Pressgram Launches WordPress-Powered Photo-Sharing App

Everyone has been waiting on the edge of their seats for the Pressgram app to be accepted in the app store and today it finally happened. Billed as “An Image Sharing App Built for an Independent Web”, Pressgram has received some major national attention, given its direct confrontation of the very unpopular policies of Facebook and Instagram. The project was fully funded on Kickstarter within 30 days, due to the support of a community that is passionate about owning their own data with full creative control.

What is Pressgram?

11-user-profile-2In case you haven’t been following, Pressgram is a photo-sharing app for iOS, created by Atlanta-based developer John Saddington. It is similar to Instagram but with a few serious distinctions:

  • Powered by WordPress + iOS with Filtered Photos added in
  • Users will own their own data – your content is always yours
  • The target users are publishers
  • Currently makes use of open source photo filters

When you use the Pressgram app in combination with the Pressgram WordPress plugin, the images are published to your blog through the typical post publishing process and are stored in the WordPress media folder. They are also stored in Amazon’s cloud storage and delivered to the Pressgram social network from there in order to create a consistent experience for the user within the application.

For now the Pressgram plugin for WordPress simply de-clutters the homepage so that Pressgram posts don’t get mixed in with your longer-form content. In the future, Saddington plans to add more features based on user feedback and suggestions from the community.

An Interview with John Saddington on Community and the Future of Pressgram

John Saddington, creator of Pressgram
John Saddington, creator of Pressgram
I spoke with John Saddington on the eve of Pressgram’s launch into the app store. He was intent on building Pressgram, whether anyone was interested in it or not. He felt so strongly about owning his own data that he long ago cancelled his Facebook and Instagram accounts.

His Kickstarter initiative outlines the many compelling reasons for owning your own data by refusing to “line the pockets of another’s purse”, as he put it. The clear success of the fundraising efforts show that he is not alone in his thinking:

“I was pleasantly surprised by how many other online publishers really “got” my intention and where I was headed with the application. They could see the value of posting images directly to their WordPress blogs and also the philosophical intent. Naturally I’m happy that it reached its funding goal but I would have still built the application out if I didn’t and that’s because I had originally intended on provisioning it on my own device for myself alone.”

Pressgram also shares the community aspect that you’ve seen with Instagram and Saddington has already hand-picked a select few who will be offering their time and resources to help moderate, manage and grow the community that is springing up around this app. “This is so much bigger than just an ‘app’,” he said. “It’s a movement of creatives and artists and digital publishers who are rebelling against the unashamed commercial interests.”

Why isn’t there an Android app?

Given Instagram’s massive success after launching in the Android market, I was curious as to why Saddington didn’t start there first. I asked him how soon he’d be releasing an Android app. He said:

The answer is quite simple – I know Objective-C programming as I’ve built a few apps in that environment but I’ve never built an Android app. And besides, I’ve only owned iOS-devices so the intent was to first scratch my own itch and then scratch other people’s if the interest was warranted and big enough. Apparently it’s quite large as there are a number of Kickstarter backers who are Android users and who are waiting for it to be released! I will have to build out a team though if I’m going to get to Android and that takes time and money.

Since I am an Android user, I won’t be able to try it and will be depending on our readers for some initial reviews.

Using Pressgram Without WordPress

Photo filters on the Pressgram app
Photo filters on the Pressgram app are available even without using WordPress
Not everyone hosts their own blog. In fact, if Pressgram ever hopes to gain mass appeal, there must be an option for using it by itself. This is why Saddington made sure to account for non-WordPress users in his app:

You can use Pressgram without ever connecting it directly to a WordPress blog – I believe many users will do this as the philosophical nature of not being part of the Facebook network where they monetize every single thing (and if they could have your soul they would) that you are and do. Some users will just want to be part of a better social network as well as having the capabilities of filtering photos and sharing them.

Saddington left Facebook and Instagram due to the licensing and policies that he did not agree with, but he still wanted to take pictures and add filters to them and wanted others to have the freedoms afforded to self-publishers who are not dependent on social networks. The Pressgram blog has been diligently pumping out posts on why any user, whether connected to WordPress or not, should carefully consider forsaking the data-hungry social networks and find a new way to share online. They’ve been driving a strong campaign for the open web and only time and downloads will tell how successful the app will be.

Initial Proprietary License: Possible Open Source Licensing in the Future

The Pressgram app is currently free to download and Saddington has confirmed that it will be so forever. So the philosophy behind Pressgram is all about freedom – for the user and the publisher. But what about the software itself?

During the final days of the project’s fundraising campaign, the largest backer of the project withdrew when he learned that it would not be open source:

When I asked John if the project will ever move to an open source license he said that he is willing to consider it. Given his heavy involvement in working with OS in the past, I was curious as to what aspect of the project necessitates a proprietary license. For him it boils down to a matter of workflow and speed in getting the software out the door:

“It was simply a personal decision that I made that would allow me to move faster in the way that I develop, engineer, and ship products. But again, this was a deeply personal project that had no intentions of being a publicly-used application at first. No one knew that I was working on it for 6 months (starting in September of 2012)! It was a “night and weekend” passion project that has grown into a little monster! In regards to making it OS in the future – I’m not sure yet. I can see the validity from both sides being experienced and a big part of open source for a very long time.

