Tuyuan, A Photo-Centric Social Network

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tuyuan-logo Tuyuan, a Beijing-based startup allows users to do the online social networking by using Facial Recognition technology. Surprisingly, Tuyuan was first discovered by TechCrunch, but as usual, Mike seems not very serious about the Chinese market, still.

In Tuyuan, once you upload the photos, the faces on these photos can be automatically recognized, i.e. your friends can be discovered automatically and tagged by their faces. We had a chat and also a few email exchange with Huazhang Shen, the founder of Tuyuan. The following summarizes our conversation:

1. About Tuyuan

Tuyuan.com is a very new web site, but as a project it was started in early 2005. Like many other startups, Shen started it in his living room, together with several friends. The project was not really like what Tuyuan.com is doing today, but both focus on the basic elements, Photos and People.

Shen said, “Many people own digital cameras or camera phones nowadays. Like most of us, I enjoy taking photos of my family and friends, but I am far from a real photographer. Tuyuan is for people just like me – none-professional photographers. We are accumulating more and more photos in our hard drives, which vividly record our lives and memories, but it’s still very hard to share and enjoy them. That’s why I started this project. I think if we can build something to solve this problem for us, we can help many people to better share and enjoy their photos. ”

Talking about the name of Tuyuan, Shen told us the story behind it, “I still remember that was a sunny winter day, I suddenly figured out the SNS property of photos. Tuyuan are two characters in Chinese, Tu(图) means pictures, here it refers to photos; Yuan(缘) means fate, or the mysterious force that drives two people together in their lives. So Tuyuan means the fate that drives us together shown with photos. It’s a perfect name for what Tuyuan is doing – a people network connected with photos.”

2. The uniqueness of Tuyuan, a nice combination of SNS and Photo-sharing.

In the SNS market, Tuyuan, I would say is quite unique. Unlike Facebook or Xiaonei, Tuyuan is focusing on preserving and sharing photos rather than a more complete SNS experience these SNS services are trying to provide. On the other hand, Tuyuan is very different from any photo sharing service, such as Yupoo.com, because they are focusing on photos, while Tuyuan is focusing on people in these photos.

Photo is one of the most important features for any SNS service, however, from Shen’s opinion none of existing can provide professional service to meet users’ photo sharing needs, especially when the number of photos is skyrocketing nowadays. On the other hand, lacking people information in photos, most photo-sharing services only function as an online photo storage tool with very limited functions to “play” with the photos, i.e users can’t use photos to effectively connect people together. Tuyuan is trying to combine the two and provide an unique service to our users – the most natural way to share and play with your photos.

3. About Chinese SNS market.

Shen also shared his views on Chinese SNS market. He think,

The Chinese SNS market is getting very interesting in 2008. With the 15-billion valuation of Facebook, there are hundreds of Facebook clones in China, partly contributed by some open-source SNS projects. At the same time, QQ is still the king in the SNS market, with 51.com steadily catching up and Xiaonei.com with $430 million investment from Softbank. The big opportunity for the Chinese SNS market lies in several areas: 1. Go beyond entertainment; 2. Open API; 3. Be professional on a single feature, or a vertical market.

The next step for Tuyuan is to build novel and entertaining applications based on photo and people information through collaboration, and these fun applications can be used by other SNS services as well. Although Tuyuan’s initial goal is to be professional on the “Photos” of SNS, with features like facial-recognition, we think Tuyuan has great chance to be a key player in the SNS market.

Shen co-founded his first Internet company in 2000 which turned profit in less than half a year. After that, Shen tried several projects but they were all not very successful. But Shen is very confident with Tuyuan, he said, “The strength of Tuyuan is our passion to achieve the seemingly impossible, understanding of the market, experience on product design and implementation, plus a fairly high technology entry barrier…Tuyuan is something I can do for a lifetime.”