The Blipfoto Story
The original idea for Blipfoto was conceived by Joe Tree purely for his own use. It was born on October 21st, 2004, a humble beginning for a site that now has contributors from over 170 different countries. Joe set himself the challenge to take and share a photo every day of his life. He found the process to be captivating, as did the friends and family who tuned in every day to see his journal entry.
A few people began to ask if they could use his site in order to be able to post in a similar way. In July of 2006, with the help of a few colleagues, he opened up the website to other people, initially inviting 15 others to join in. Each person could set up a journal of their own, upload a single photograph each day, write some words and, perhaps most importantly, comment on each other’s entries. It was a very basic version of the site as we see it now, but all the key elements were there. It soon began to assume a life of its own, news spreading mostly by word of mouth. It struck a chord with people.
Blipfoto won a BAFTA Scotland for best website in 2009. At that time it was still not much more than a hobby for Joe and the few people he’d got involved, but following the success of that award the decision was made to pursue some funding so that the team could give up their day jobs and try to turn Blipfoto into a proper business. It was growing so fast there was really no alternative. Joe had a vision and huge ambition.
Investment came in, staff were recruited, and the next few years saw the site continue to grow in size, and also in features. The team were dedicated to a paid membership model that brought additional benefits in terms of function, but always with the option of a basic membership, which would be free. This allowed Blipfoto to be kept free of advertising, but also allowed the site to be as inclusive as possible. This has never changed.
Roll forward to 2014 and a developing frustration amongst blippers was the performance of the site, seemingly struggling with the number of users. The software, having grown organically over a long period, was no longer fit for purpose. It needed to be rebuilt from the bottom-up, to be able to utilise the latest storage and web technologies. It needed to be scaleable for the increasing numbers of users that investment demanded the site attract.
In December 2014, the new architecture and a whole new design of the interface was implemented, and this is the version we all use today. Although the look and feel of the updated site got a very mixed initial reaction, it has proved to be highly resilient and stable, the benefit of that far outweighing the loss of some of its much-loved original quirkiness.
At around the same time, Blipfoto licensed the Polaroid brand and became “Polaroid Blipfoto”. The team expected that adopting a universally well known name in the world of photography would drive growth in international markets, particularly in the United States. While some reports characterised it as a takeover, this was not the case. Blipfoto effectively paid Polaroid for the rights to use its brand.
Sadly, for whatever reason, all did not go to plan. The company failed to meet the targets that would trigger the further investment it required.
Blipfoto went into liquidation in March 2015. The community response was remarkable. After the initial shock there was a realisation that the site’s future lay with its members continuing to blip. The likelihood of a buyer being found was going to be damaged with every person who stopped posting. We rallied in response, sending out a clear message to any prospective new owner that we were worth their investment.
The liquidation of Blip may mean we live and Blip in uncertain times, but one thing's for sure; we're a vibrant, active community, full of stories and individuals with character and, above all, passion for our art.
We didn’t have to wait long before there was an announcement made on March 25th that buyers had indeed been found, in the shape of two American businessmen, Jeffrey Hecktman and Bobby Sager. They had become aware of Blipfoto as a result of being directors at Polaroid, but this venture was a personal one for them.
While the new owners explored business options, members continued to blip regularly, waiting patiently for news. By October 2015, those options had mostly been exhausted and, as a last resort to save the site, Joe was asked by Jeffrey and Bobby to quietly put out feelers to a few stalwart members, to see whether there was any appetite for a community buy out of the site. After some debate, there was sufficient enthusiasm for a small adhoc group of blippers to be formed to explore its feasibility. There were legal issues to consider, the very practical issues of people’s time and energy, and the fundamental question of whether the community would have the will and the means to raise sufficient cash.
Mostly by virtue of their enthusiasm and skillsets, four blippers were given a mandate to take things forward on behalf of that initial discussion group. Ian Stevenson (Cyclops), Graham Colling (Quod oculus meus videt), Annie Andrews (AnnieAndChris), and Bob Hamilton (Earthdreamery, Face by Face) drew up a plan to save Blipfoto by acquiring it on behalf of its members.
A crowdfunding platform was chosen, a promotional video made, and the campaign was officially launched on December 4th 2015. The hearts and minds of the community were soon won over. There were many difficulties that had to be overcome along the way but sufficient funds were eventually raised to conclude a negotiation.
With the support of over a thousand of our members, on February 18th 2016, Blipfuture CIC became the new owner of the Blipfoto site, meaning that it is now owned by all of us, the community.
The negotiations are complete, the papers are signed, and the deal is done. Blipfuture CIC are now the new owners of the Blipfoto site – which means you, the community, are the new owners. Congratulations!
The first year of community ownership was very much one of stabilisation and working towards the relaunch of subscriptions - the vital revenue stream that went missing during the rebranding and change of ownership. A consultation exercise was undertaken to determine the community’s preferred structure for the new membership scheme. It was agreed that there should be just a single level of paid subscription, providing access to a number of added benefits and features, as detailed here. A consensus also emerged that the basic free membership should be retained to enable the site to remain as inclusive as possible.
The new membership scheme was launched in October 2016 and was enthusiastically embraced by the majority of active users on the site. The first annual report released in February 2017 shows that Blipfoto is now in a healthy position and ready to move forward with new ideas.
The first initiative has been the appointment of Michele Egan (Alsacienne) as Community Coordinator, tasked with finding ways of joining people up within the Blipfoto community, to share experiences and expertise, and to generally help make the site an even more vibrant place than it already is. The Blip Community Blog was launched in March 2017. The future for Blipfoto is set to be very exciting indeed.
Roll of Honour
A debt is owed to everyone who got involved and contributed energy or hard cash to the crowdfunding effort that brought Blipfoto into community ownership, but it would be right to acknowledge the particularly important contribution made by certain individuals. Their passion, expertise, and generosity was hugely appreciated and they are honoured here as an important part of the story of Blipfoto. Very special thanks are therefore due to ...
Chris O’Sullivan (acronymphomania)
Fergus Murray (FergusAtTuscany)
Giacomo Daquila (The Lighted Life)
Graham Bradley (gbradley)
John Dodds (Scenes from everyday life)
Paul Senior (Still Here!)
Rose Akeroyd (Hildasrose)
Ruth Stevenson (Mrs Cyclops)
Sarah Kirk (sk)
Zoe Wittering (zoe wittering)
There are others who took part in our early discussions who would have liked to have been more closely involved, as well as many more members of the community who offered their services along the way, but it’s not possible to mention everyone here. This roll call should properly include the whole membership that got involved, and almost everyone did in some way.