This brings us to a very interesting question – should the developer’s workflow be a factor in the licensing of his project? I guess this is a very personal decision. My hope is that John will opt for an open source license in the future and receive all the benefits of having contributors. You never know how many developers would be happy to submit bug fixes and new features to a worthy OS project, putting it much further down the road than one developer could ever go by himself.

Saddington hopes to reclaim lost freedoms for users in offering them a way to publish their photos to their own sites with full ownership. It’s a very special thing that he chose to use the WordPress platform to help people regain these freedoms.

However, WordPress wouldn’t be the fantastic application-building framework that it is today without its open source license. There’s no getting around that fact. Pressgram is entirely dependent on WordPress in order to deliver photos to the user’s home on the web. Is there any reason why Pressgram couldn’t benefit from those same open source principles that have made WordPress a resounding success?

These are interesting questions to consider. Congrats to Saddington and his team on launching the app today. Pressgram is an amazing example of how WordPress can be used to power a creative application with mass appeal. We’re likely to see many such apps in the future.

33 Comments


  1. Anyone correct me if im wrong. But how many of Automatics services that is stuff that runs on their servers are open source, i.e not the plugin installed with WordPress? PollDaddy, Akismet, VaultPress, JetPack, Gravatar, IntenseDebate, VideoPress, SimpleNote?
    If its as I suspect that everything is closed source, i find it somewhat curious about the different attitudes to software. On server, closed and proprietary fine. Together with WordPress must be OS, and apparently on your phone. Must be OS.

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  2. I heard about a project a while ago (before the PressGram anouncement) which sounded a lot more promising to me. It was going to be open source. I don’t know if it is still under development or not though.

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  3. @Andreas Nurbo – That’s an entirely different situation. As Jeff pointed out, all of the proprietary Automattic services are server side. I don’t think they have any distributed closed source products, or at least not that I’m aware of.

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  4. @Ryan Hellyer – If you promote open source its a little odd to draw the line at ones server. Open source has nothing to do with distrubution per se. Especially given the hardcore stance towards GPL that exists in the community and the leadership. The reason I can see is that Automattic would give away its business model by doing so. But then being so hard against it is a little iffy.
    @Jeffro – See above.

    Anyway this is a little offtopic.

    If i had had an iphone id probably try out the plugin and app. It looks really good.

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  5. @Andreas Nurbo – what @Jeffro said, GPL is copyleft and you have to publish the source code under the license (and most copyleft licenses) if you distribute the product, an app is a prime example of this: a distributed product that’s made available for people for free or as a purchase. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyleft

    To be clear though, Pressgram doesn’t break the GPL since it’s code was not derived from any work that was copyleft. The decision to go with copyleft or not is a personal one and one that John is entitled to, but of course everybody has differing opinions on what the right way to go is.

    Personally I’m excited to try it out, but wish it was GPL so it would help move the WP app space forward instead. :)

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  6. I’m mildly curious about the sustainability of Pressgram. Aside from future acquisition, how would such an app generate any sort of revenue to warrant the time investment?

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  7. @Isaac Keyet – I’m well versed in the GPL, but im talking about open source. Requesting and wanting people to make their stuff open source but not doing it one self is the thing I have issue with.

    Hopefully Pressgram finds a suitable income model that support it moving forward so they can create an Android app so I can test it out =).

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  8. Re: Pressgram

    I no longer trust John Saddington. His abrupt, no warning closures of both WPDaily and 8Bit was very unprofessional. His excuse that keeping the license to Pressgram proprietary helped his workflow is total BS. He could have made the code open source and still kept it to himself until he was ready to release it. Then the project could really take off because of the already active WordPress community. I smell a profit motive and control issues at work here. He relies on the open source nature of WordPress and yet keeps a service built on top of that proprietary? He probably thinks he’ll make more money by keeping the code proprietary but he’s further marginalizing a community that he’s already been disrespectful to.

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  9. @Robert Lilly – The app is not built or use any WP code, the rest is server based, the plugin is GPL (I think) so whats not too like?
    If you have such issues take them up with Automattic and other people that makes services for WP but do not release the source.

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  10. @Andreas Nurbo – You seem to have an ax to grind with Automattic, and that’s not relevant to the blog post, nor the comments based on it. We have no idea what license(s) they’re using internally because no one but Automattic has access to that code, therefore it’s irrelevant to anyone outside the company.

    In John’s case, he has released this app for public consumption. So, his choosing not to open source it (which I agree he legally has the right to do) is something we are affected by, it’s very relevant, if we want to use the app. I just think his motives for doing so are suspect. I’ve already given my reasons for not trusting him, which was the entire point of my original comment.

