Craig Wilson | Rando: one picture, one person
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Rando: one picture, one person

It’s Rando‘s contrarian premise that first led me to download it for iOS in June (it’s since added versions for Android and Windows Phone). You take a picture (cropped to a circle) and it gets sent to another, random Rando user. In exchange for each picture you send you receive one, also from a random user. That’s it.

There are no options to share sent or received images to social networks or email them. There’s no way to communicate with the recipients of your images, or the senders of those you receive. A recent update added the ability to manipulate a smiley face between a smile and a frown, but that’s the extent of the interaction on offer.

The only data Rando gives you about an image — if a user agrees to it when they install the app — is its location.

Most of Rando’s charm lies in the location information shared by its users, so it’s disappointing when someone turns off location sharing during setup. The company’s hinted it might nudge such users down the line to reconsider.

I’ve received images from a Fox News studio in Chicago, one of a man in Iceland with a pencil up his nose and all sorts of photos from South Korea — undoubtedly home to the Rando’s most active user base (and it’s biggest, according to a TechCrunch article in May).

Originally Rando only offered a stream of received images (with sent ones saved to your phone’s photo library) and their origin, but the addition of a stream of sent images means you can now see where yours land up, too. There’s a lot of potential for Rando to expand this functionality to interactive maps of sent and received images without removing the anonymity that sets it apart from conventional sharing and social services.

Incredibly, despite Rando being incredibly suited to inappropriate imagery, I haven’t received any. Seriously, not a testicle, nipple or anything else remotely adult. That said, I have seen a few pairs of trousers around ankles and a wider variety of toilet rolls and holders than anyone needs to.

I’ve seen plenty of interiors, food, trinkets and pets. This may be on account of the inability to use existing images — each has to be captured using the app. There’s the temptation, especially when exploring the app for the first time, to take lots of images quickly, and that usually means lots of crummy ones. Add to this other people doing the same and the number of excellent photos, of the sort it’s easy to find on services like Instagram or Flickr, isn’t high.

But then, that’s not the point with Rando. The great pictures you do receive with it are more enthralling than those of other photo sharing services. Not only do you only know, at best, the city of origin — which adds a mystique most images lack thanks to metadata and share-everything culture — but you know that the image exists only with you and the sender.

The service’s immediacy is also enticing. It can take a minute (or a few) to receive an image after you send one, but when something grand or beautiful or inspiring arrives from a foreign country in the midst of a mundane day in your part of the world it doesn’t have the same jealousy-inducing tendency that pictures shared to social media do.

If social media’s mantra is “Look how amazing my life is!” — and many argue that’s the way things are heading — Rando’s is “Here’s my ordinary life, show someone yours”.

Of course, Randos (as developer UsTwo would like their users to refer their circular snapshots) have begun popping up on traditional social media thanks to people taking screenshots of them. I’ve done so myself, but it doesn’t put me off the service any more than sharing my city with a random stranger does. Frankly, the idea of someone sharing one of my more carefully-composed images with their social networks without my ever knowing about it makes me want to use it even more.

If it’s peer approval you’re after in the forms of “likes” or “reshares” Rando will infuriate you.

Since launch the ability to delete images from your streams has found its way into Rando, something I’d recommend doing because, in the absence of any way to view or select images en masse, the two streams can quickly become cumbersomely long.

Rando refers to itself as “an experimental photo exchange platform”. It remains to be seen how many people will take to, and more importantly stick to, the service — I find I forget about it for weeks at a time — but there’s no doubt closed social sharing services are on the rise and people are increasingly interested in their own privacy. Suddenly, anonymity is sexy again.  — CW

Above: a timelapse of two Rando billboards being put up (presumably, going on the busses) in London, bearing the peculiar messages “You have no friends” and “No one likes you” respectively.

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