Crowd Sourcing E-Commerce Photos

There is no longer any doubting the power of mobile phones, and in particular the ability to rapidly share photos with hipster-esque filters applied. After all, we can all cite theone billion$reasons for this.

So when the idea was hatched at thelongboardstore.com to add in some social photo aspect to our site, I was very excited to bring the functionality to life.

Photos By The People, For The People

The concept is rather simple – tap into the massive growing user base of Instagram, and our customer’s mobile devices to power photos for the website. A majority of our customers are in the younger crowd, so why not give them a way to post pictures of what they love – their longboards.

Instagram Photos in Product Detail Page

So all a friend of thelongboardstore.com needs to do is tag any photo with #thelongboardstore within Instagram, and the rest is Rails/Instagram API magic.

Some Code, Some Moderation

To implement the new feature, I leveraged the `official` Instagram ruby gem:

#Gemfile
gem "instagram"

And depending on how you roll with your configuration options, simply add something like so:

#/config/initializers/instagram.rb
Instagram.configure do |config|
config.client_id = "z0mgcl13nt1d"
config.access_token = "s3cr3ts4u1r3ll"
end

For data modeling, I setup a has_many through relationship for Instagram media to our `Product` model. This allows a given photo of a longboard, or a truck, to be attached to many products on the public-facing side of our website. Super social huh?

With all that in place, the process of fetching photos from the Instagram API to persist in our system is so simple it hurts:

instagrams = Instagram.tag_recent_media('thelongboardstore', {:min_tag_id => @last_import_min_tag_id})

The min_tag_id option is a timestamp of sorts that Instagram passes back in their response. This allows the developer to specify a point in time to search for photos.

I iterate over the result set, and add the new photos into a moderation queue in our Admin interface… because you can’t always trust people to do the right thing, and it allows us to attach photos to products.

In Moderation

In-House Efficiencies

The perks of the social photo aspect are obvious for our site visitors. It gives them a way to share their stoke with us, and the rest of the community, and it offers a great glimpse at our products in-action… in a way its almost as good as an in-depth review of the board.

One other awesome thing that has come of the new system though is how we are using Instagram in-house for adding detailed photos to our products. We currently shoot all of our own product photos at the shop – stock photos are just so, well meh. But now, any person in the shop can take a few snapshots of a deck from a different angle, or a close up detail shot of a graphic and add it to the site.

The process is extremely fast, and really fun as well. In the first day alone, two folks at the shop added close to 100 photos. One Hundred. In a single afternoon.

I’m curious to see how our customers start using the system. This morning there were a dozen or so pictures in the queue from them. Furthermore, the Instagram API option of subscribing to tags or geographic areas has got me thinking of a few other applications to use with the service.

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