Targeting Families, Sidebark’s Private Photo & Video Sharing App Debuts With Automatic List-Making Feature

Want more proof that the private, mobile social networking space is exploding? Today, there comes yet another entrant into the game: an iOS and web application called Sidebark, which targets families and friends interested in sharing photos and videos privately via mobile.

Because there are so many of these apps, with Path perhaps being the one to beat in this space, each has to offer some differentiating factor in order to stand out. In Sidebark’s case, that feature is an automated email analysis tool that smartly builds sharing lists for you.

Sidebark’s user interface is pretty much par for the course, in terms of how media-sharing apps go – there’s a camera button, the ability to import from your camera roll, a profile page, an activity feed, and even photos filters.

But before you get started with all this, the app walks you through an email analyzer that scans your Gmail, Google Apps, Yahoo mail, or AOL mail, and then determines which groups you might like to share photos with. The experience is reminiscent of Katango, the app that automatically grouped Facebook friends for private sharing before it got snapped up by Google. The difference is that Sidebark analyzes your email connections, not your social networks.

In theory, it’s a handy feature since a large majority of private phot0-sharing, believe it or not, still occurs via email. Sidebark’s co-founder David Cho, a Harvard Business School grad (and dad) who left his comfortable job at Bain & Company to build the app with longtime PayPal engineer and manager Nick Stanev, tells me that only 50 billion of the 350 billion photos taken in 2011 were actually shared. “The ~50B is from cobbling together a bunch of data sources,” he explains, “but the biggest numbers come directly from Facebook (~40B photos shared) and Google+ (~3.5B shared). Once you start adding up the rest of the services (Flickr, Instagram, etc.) you pretty quickly start to converge on 50 billion,” he explains.

Cho says the number one reason why these photos have been shared is privacy. “There’s a ton of activity and energy right now around private video and photo-sharing, and there’s a reason for that – we think it’s a big opportunity,” he says. There is an advantage to using groups, instead of Path’s small, but still singular group. You can share the appropriate pictures and video with the appropriate people – the whole family, school buddies, parents and grandparents, your girlfriends or bros, etc.

In addition to its focus on the privacy angle, Sidebark also aims to differentiate itself simply by supporting (and not favoring) photos and video, unlike how Instagram focused on photos and recently acquired Socialcam went for video. “There’s all chatter around what’s going to be the Instagram of video,” Cho says. “It seems like a false dichotomy to say there needs to be an Instagram for videos. Why can’t they both just be in one app?”

While the app is simple and easy to use (Android users are directed to a mobile-friendly webpage so they can use it, too), I did encounter some issues. The app crashed on me once, it lacks the ability to authenticate via Facebook or Twitter, it requires an email confirmation to activate (which seems decidedly old school), and the list-making feature is a non-starter if you use your email account for both work and personal emails, as many do. It seems the algorithm there should be smarter – not looking for just frequently emailed contacts or those from the same domain, but also those with whom you’ve shared photo attachments on a regular basis.

But the biggest problem is that the photos, once shared, can’t be saved to the Camera Roll. Now this could be positioned as an advantage if you were looking for a way to share sexting pics, I suppose, but given that Cho says Sidebark is targeting families, it’s just a miss. The very first thing grandma wants to know is if she can have a copy of the photo to use as her iPhone’s wallpaper. Oops. The founders say they may add this feature in a future update, though, along with that new “print to Walgreens” function.

Sidebark is a free download on iTunes here.