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Julie Tucker
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How the ghost in Mario Kart inspired Timehop

Attracting more than 21 million users, Timehop focuses on our love of nostalgia.

It answers the question, “What did you do a year ago today?” and gives people updates on exactly what they posted on numerous social media platforms. Users can go back to any given date, no matter how many years ago.

We all love reminiscing and reconnecting with people. Timehop gathers your photos from sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Photos, Dropbox and your phone’s photo gallery to bring together the memories all in one place.

How did Timehop begin?
The incredibly popular app began life as a startup in a coworking space in New York. It’s fair to say it was created almost by accident. Back in 2011, the location data platform Foursquare, now known as Foursquare City Guide, hosted a Hackathon. This was an opportunity for computer programmers and anyone else involved in software development such as graphic designers, domain experts and interface designers to collaborate intensively on new software projects.

Jonathan Wegener and Benny Wong were self-confessed “Foursquare fanboys” when they joined the Hackathon. They aimed to create a replacement for Craigslist, the American classified adverts website. Instead, they ended up designing a product that showed users where they were when they checked in on Foursquare a year earlier. They built the product in just eight hours and initially called it 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo – it could go back seven years at the time.

What was the inspiration for Timehop?
Wegener explained the inspiration for Timehop was the ghost in Mario Kart, where players could race themselves in time trials. They discussed how they could use that concept with Foursquare checkins.

They worked on the idea that the user had a friend whose Foursquare account was called Maya’s Ghost. At lunchtime, the user would see that Maya’s Ghost had been checking into a coffee shop on the same day, exactly a year ago. They created virtual beings to show where you and your friends had been checking in, all around the world, at the same time one year earlier. The idea was that 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo would send users a daily email showing where they had been on the same day in the past.

The founders admitted they had to “beg” their friends at the Hackathon to try out the app, because they didn’t get the idea at first. However, once they tried it for themselves, they understood the appeal, according to Wegener. Initially, just 20 people at the Hackathon signed up to the app, including Foursquare’s founder, Dennis Crowley.

How was Timehop developed?
Wegener and Wong continued to develop their app from their coworking space in New York, which was a big advantage. Wegener said it provided them with a real platform to launch their app. He says coworking spaces are “the future for emerging technology hubs”.

They realised the staying power of 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo almost immediately, when they noticed around 80% of the daily emails they sent out were opened every day. Wegener said it was “unreal” for an email to attract that degree of engagement. He added they had benefited from working at an “awesome home” for independent workers and entrepreneurs and felt coworking was crucial to achieve New York’s goal of becoming a major technology hub. He’s excited to see what other new companies will emerge in the future from the same place.

In a very short time, people started to do unusual things with the app, such as checking in to chat to their “future self”. They were really interested to find out what they had been doing a year ago. Then, they began using 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo to connect with old friends whom they hadn’t spoken to for a long time.

How long did it take to perfect Timehop?
For the first three months, the founders had still been working on developing their Craigslist replacement company too. However, 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo took off so quickly that they had to work on it full-time and ditch their other project. They developed it into a product called PastPost, which enabled users to see their Facebook statuses from a year earlier. From the initial 20 users, there were soon a few thousand people checking in every day.

After looking round the internet, they realised there was massive scope to develop the app in relation to social media, where everyone focused mainly on real time. They decided to put everyone’s old digital content from multiple sites in one place, with annual reminders, ensuring it was never forgotten.

Wegener said social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were all the same – there was a news feed at the top and as soon as the content became even an hour old, it “fell off the cliff” and was soon never seen again.

When did Timehop expand?
Timehop began in earnest when it expanded to both Android and iPhone apps. Rather than being simply a daily news digest, it really hit its stride. By 2013, Timehop overtook Foursquare in the App Store and Wegener was thrilled to see they had outgrown the company whose Hackathon they started out at.

In 2014, Timehop shot into the top 50 iPhone apps in the US. It has remained comfortably in the top 200 ever since. Wegener said in interviews that the company had attracted $14.1 million investment to develop it further and take on more staff, but they weren’t out to make money and didn’t plan to implement any monetisation strategies at present.

Timehop survived a blip in December 2016, when the 4.0 update replaced the familiar scrolling timeline with separate pages for different entries. Around 7,000 users gave it a one-star review in the IOS App Store, so a further update was released to restore some of the lost features. In January 2017, Wegener stepped down as Timehop CEO and was replaced by former design lead Matt Raoul.

People still love Timehop because it brings up fond memories of their nostalgic photos and videos. Designed for people of all ages, it has 21 million users today.

Coworking safely
Headspace Group provides affordable coworking office space in London, Birmingham, Farringdon, Manchester, Belfast, Southampton and Marylebone. We have introduced extra safety measures to keep users safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our in-house cleaning division performs intensive deep cleans and a fogging service to sterilise the environment for 30 days.

For further details of our coworking spaces, contact us today on 0800 953 0585.

 

 

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