Introducing Mixel

MixelIn 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,

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.

Everything That Can Be Social Will Be

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.

Everyone Can Make Art — Again

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.

Mixel is a social network of its own, where you can follow anyone else and their work.
Mixel Home Screen
Mixel shows you everywhere else any given image is being used. In the case of this fish, the menu reveals five other mixels that make use of it.
Mixel Edit View

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.

The thread view turns collaging into a visual conversation, where anyone can remix anyone else’s work.
Mixel Thread View

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.



  1. Congratulations Khoi!! I’ve been following your progress with this for a couple months now and am happy to finally dig in to see what you’ve done! Thanks for the continuing insights and conversations.

  2. I could definitely see some up-and-coming Bushwick band using this app for their upcoming EP cover art.

    The more I think about the app, and your ideas behind it, the more impressed I am by it.

    But why put all the effort in creating it and then give it away?

  3. I was really excited about this app until I saw that it requires a Facebook login.

    Surely, a truly social app would have its own login or, at the very least, provide an alternative, but to limit it to FB is, to me, the opposite of social.

    I’m amazed.

    I thought that we had gone beyond a Facebook-for-everything stage of thinking and to see it in an app that, already, is making waves is disappointing.

  4. Congratulations Khoi on the official launch of the Mixel iPad app. I created my first collage with it tonight. Very fun. 🙂

  5. Looks very cool, couldn’t wait to discuss this with my students (I teach a design course that includes collage making), but also: I don’t do Facebook.

    Too bad!

  6. Many congrats. I saw it getting discussed in my feeds today and flagged it as a thing of interest even before I saw that this was your baby.

  7. yeah, is down, can you provide a direct link to a video?

    also, to bad about facebook — can’t really use the app if it is required.. ;(

  8. I didn’t even get to try to make a first collage, which might be a bliss and a breeze with this app. I even swallowed the forced login with Facebook, granted the app complete read and post rights (!) to my profile. Why you need this, I don’t know.
    Next thing I see is a selection of collages of others, appr. 20 users I obviously auto-followed without being asked. The one person I was looking for was not among them and I couldn’t find a way to search for users or a particular art work*. But what I did find, accidentally hidden behind the “wheel”-icon, is that I also auto-joined a daily (!) email digest by default.
    Sure, once I figured it out I can change this setting and I can unfollow the people I didn’t want to follow but it’s not really inspiring confidence or a friendly way to greet a new user. I won’t stay, but Facebook will never forget that I once tried to find Able Parris on Mixel.

    *update: Meanwhile I found the search field but Mixel “cannot be contacted” because of connection reasons or whatever.

  9. The idea of making collages on the iPad with your friends seems fun. But it immediately raises questions for me about intellectual property rights and copyright infringement. The app description here seems to promote the commonly-held but incorrect belief that any image on the web is freely available for re-use. Curious about that.

  10. Promising app, I especially love the logo.


    “you sign in with Facebook”.

    That’s a deal breaker to me. Especially since Facebook claims a royalty-free, transferable licence on everything you put in there.

  11. Mixel looks great. Would love to try it, but I deleted my Facebook account a year ago and don’t plan to make a new one.

    Oh, just found this Tweet by Khoi:

    “Sorry to @jnymck and everyone else doesn’t like Facebook login requirement. We have good reasons, will explain why in a future blog post.”

  12. This looks like a fun project. I’m interested to hear more about some of the details Ё

    I understand and can accept that each user must ensure that all their work is legitimate as far as copyright issues go, but once the work is posted, it’s not clear what kind of license it is covered by.

    The .cc domain implies some kind of tie-in with a Creative Commons license, however the footer of the site carries a standard “All rights reserved” Е notice. The terms of service are very clear that the software itself is “protected by intellectual property laws”, but it doesn’t say which ones.

    Is all the work produced with the app and/or posted with it automatically placed under a Creative Commons license? If so, which one? I’m not comfortable with a required Facebook login, but perhaps there’s more info about this kind of stuff within the app that isn’t available on the website?

  13. Thanks for the quick response Khoi. I actually understand the reasoning for going with the Facebook login and can see its usefulness, I just personally am not comfortable with it. I look forward to your posts on the topic though — perhaps I can be persuaded 🙂

    I did read most of the terms of service before posting my first comment, but it still wasn’t clear to me what happens to a user’s work once it is uploaded. Maybe I missed something?