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  11. @Robert Lilly – No issue with Automattic, issue with the different standards that are applied when it comes to view on OS in the WP sphere.
    I’m all for proprietary apps, plugins, services. But if one is a huge OS proponent then one should be it all the way.
    No issue with John wanting to make money down the road with his proprietary stuff. Wish him all the best of luck with that. (Since making a living on donations for free open source software does not work for almost anyone =)

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  12. @Ryan Hellyer – Wow! I think the concerns raised in that post, and even more in the comments, could all be addressed by making this project open source and then getting the benefit of eyeballs with different areas of expertise. John can still monetize this, but the code, the service, etc. would be more trustworthy and not dependent on a single person’s/company’s whims.

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  13. @Ryan Hellyer, @Robert Lilly – Making this OS had not resolved this issue. This issue is that he uses the xmlrpc functionality and that will always make the password info public if the site is not on https. All tools that uses xmlrpc are subject to man in the middle, wireless packet sniffing and so forth. Same as when you login using the browser. XML-RPC really should use alternate method to verify account info. So ppl complaining about this really should get the info correct first. Personally think he should make a plugin to handle the info, would be little more “secure”, so not use the default unsecure xmlrpc functionality. Thought that was the case from the get go.
    Essentially complaining about this is the same as saying that WordPress is insecure.
    Unless I’ve missunderstood something.

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  14. @Andreas Nurbo – I assume most people figured the phone application itself was storing the password, not the phone application.

    If you are going to store passwords, then it should be made upfront with a giant warning sign when you sign up. I don’t know if that is the case here or not.

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  15. @Andreas Nurbo – Oops, I meant “I assume most people figured the phone application itself was storing the password, not the PressGram website.”

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  16. @Ryan Hellyer Wow. And you guys are reading Stephanis’ 2nd post on this as well, right?

    Sarah Gooding had plugged straight into userland’s primal anxieties over loss of control …. then the erstwhile deliverance turns out to have been seeing the black-hats, card-for-card, and upping the ante on the game.

    I don’t have any idea what John Saddington’s trip is …. confronted by Stephanis, he is now backpedelling, or something. But whether John is for-real the oily operator of the week, or was just caught up in the flow and missed that he was playing his support-base for fools & suckers …. the fact is, his own TOS were plainly hostile to users, and contradicted the message under which eg Sarah Gooding, and WPTavern.com, promoted his product.

    Wow. Dancing With The Stars, r us.

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  17. @Ted Clayton -This article wasn’t a promotion of his product – just an interview with someone who’s doing something interesting with WordPress. I sincerely hope he changes his licensing to OS – have no idea why he isn’t doing it right away since the app is already launched. He would only stand to benefit from all the input, especially since the WP community is known for having tons of feedback and an abundance of people willing to contribute to OS projects they find to be worthwhile. I’ve really enjoyed the investigative posts Stephanis is publishing on the app and all of the great discussions that are happening here and over there.:)

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  18. @Sarah Gooding -Short of saying it’s rubbish, you can’t write an article about something without promoting it :P I think that’s what Ted was referring to rather than implying it was a “promotional article” as such.

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  19. @Ryan Hellyer – Well I dont see that the server stores the credentials just that it uses them as part of the original request from the app. Sure it results in two possible hijack attempts instead of just one if the app communicated directly.
    but disclosure is always best.

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  20. @Ryan Hellyer – That’s right. WPTavern might not be quite the cover of Rolling Stone, but it’s a pretty fair ‘bully pulpit’ for those with products of potential interest to the WordPress usership. Any nominally positive coverage here, acts to promote whatever is being discussed.

    As such, anybody that has a product for WP they’d like, um, publicized to those who might find it useful, on the pages of WPTavern (etc), by their skilled staff of writers (etc) … it is clearly your responsibility – and an important one – to ensure that any, um, ‘backstory’ is fully exposed to the staff, before they expend the effort to write your story up nicely & publish it.

    If you have something you’d like to have covered in one of the leading WordPress news websites, there definitely should not be any dog-piles hidden in the tall grass, for them to get all over their shoe and track through the house.

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  21. Congrats to John on the launch although we are finding out some things now that we didn’t know before the launch. However, at lease from what I’ve seen, John is doing a good job with damage control and has been making the necessary changes related to how the product works and the Terms Of Service.

    With that aside, I did an old-man rant on Episode 120 of WordPress Weekly. The question I have is why do so many people like Instagram or Pressgram? In my opinion, I’ve seen more images ruined with dumb filters versus images that were enhanced by them. It drives me insane every time I see someone post a supposedly awesome sunset only to have it look black and white because they applied filters to it. Good job ruining nature’s beauty! That’s why I’m fully behind the #nofilters movement on Twitter. All Instagram has done is make it incredibly easy to ruin pictures. I know there is more to Pressgram than just filters and images but the overall concept is still a head scratcher for me.

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  22. Lovely post Sarah. You writing is fluid, clear and very engaging. I enjoyed hearing your voice through your words.

    I want the app to be available for android users too.

    I look forward to what’s ahead in the future.

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