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Mixel Makes Collage Social But …

by Hrag Vartanian on November 11, 2011

The brainchild of Scott Ostler, co-founder of the image-sharing site Dump.fm, and Khoi Vinh, former design director of NYTimes.com, Mixel is a newly launched free iPad app that may just be a game changer in the world of online images. Sure, we’ve heard it all before, another service that promises to change it all, but in the case of Mixel it may just happen.

Why is Mixel different? First off, it’s attractive and easy to use. Within minutes I was already finding friends (you have to log in using Facebook) and remixing other people’s images. Within 10 minutes of downloading the app I had already tweeted out my first Mixel-facilitated image — that’s pretty fast even by app standards. Second of all, it’s very social, making it easy to share, comment and like other people’s images.

My "Updates" screen today.

There are some privacy and attribution concerns I immediately had when I started to use the app, including the fact that you are forced to sign in using Facebook and allowing the app to access a lot of information as a default setting, but the more serious artistic issue is one of attribution and copyright. I’m not a fan of strict copyright but I am a big fan of image attribution and credit for image creators. Sadly, there’s no way to link an image to its original source using Mixel, actually you don’t even see what URL or webpage the image was pulled from in the first place.

Searching the web for images is super easy with Mixel. (screenshot by the author) (click to enlarge)

I wonder if an app like Mixel may have artists of all types locking down their images in a way that can’t be accessed by a search engine. There is web image search capabilities [see image to the left] that quickly and easily (too easily?) pulls images off the internet with not permalink or original source. It’s getting a little irritating that every new image-based web startup seems to be in a race to find a way to strip images of their origins.

Tumblr is the most famous example of a service that allows users to capture images from the web and post or reblog them as if they were their own. That’s not to say that the same issue was not a problem with Flickr and older image-sharing services but Tumblr seemed to almost encourage attribution-less image sharing. Tumblr has remedied the situation somewhat with the “content source” box but even then images frequently appear elsewhere without credits or sources, all you have to do is reupload them. Mixel feels the same, it’s teasing you with a “don’t worry, just use it, nevermind where you got it” feel.

Unlike drawing, the skill level to create a simple (and potentially successful) collage is much lower, which isn’t to say that anyone can make a good collage but when has that stopped anyone anyway? This makes Mixel ripe for mass consumption. Need to make a quick graphic? Need a library of potential “clip art”? This is the place to go. Within days of launching there is already an impressive array of imagery to choose from, though no clear way to search them effectively. I can only imagine what will happen within a year or two.

The freedom allowed by a program like Mixel also makes it attractive and I will admit that the nature of traditional collage (ripping images or words from newspapers or magazines) isn’t exactly well suited for attribution, but hopefully the developers will eventually find a way to link images back to their source.

My playing around with Mixel at work.

After creating a collage you can share it using the usual suspects (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr *ahem*, email) or open it in Safari or save it locally in your photo albums. I tested the shareability by posting an image to Tumblr and it looks a-ok.

The ability to like and comment on collages are nice but as the program is limited to iPads the community that develops around this will be small until the iPad becomes ubiquitous. It is possible to see the posted Mixel images online even without an iPad but, like other new image sharing services, think Instagram (which barely has a public website), it’s not ideal.

The image editing capabilities on Mixel are simple (cropping is outlined with your finger, image layers can be brought front or back, images can be rotated, etc.) but there are some things I wish it had. Here are a few immediate like-to-haves:

  • a magic wand that allows me to grab an area that I can’t outline clearly with my finger
  • a way to inverse the selection (so I grab everything but what I selected)
  • a way to color edit images
  • a way to create animated GIFs
  • an easier way to organize layers
  • an easy way to search available images based on content or color (what if I’m looking for the perfect mushroom cloud to use?)

Having said all these fabulous things, I will say that the app did crash on me once today. At one point I got a blank gray slate with no ability to do anything so I simply deleted and redownloaded the app — problem solved but still irritating.

Now, raise your hand if you’re waiting for the first Mixel art exhibition? I wonder if they’ll be anything like the first Instagram shows?

Introducing Mixel for iPad from Mixel App on Vimeo.

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  • Anonymous

    …But you need an iPad.

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