Thu 10 Nov
In my post from August titled “What Comes After Reading on iPad,” I argued that while the iPad is a game-changing reading platform, there has been perhaps too much emphasis on that one particular aspect of the device. Apple’s “magical and revolutionary” tablet brings with it many other transformational qualities that are being undervalued at the moment, and at least a few of them will spawn new businesses and maybe even new industries.
I talked about a few of those opportunities in that post, but the one that interests me the most, and the one that I’m betting on in a big way, is the fact that iPad is an ideal digital art device, one that requires little or no training — no mouse to master, no pen and tablet to plug in. Straight out of the box, it’s a powerful, completely intuitive tool for self-expression: just use your finger to make a mark.
Even better, for the very first time in decades of personal computing history, we have an ideal digital art device in the hands of a mass audience, a huge and still-growing user base composed not just of professional artists and early adopters, but of people from all walks of life who are embracing the liberating simplicity of this new platform.
That’s big. It changes what’s possible for visual self-expression in a huge way. Now anyone can do this — anyone. They just need the right software. Creating that software is what my co-founder Scott Ostler and I are trying to do with our new company.
Our app is called Mixel. It’s a collage-making tool and a social network rolled into one. With Mixel, anyone can create and share digital collages using images from the Web, Mixel’s library, or your own personal photos from Facebook or what’s right on your iPad. You can watch a video (directed by the inimitable Adam Lisagor) that describes all of this over at our site, Mixel.cc.
Why watch it when you can try it out for yourself, though? As of today, Mixel is available for download in the App Store. And it’s free.
Sharp readers will likely challenge me on two points of what I’ve said so far. First, there are a lot of art apps for iPad already: Brushes, SketchBook Pro and ArtRage to name just a few. Second, even with all of these apps — and many of them are very well done — it’s hardly true that everyone is using them. People of all levels of artistic skill might very well download them and give them a spin, but in all likelihood most will use these apps only a few times, unless they’re committed hobbyists or professional artists. The rest will forget about them and leave them to languish on their iPads.
That’s where we think the power of social software can be a difference maker. Like multitouch tablets, social software is capable of many amazing transformations, including the idea that activities that were previously reserved only for experts can be democratized and made doable by anyone. The list of such transformations is long: journalism, filmmaking, fundraising, photography, even design and programming, to an extent. We think art belongs on that list, too.
Our goal with Mixel is to turn the act of art-making into something incredibly easy, fun and even addictive. Just as importantly, we also want art-making to be deeply social. Mixel is a social network of its own — you sign in with Facebook, and you can find and follow anyone on the network to see all the great work they’re producing. You can also comment, like and share the art, just as you would on any other social network.
But we chose collage for a very important reason: it makes art easy. Photos, the component pieces of every collage, are among the most social and viral content on the Web, and allowing people to combine them into new, highly specific expressions of who they are and what they’re interested in is powerful. Collage also has a wonderfully accessible quality; few people are comfortable with a brush or a drawing implement, but almost everyone is comfortable cutting up images and recombining them in new, expressive, surprising or hilarious ways. We all used to do this as kids.
Because of the componentized nature of collage, we can add new social dimensions that aren’t currently possible in any other network, art-based or not. Mixel keeps track of every piece of every collage, regardless of who uses it or how it’s been cropped. That means, in a sense, that the image pieces within Mixel have a social life of their own. Anyone can borrow or re-use any other piece; you’re free to peruse all the collages (we call them “mixels”) and pick up literally any piece and use it in your own mixel. If you don’t like the crop, the full, unedited original is stored on the server, so you can open it back up in an instant and cut out just the parts you like. Mixel can even show you everywhere else a particular image has been used, so you can follow it throughout the network to see how other people have cropped it and combined it with other elements.
You can also remix any collage in Mixel, creating derivative works that get added to a thread of remixes. This is probably the funnest part of the app, because it lets users engage in a kind of visual dialogue — you can see in examples like this one how Mixel users riff off of one another’s work, exchanging ideas through visual means. That’s exactly what we’re hoping for, too: we don’t want people to think of making art as a monumental task, something only a few people can do. Instead, we want people to think of making art as something casual, informal, fun and conversational. And we’ve worked really hard to make Mixel a platform for conversation that everyone can join. Download it today and let us know what you think.