Mike Isaac

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Backed by $2.75 Million, ThisLife Aims to Organize Your Photo History

Photo courtesy of ThisLife

I’m not a parent. That means I don’t have to deal with the headache that is managing the mess of accumulated photos that accompany any new addition to a family. (And right now, I’m thankful for it.)

Andrea and Matt Johnson, however, are parents, and they assure me that it’s crazy-making to organize the number of pictures they’ve taken of their child. Which is why the couple spent the past two years working on ThisLife, a Web-based app that organizes all of a user’s disparate photos across all of their photo applications and devices.

The idea is, you’d be better off with all those photos in one place — in the cloud (of course). So users can upload their photos stored on hard disk, as well as sync photos taken across the many, many photo-sharing applications that exist already, like Instagram, Picasa, and most importantly, Facebook (as well as a number of others). ThisLife recognizes when you’ve got two copies of the same photo uploaded by scanning the metadata, and automatically tosses out the lesser-quality versions of each photo.

In and of itself, this isn’t revolutionary. The real gem in the app is something less sexy, but indispensable for those who have loads of old photos they’d like to browse: The organization features.

Each photo is tagged by person, place and activity, making a retroactive search simplified and isolated to relatively few parameters. The kicker is, you don’t have to go back through and tag each person and place one by one in each photo, a la the extreme hassle of, say, relabeling all of your music files upon importing them to iTunes. ThisLife scans the metadata from the photos, which often includes location data. And the app’s ever-learning facial-recognition algorithm uses your already-tagged Facebook photos to discern who exactly is in each photo. It’s hard to appreciate in words, but it’s a great example of an organization function that really should have appeared long ago.

Oh, and obviously, there’s a built-in sharing function to send uploaded photos from ThisLife back out to your disparate apps, if you’re so inclined.

After spending much of the past two years bootstrapped while working on the project, ThisLife announced on Friday that it secured $2.75 million in venture funding in a seed round led by Madrona Venture Group, with participants that include Morado Ventures, Rogers Venture Partners and former AOL exec Brad Garlinghouse.

And refreshingly enough, the app comes with a built-in business model (unlike countless other start-ups I’ve seen, which are “too focused on making a great product” to ever worry about money). Using the freemium model, users can store up to 1,000 photos in the cloud for free, while bumping that number up to 50,000 for a family plan that costs about 15 bucks a month. And, surprisingly enough to the Johnsons, a significant portion of those in the limited beta are paying customers, not just freebie users.

The most updated version of ThisLife’s well-designed mobile and iPad apps just hit the App Store, both of which made for very attractive browsing during the time I spent with them. While the Web app is currently invite-only, the couple expects to launch widely in the coming weeks.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work