this is aaronland

because ephemera are just memories that didn't try hard enough

oh yeah, that

One thousand five hundred and ninety days.

That's how long it took to work up the stamina to build something that looks more like a photo-sharing website than not. It is probably not the photo-sharing website that most people want. It might be the photo-sharing website that some people didn't know they wanted. All I know anymore is no one is building the photo-sharing website that I want to use.

Which is kind of annoying because I am trying to re-open a goddamn museum and I don't really have time to (re) build the photo-sharing website that I thought we'd already built once before. Despite what people will have you believe these days photo-sharing never stopped being a hard problem. So I haven't built that.

Instead I've built the thing that Matthew Rothenberg and I joked about making while we stood around with a bunch of people last fall trying to decide where to go eat. We described it as TimeHop for SnapChat. It's an application that lets you upload photos but which then prevents you from seeing them for a year.

Here is the text from the site's About page.

oh yeah, that allows you to upload and store photos but with a twist: You can't see or share any of those photos for a year.

Once a year has passed you'll be sent an email with a link to that photo. By default all photos remain private to you but once it becomes viewable you can make the photo public and share it as you please. The photos you upload can be deleted at any time regardless of whether they've been made public yet.

You can always see a list of all the photos you've uploaded organized by date and including a swatch containing the primary colour for each photo.

oh yeah, that does not have "friends" or "followers". It is deliberately simple-minded that way. There are only public and private photos but you will be able to create something that looks and feels like a guest-pass for sharing photos that would otherwise remain private with a fixed set of people.

It's a pretty silly idea on the surface but I think that the success of applications like TimeHop or PhotoJojo's Photo Time Capsule demonstrate that people value having the past gently nudge its way back in to the present, like an unexpected postcard from a friend. When you are that same friend knowing that you are writing to your future-self it feels like there is the possibility to extend an otherwise tiny surface area of interaction far beyond its immediate borders simply by the nature of its constraints.

When I look at tools like SnapChat I see the same basic phenomenon, just sped up. I also see people reacting against the tyranny of experience that too-often seems to define applications these days.

The belief that a tool needs to be greedier and greedier of a person's time and attention in order to... well, that's the question I suppose. The net result are tools that, whatever the motive or lack thereof, feel like their sole aim is to become the activity rather than complementing the things people are already doing.

When you look at things this way it's easy to understand the popularity around the idea of ephemerality or applications whose demands on your attention are designed to self-destruct. It is worth noting that the SnapChat kids are able to articulate a rhetoric around an idea of emphemerality that is at least a compelling argument and not the usual breathless buzzword bingo about the attention economy or disrupting the memory paradigm.

We also know that if people to do anything — and I mean anything, no matter how trivial it seems in the moment — for a sustained amount of time they will want a record, a proof, of that activity. Which is why I am fond of saying that ephemera are just memories that didn't try hard enough.

How much does it cost?

Currently oh yeah, that is free to use. In the future there might be a small one-time or annual fee to use the site (something along the lines of what does) but nothing has been decided yet.

How do I upload photos?

Photos are uploaded via the website. On a desktop computer that means uploading photos that you've already taken. On most new-ish phones these days the browser's file upload button will allow users to either choose an image from their photo album or access the phone's camera directly.

How many photos can I upload?

You can upload up to 10 photos per day. That may change for paid and unpaid acccounts. I haven't decided.

How big can my photos be?

Currently uploads are capped at 5MB per photo.

Do you keep my original photos?

No. Photos are scaled down to a maximum 1024 pixels on either dimension before they are saved. Your original photos are not kept after they've been resized.

Can I export my photos?

Yes. You can export all the metadata for your photos as a CSV file. The CSV file will contain URLs for individual photo that have become "viewable" at the time of the export.

Why can't I see a photo until a year after it's been uploaded?

Because those are the rules.

How will I know when a photo becomes viewable after a year?

You will be sent an email containing a link to the photo. The photo will also become "viewable" on the website.

Will anyone be able to see a photo once it becomes viewable?

No. By default all photos are private and only viewable by the person who uploads them. Once a photo becomes viewable you may make a photo publicly viewable but that's really up to you.

How can I share a photo once it's become public?

That sort of sharing is left to the discretion of individual users using the tools of their choosing (email, Twitter, whatever). Features to help accomodate those services will be considered on a case by case basis but the basic unit of "currency" when it comes to sharing things is a link.

Can I add someone as a contact on the site?


Can you geotag photos?

Not yet. Maybe. It gets complicated fast.

Is there an API?

Yes. It's not available yet for general use but it is the same API that the site uses already and will be made public shortly.

Is there a native mobile app?

No. There might be at some point (for example once the API is made public) but until then the site itself should be perfectly useable on a modern-ish mobile web browser.

Can I invite someone I know to use the site?

Not yet, but eventually yes.

Are there specific terms of service?

Yes, and you should make sure to read them.

Who made this?

Aaron Straup Cope.


Like many things it started out a joke; a scenario for an absurb service. Like many things that start out as jokes it started to seem like more and more of an interesting idea. It's a service that I think I'd like to use so I built it to find out.

The site is live but I'm not giving out the URL or accepting general sign ups yet. I've invited a handful of people to try it out and help me understand what works and what doesn't. This is actually a service that I could imagine running for strangers, so to speak, but since the bulk of my time is occupied with other things I'm going to take it slowly.

In the meantime the name itself may change as I put off registering long enough that it's owned by a domain squatter now and I can't be bothered to find out what it would cost to buy it from them.

There is at least a year until some of the questions the site raises become germane which kind of nice.

During that time maybe someone else will build their own version and welcome all the users with open arms and reap all the glory and rewards and that's okay. Right now, I am more interested in building the thing that I want first and second thinking about ways that it can still be sustainable long enough that people can warm up to the idea over time. Dealing with the hockey stick growth problem is genuinely fun and exciting but most things, many of them really good things, will never have that problem and that shouldn't mean they die on the vine.

Courting world domination has always struck me as a kind of perverse lack of faith in one's own customers. A belief that sooner or later they will grow tired of a product and that the overhead that has accrued around those users will collapse and crush the company itself so there always needs to be a steady stream of customers to cover costs. It's certainly happened before and it is probably the safe bet overall but I choose to believe there are alternatives.

I am pretty easy to contact online so if you're interested in trying out the site then drop me a line and I will add you to the next round of people to receive invite codes.