tl;dr: With 100 million monthly active users, Photobucket sought to enable friends and loved ones to better connect and share on mobile devices. After a thorough buy vs. build vetting process, Photobucket’s Lasso app turned to Layer to power in-app messaging. To learn more about how the team integrated Layer, join our TechTalk with co-founder Chad Podoski on April 29. RSVP here.

Photography is how we document our lives and preserve memories, and Photobucket is one of the largest and widest-reaching photo sharing services in the world. With 100 million monthly active users sharing billions of photos in the same period of time, its services are central to the sharing and enjoyment of memories for people everywhere. Photobucket is a go-to place for uploading photos and sharing them online, and also creating beautiful photo books, calendars, prints and gifts.

As mobile devices and their built-in, always-at-the-ready cameras have become ubiquitous, Photobucket has focused on designing and delivering tools to enable unique sharing experiences from mobile. The company found such a tool in Lasso, a photo-sharing app coincidentally created by the original founder of Photobucket, Alex Welch, and Lasso co-founder Chad Podoski.

Seeking a way to enable intimate sharing among friends and loved ones

To hear it from Welch, the original idea for Photobucket’s Lasso was to give people a way to separate the signal from the noise of mobile photography. Our camera rolls are siloed, black boxes, he said, so if someone has photos that you want on their mobile device, there’s no way to get them. Conversely, there’s downright oversharing of photos through social networks. And to top it off, the photos that are shared by others are rarely the ones you want to see.

“Our vision was always: ‘Get the photos you want from the people you know,’” he said.

Evolution of Lasso’s communications: from acknowledgements to rich messaging

Welch and Podoski designed the first version of Photobucket’s Lasso with an acknowledgement-based communications model. Initially the app let users send a simple gesture back to indicate they’ve received or like a photo. But users quickly voiced their desires for a greater ability to communicate.

“People wanted to actually message each other in the context of a photo,” said Welch. “Very quickly we learned that this is an absolute necessity for the app. A simple reply was not enough. When it’s close friends and loved ones sharing photos with one another, they have a need to express themselves around these shared memories.”

The team determined that rich, in-app communications, giving users the ability to have conversations around the photos shared in Photobucket’s Lasso, was the right direction to proceed.

Buy vs build? Layer as the clear winner

When Welch and and Podoski sat down to evaluate options for incorporating messaging — including more complex functionality such as sharing photos from the Lasso platform directly into the chat, and using conversation metadata to store a background image to the chat — they considered two paths. They’d either partner with a service to integrate communications, or they’d build it themselves.

“What we ultimately decided was building messaging would be too time-consuming and costly, not to mention come at a steep opportunity cost,” said Alex. They began exploring services to partner with, and found that all roads led to Layer.

“Everyone I spoke with in the technology community recommended Layer,” said Alex, who has deeply-rooted industry relationships after founding Photobucket. “And we realized that Layer is the only service that can power the kinds of messaging experiences we envisioned.”

Another reason the team chose Layer to power Photobucket’s Lasso’s in-app messaging was the availability of Atlas, Layer’s open source UI toolkit. The team was able to use Atlas components to kickstart the design process, and ultimately create a distinctive experience that’s unique to Photobucket’s Lasso.

“Layer allowed us to create and integrate a rich messaging experience that scales to millions of users,” said Welch. “With Layer, we were able to build best-in-class communications in our app and bring it to market in half the time it would have taken to build in-house.”

Download Photobucket’s Lasso for iOS and Android today.