    It would be great if users could set a relevant Creative Commons license for each collage they upload, Я la Flickr, but it’s quite possible that there is something like that in the app that just isn’t mentioned on the site. If that’s the case, then the .cc domain would make much more sense.

  14. Great idea, downloaded it excitedly… only to discover the facebook requirement. Too bad. I just don’t *do* facebook.

  15. Excellent idea. I used to do this a lot on my notebook when I was a kid. Now kids can do it on the iPad and adults alike !
    I have a Facebook account, don’t use it much.

  16. Congratulations Khoi, I downloaded the app late last night and immediately had fun creating a couple of Mixels. I think it has great potential, it will be interesting to see how it grows with more people using it.

  17. I’m just not comfortable with the Facebook requirement. Even if I had a Facebook account, I don’t see that giving you access to my “social graph” would be a worthwhile trade for what you’re providing.

    If I’m not paying money, does that mean me (and my personal information) are the product, here?

    I also have trouble understanding this from a business perspective. You’re locking yourself to Facebook, in that your customers are actually Facebook’s customers. This has some dangerous implications for your company’s control over your own product, but it can also make you a less valuable acquisition target, as your users *aren’t your users*.

  18. Sorry Khoi, I was looking forward to trying what you’ve been working on, but the Facebook login requirement just kills it for me (and lots of other people by the look of it). At least consider supporting OpenID as an alternative. Or is Facebook a part of how you’re going to monetize this? I guess we’ll know soon enough…

  19. In addition to all the congrats that have been rolling in, and in spite of all the feature requests that are inevitable with the launch of a new app, I just wanted to say *thanks* to Khoi and Scott. It may sound corny, but Mixel really changes things. For me, at least, it’s rekindled a spark for visual creativity that I hadn’t indulged in years.
    Having been lucky enough to play with Mixel for a month already, I really know what an amazing tool it is. I just can’t wait for others to find out. Thanks, guys!

  20. Looking forward to your Facebook post. When you write it, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the likelihood (?) that this will limit use among kids and schools. I was about to install it for my 10-year-old to play with, but now probably won’t. Still, looks like a fun and intriguing app, congrats!

  21. The Facebook requirement is a deal breaker for me. It takes all the fun and freedom of making art and turns it into purely a social media gimmick. It was a great idea, but…

  22. Khoi:

    As a long time admirer of your work (and your thinking), I was thrilled to learn that Mixel had been born. Collage (and especially “le cadavre exquise”) are huge parts of my (and my family’s) work.

    HoweverЁ Facebook????

    Not only a deal killer for me (and @gruber by the sounds of it), but a crushing disappointment. Facebook may be huge, but it’s not for everyone. And I’m willing to bet the proportion of “creative” types who resist FB is above average.

    Please let me know when I can use it (and share) some other way. I can’t wait.

  23. Hey Khoi! Just wanted to say a huge congrats. The app looks great and I can’t wait to play with it.

    I, for one, don’t mind the Facebook requirement one bit.

  24. Craig: If you pay money, how do you know that you and your personal information are not the product?

    The whole “no cost means that you are the product” meme seems to be a screed against free software and services, things which are revolutionizing the world.

    Linux is free. Wikipedia is free. Your credit card costs money.

    Which of these three is selling your personal information?

  25. Andrew, you take the ‘meme’ to an illogical conclusion.

    Linux development is paid for by the large companies that rely on it (from IBM to RedHat). Wikipedia is funded by donations (so, we *do* pay).

    As for a credit card — it is funded *primarily* by transaction fees and (if you pay off your balance every month), other people’s debt burden.

    How does any of the above apply to the ‘meme’ you’re referencing? I really don’t know. In fact, I’d say credit card is the example that proves my point, since what the credit card company is selling is *you*: they’re selling access to your money to merchants. Most good cards don’t even cost anything (in yearly customer fees — they cost plenty in merchant transaction fees).

  26. Was about to plunge into what looked cool and fun for artists but – was shocked by Facebook douane zoll. Sorry i am a free spirit living in the free world. Good bye…

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