stops overly-spamming Instagram pals with ‘about to eat this’ snaps. So, if you’re someone with a penchant for food snaps, new apps or are looking to ease up on overly food-piccing other services, then Burpple is certainly worth a taste (yes, that’s the last food pun for now).
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