Thanks to assorted social networks and social networking apps, nearly everything is connected in today’s internet-dominated world – to a point where your internet friends and acquaintances know where you live and work, what music you listen to and what you’ve had for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In other words, when you’re a dedicated social media user (and let’s face it – social media is addictive), you pretty much live online 24/7. Your life – or at least a part of it – becomes public domain for the people in your networks, yet at some point you might think “am I ready to see beyond my life?”
Inventing an alternative existence is hardly a new concept: serious gamers knew it all along with the “get a life – create a character!” postulate, while “3D virtual world” Second Life – which was a phenomenon a few years ago – continues to maintain a degree of presence. Yet an app that connects people via swapping images in incognito mode has so far only been launched in Australia – on 6 September, 2012, with other world regions set to follow soon. It’s not exactly Second Life in iPhone/iPad format, either and there’s nothing remotely fake about it.
Developed by Palo Alto, California-based startup Square C, cBeyond urges the user to “embrace the unexpected”. It’s a simple, subtly addictive phone app that activates once you’ve enabled your location. Naturally, you can choose who can see your moments. By clicking on the ‘handshake’ icon, you can engage in a real-life sharing session with a ‘mystery partner’ from another part of the world – and you can never predict who and where they’re going to be.
Square C’s marketing team representative Adam Tesluk reckons the app was created as a reaction to the problem with privacy when sharing photos on Facebook. “We wanted to lower the barriers on photo sharing, thereby solving the privacy problem,” he says. “Location-based data is used, but it’s not required.”
Indeed, cBeyond’s beauty lies in its purported discreetness – you don’t need to show your face in the images you send your “app partner”. Instead, you can take happy snaps of your pets, show off your valued gadgets or indulge in ‘arty’ photos – using any photo app already in your phone, with a number of filter options included. The name of the nearest city/location is the only personal information that gets sent into cyberspace as a cultural and geographic reference point.
Once you hit the photo button on the colour-spectre screen, the app matches your photographed moment with the one captured on the other side of the globe – in other words, it’s a mini-adventure in its own right. In order to see how cBeyond works, I took a photo of my new tea mug twice from different angles and waited. The first image to hit me back was an otherwise unremarkable grey pavement shot from Beijing, China, with the second image from a different location (funnily enough, also in China) being vaguely more interesting – a screenshot of a chunk of programming language with the simple caption “coding…” Step outside your house or office, however, and the real-world shots become a lot brighter – particularly if you take nature shots: fascinating results ensue.
Some users will approach the app with understandable levels of wariness, however there’s no denying the originality of the concept behind it. Something that enables you to see beyond your existence in one or two clicks isn’t just futuristic – it’s proof that we’re living in the future. What do you think?