VSCO is growing into a legit social network for photographers
Four years after the dawn of the VSCO Girl, VSCO wants you to know that it’s very much alive. Photographers and other aesthetically-inclined creators still flock to the app’s suite of tools, which imbue the editing process with joy while still providing the creative control that visual artists value.
If you wouldn’t be caught dead using Mayfair, you’re probably already familiar with VSCO’s vast palette of lush, film-inspired filters. That deep collection of photo filters coupled with the app’s serene, vibes-above-all design make it a natural digital studio space for creators who still care a lot about the look and feel of what they post.
“They can be authentic, they can explore their creativity; increasingly, they can connect with others and build community around that and really pursue whatever goals and aspirations they have,” VSCO President Eric Wittman told TechCrunch.
As social media trends toward the casual and chaotic, VSCO warriors everywhere are still meticulously white balancing and A/B testing images, matching tone and vibes alike before a single photo gets minted onto their Instagram feed.
And while VSCO’s photo editing DNA runs deep, the app has learned a lot about its community over the years, including that users are increasingly looking for connections rather than just hunkering down in their respective editing silos (though they’re definitely still doing that too).
“A lot of people come because, you know, they love VSCO for the filters,” Wittman said. “They love the looks that we have delivered, they love the high quality content that they see… What we’re finding though, is that a lot of people were sort of meeting new people or being inspired by other people on VSCO, but then they didn’t really have a way to interact with them.”
VSCO made a plan to capture some of that emergent behavior and last year launched Spaces — collaborative galleries where photographers can upload images around a theme and chat about their process (“under the rim,” an artful collection of basketball shots, is one of the most popular). By normal social media standards, VSCO is still downright anti-social — chat features are very limited and blissfully don’t incentivize engagement — but the app plans to slowly, deliberately weave in more ways for its creators to connect with one another.
“We still want to be that trusted place, you know,” Wittman said. “This is why we still don’t do likes and comments. People walk into VSCO… like, wow, I can be myself here. I can learn from others. I can be inspired by others. And I’m not judged.”
With a set of new features that will roll out in mid-March, the app is expanding those early social features.
VSCO will make it possible for users to share text-based posts in Spaces, a rare departure from VSCO’s laser-focus on visual art. The app will also begin letting users message one another regardless of follow status. Paid subscribers (VSCO is $7.99 monthly or $29.99 yearly) will get unlimited messages while free users can strike up three new conversations per day with people who don’t follow them. Continuing conversations and replies won’t be limited.
The app will also make it easier for Spaces users to share what happens there beyond VSCO’s very low-walled garden with new 9×16 auto-generated images, optimized for Instagram Stories and the like. Users will be able to fully preview Spaces before joining them in order to get a feel for those communities without having to join and unjoin if the fit isn’t there.
Some other changes are mostly quality of life improvements, like batch uploads for Spaces and a draft save feature for Collage and Montage, VSCO’s tools for layering images and stitching photos and videos together. The app will also launch eight new filters designed for creators who focus on video (while VSCO mostly caters to photographers, it doesn’t leave folks who enjoy video out in the cold either).
Most social apps are all about blocking off the exits and keeping people listlessly scrolling around for as long as possible, but VSCO encourages its users to post widely beyond the app. It’s ironic that VSCO — one of Instagram’s main staging grounds — has long exuded the rare confidence of a product that people are happy to pay for. The company’s ethos, reflected thoughtfully at every level of the app’s design, shares little in common with the behavioral tricks and ad-choked feeds that characterize long-dominant social apps.
With upcoming investments into cross-platform support, social features and, of course, its core creation tools, VSCO plans to give creators more to do on an app they already love to use.
“We were seeing people go to other platforms and kind of get blinded by the light there — you know, algorithms and ads,” Wittman said. “But we want to encourage people to actually stay on platform now and continue to engage with those people that you’re inspired by, that you’re curious to learn from [and] build that really true sense of community.”