Chances are yours phone’s camera roll is filled with tons of screenshots. Most captured intentionally, some conceived by the soft fumbling of your fingers on your phone’s buttons. And if you’re really into making TikTok videos, you’re probably a more prolific screenshotter than most, snapshotting every interesting corner of the internet for those #greenscreen effects.
Screenshots are dumb. I don’t mean dumb as a concept; they serve a purpose. They have as much rightful (if fleeting) utility as a photo of an expendable receipt. They’re important enough to have their own built-in album on our phones. But they’re static. They lack the motion of video, the perceived emotion of a photo. You send a friend a screenshot of an address, and your pal still has to do the work of looking up the address.
What if screenshots were linkable, or portals to the playlist, the mapped location, the shopping page you wanted to share? That’s the reality Alex Mahedy has been trying to create for the past few years. The twentysomething New York City–based entrepreneur has even convinced some noteworthy venture capitalists to fund the idea. He just launched a new app for sharing link-enabled screenshots, called Pager.
“As the internet has become more visual, this trend of capturing and sharing screenshots has only accelerated,” Mahedy says. The pandemic stoked that acceleration, when people were even more glued to their screens for both information gathering and socializing. According to Pager’s own internal analysis of early beta testers of the app, screenshotting rates grew 40 percent during a period of just a few weeks starting in early March 2020. These users now capture an average of 5 screenshots a day.
“But at the same time, the screenshot hasn’t really changed since the iPhone came out. They kind of represented this intractable problem of figuring out how to understand what’s in an image,” Mahedy said. “And now technology has changed to a point where, both in hardware and AI, this is suddenly not so much of an intractable problem.”
Here’s how Pager works, and this may be its biggest barrier at the start: It’s a separate mobile app that’s currently only available through TestFlight, an Apple-owned app testing platform. This also means it’s only available on iOS right now. The app first collates the existing screenshots in your camera roll. (It actually asks for permission to access all photos, a request that typically makes privacy advocates cringe, but Pager claims it’s only touching your screenshots. And iOS now lets people select which photos they want to share with other apps.)
Your Pager account appears as a page—hence the app’s name—of a selection of screenshots you choose to make public on your personalized corner of Pager’s website: for example, pager.xyz/lauren. Those screenshots, whether they’re of a pair of pants, a Google Maps address, an Instagram account, or a Taylor Swift song playing in your music app of choice, are then linkable.
At first glance, a Pager page looks a whole lot like a Pinterest page. The difference lies in the technology and, to some extent, how it might work in the future.
Duncan Buck, Pager’s Berlin-based chief technology officer, says the company built its own computer vision system for recognizing screenshot data and interpreting graphical user interfaces. In seconds, the system analyzes your uploaded screenshot, takes that data and generates links that will take users in the direction of the content that’s contained in the image. Basically, it takes a dead image and turns it into something with a link, something your friends can click. It’s not just OCR, Buck says, referring to the optical character recognition technology used in text-scanning apps; it’s a melding of different computer vision techniques.