Old photos are going viral

  • By Michael Katchen
  • December 14, 2011
Part 5: Old photos are going viral

It’s easy to forget that the Internet is only 20 years old [1], and we've been sharing our lives on social media for only a fraction of that time. While we’ve gotten used to seeing photos from across the world, from last night, and from our friends online, it’s still a rarity to see a photo from the 1990s, let alone the 95% of human history before then. However, in 2011 our attention started to shift to filling in our pre-Internet lives.

Analog-to-digital is overtaking digital-to-analog

When digital cameras were first introduced, our inclination was to print the pictures we took. But for the first time ever, we have more digital than analog photos [2], and we are starting to scan more than we print, a trend that will continue as we bring our history and memories online. In 2011, there was a 13% increase in the number of people who scanned a photo [3], and this is just the beginning of a shift in how we think about our lives as digital information. With 1.8 trillion paper photos in our shoeboxes, we still have a long way to go to get the rest of our life stories online.

Total analog photos and increase in scanning ion 2011 A scanner in everyone’s pocket

1000memories is excited to be playing a big part in shaping this emerging trend. Our passion for helping everyone save and share their old photos led to the creation of ShoeBox, our iPhone app that lets you instantly scan and share old photos. Incredibly, in its first month, ShoeBox was downloaded over 200,000 times, and accounted for 1 in 20 Americans who scanned a photo [4]. What used to be an insurmountable challenge is now fun and lightning fast.

One in five scans in November used the ShoeBox iPhone app

Old is more viral than new

ShoeBox and the 1000memories community allow us to see what photos people took over the years, what they share, and how they engage with them. As people scan and share their old photos in droves, we have observed some interesting behaviors and trends. For example, the average photo on 1000memories is 20 years old in stark contrast to the average Facebook photo, which is just a year old [5]. And looking at comments per photo, we see on average a 5% increase in the number of comments per photo each decade back in time. For example, a photo from 1980 has 24% more comments than a photo from today. The old photos in our shoebox are our most engaging digital content.

Old photos get 24% more comments

With 1.8 trillion analog photos out there, the task of digitizing and sharing our pre-Internet lives may seem daunting. But mobile phones are now ubiquitous and these 6 billion pocket-sized scanners, cameras, and phones around the globe are changing the way we share our lives...

Next: Mobile is changing how we share

Or click here to see the whole series.

Footnotes and sources

1. On August 6th, 1991, Tim Berners-Lee created the first-ever web page. You can read more about it here.
2. Of the 3.7 trillion photos ever taken, 1.9 trillion are digital, surpassing the number of analog photos (1.8 trillion) for the first time in 2011.
3. Based on 1000memories December 2011 survey.
4. Based on 1000memories user data and December 2011 survey.
5. Facebook reported that photo uploads were running at 6 billion per month here. You can read more about Facebook’s photo library here.


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