The Glass Photo-Sharing App Eschews Advertising for Community

Co-founder Tom Watson explains how this image-sharing platform differs from others

For years, social media platforms have become increasingly centered around algorithms, advertisements and distracting features rather than the celebration and enjoyment of content in its purest form. This is not the case on Glass. Launched in August of this year, Glass is a subscription-based photo-sharing app—co-founded by Tom Watson and Stefan Borsje—where amateur and expert photographers can share and explore images as part of a likeminded community.

Because of its subscription structure (priced at $4.99 a month or $29.99 per year), the app solely needs to keep users happy to remain in business. It’s a photo-sharing network for photographers, by photographers, and is uninhibited by the conflicting interests of advertisers, VCs or growth-hackers. The community guidelines are clear and transparent and photos—rather than profiles, social media influence or number of likes—take centerstage. Each image’s EXIF data is displayed to make it easy for artists to analyze work, and the extent of social interaction at this point is the ability to follow different artists and comment on images.

We spoke with Watson on elevating approaches to social media, cultivating an online photography community, and what the future holds for an app like Glass.

Courtesy of Glass

What prompted you to start Glass?

My co-founder Stefan and I missed having a spot on the internet for our photography. It’s clear that the other services were focused on monetization, ads and engagement. We didn’t want a network that was made to be leveraged. We wanted a community built intentionally to foster creativity and love for photography.

So when we started Glass, we made a few key decisions as guiding principles to help us get to that. We didn’t take any outside funding, because VC’s goals are antithetical to an intentional community. We built in safety features like blocking, reporting and a code of conduct from the start. We’d be member-supported with no ads. We’d forego public counts. We’re only a few weeks since launch, but we’re already thrilled with what we’re seeing.

How have the first few weeks been going?

Equal parts incredible and exhausting. We were blown away by the response to the launch. We privately hoped for a couple hundred sign-ups in the first 24 hours. We blew by that in a couple of hours. It didn’t slow down until… Well, it hasn’t.

While the simplicity of Glass is truly welcomed these days, how are you thinking about scaling it as you gain many more users sharing more photos?

We’re excited for our upcoming improvements to Discovery on Glass. We’ll be launching Categories, which allows photographers to add categories to their posts. It’ll make discovering work you’re excited about significantly faster and easier.

We have more ideas around scaling our community that we’re not quite ready to share, but we can say that our focus is going to be on helping people find a place they can grow as an artist.

Courtesy of Glass

Looking at user feedback and feature requests, there seems to be a bit of a divide between requests for more “typical” social media features and a more refined approach like you’re taking now. How do you anticipate navigating this?

We’re comfortable with saying no. Most typical social media features are just dopamine farms, crafting an addiction for you so advertisers can monetize that. Which isn’t to say that some traditional social media features won’t make their way into Glass. But they’re going to look different than we’ve seen before. For example, if you remove the dopamine farming from a like button, what purpose does it really serve? How can we make that look different and more meaningful?

Also, as a bootstrapped company with limited resources, we’ve already become excellent at ruthlessly prioritizing features.

It feels wonderful to see photographers growing and fostering a sense of togetherness instead of competition

Right now the community is sharing really high-quality photography. How do you hope to maintain this elevated level of content and participation?

We don’t want the professional to intimidate amateurs from joining—so much great work is coming from all levels right now. Because our community is focused on sharing knowledge, even the less-than-incredible photographers on Glass will improve over time. We’re already seeing members inspired to buy their first real camera or to start taking photo walks again or to learn more about editing and color theory. It feels wonderful to see photographers growing and fostering a sense of togetherness instead of competition.

Hero image by Josh Rubin