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Seeing the Lightt: Introducing a new social medium

Social media apps are like belly buttons: everyone has one, and with minor variations (innies versus outies) they pretty much look alike. That's why when the foiks from Lightt first approached me about their new social sharing app and service I approached it with a great deal of skepticism. But after using the app for a week, I'll admit that I'm a bit hooked on it. OK, more than a bit...

The premise behind Lightt (free app) is simple: photographs don't tell a full story and video can take too long to edit and watch. What Lightt does is capture "highlights," silent snippets of your life made up of 10 seconds of snapped pictures. Those highlights can be captioned like a tweet and are automatically and instantly delivered to a Lightt cloud for viewing and sharing.

Your highlights are stored in a seamless stream (see example video below). To see just what you've been doing in your day-to-day life, there's a ME animated button that plays back your stream while showing the location and time that the stream was captured. That stream is combined with the streams from all of your friends under the Happening Now animated button, forming a constant flow of images showing how life is progressing for you and those you follow.

Some segments are called out for special attention under a Featured button, although I'm not exactly sure why someone making a sandwich in front of Robert Scoble would be considered special. I think this will be much more useful as Lightt goes live and certain highlights become favorites of the community.

In a discussion with Lightt CEO Alex Mostoufi, he explained that human brains are unusually good at remembering the visual details of thousands of photographs. The highlights are easily captured, compressed and transmitted to the cloud, and it's also easy to view them over a mobile connection. The Happening Now stream plays back just as quickly on the crappy AT&T 4G mobile connection I'm currently on as it does on WiFi.

To me, the immediacy of the highlights makes Lightt different from any other social app. During my testing of the app, I wasn't following close friends or co-workers; just folks like Mostoufi and other Lightt staffers, and a few tech notables like Walt Mossberg from AllThingsD and TechCrunch's MG Siegler. But I found watching the Happening Now and Featured streams to be fascinating, offering an interesting insight into what people do in their day-to-day lives.

Of course, any time you give someone the option to film themselves -- even in a short burst -- you're opening up the risk of lewd or inappropriate behavior. Lightt is expecting the community to be self-policing. If you're watching a stream and see something that is just plain inappropriate, you can flag it as such with just a tap on the share button. According to the Lightt team, "as soon as a member 'flags' content, it is removed from the viewing member's stream and also sent to us for review. We have an internal system for reviewing flagged content."

That share button is also the way that you can save images to your iPhone's Photo Library or share highlights on Facebook or Twitter. In either of those social services, a ligh.tt link appears -- with a tap or click, the video is instantly available for viewing in a browser. I love the way that Lightt uses a "bokehed" view of the first frame of your highlight as the background when viewing the highlight on a desktop browser. It's that kind of attention to detail that seems to pervade Lightt.

The Lightt app is one of the most elegantly designed and crash-free first releases I've ever seen. The team apparently spent well over a year working on the app, and it shows.

I was wondering how Lightt will turn a profit in the future, and asked the team what their plans were for monetizing the service (i.e., adding ads to streams, doing in-app purchases of movie effects, etc.). The response was that "Our focus right now is building a great community on Lightt. We're innovating a new medium of visual communication that will likely include new ways to monetize."

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to watching this new medium grow and be explored by millions of people. Look for @steve (or Steve Sande) on Lightt and I'll keep an eye on your life as well.