If you were anywhere near the Internet yesterday evening, you probably know what this is referring to:

frick frack

If somehow you missed out on ‘the singularity’, which broke Buzzfeed’s all-time traffic records on the way to becoming one of the most truly bizarre viral explosions in recent memory, here’s a quick rundown. Yesterday, Tumblr user swiked posted a picture of this dress, to be worn by the mother of the bride at a Scottish wedding, along with a simple question: what colour is it?

original dress post

Is it white and gold? Or is it blue and black?

As it turns out, a lot of people hold very strong opinions about this:

dress screenshots sidebyside

Screen shot 2015-02-27 at 11.25.17 AM

It even led to a rift in Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton branch:

mindy bjnovak

After a few hours of the Internet collectively losing its shit, some people finally figured out how this happened. It turns out that the combination of illumination and oversaturation of the photograph created an image where, depending on lighting conditions near the observer and the relative activation of the rods and cones in their retinas, roughly half of observers see this photograph as white and gold, and the other half see it as blue and black:

rods cones

Anyway, enough about the dress: I want to talk about something else that happened here.

Look again at the sampling of screenshots above. They’re absurd, hilarious, and highly shareable. Yet the only way we currently have to share conversation snips like these is to manually take a screenshot and then share that image. Seems weird, no?

dress breakup

benevans every screenshot lost opportunity

Unlike tweets, posts, photos or snaps, these entertaining back-and-forths just aren’t natively shareable without a necessary intermediate step – taking a screenshot – that feels extremely analog and primitive. By going through this unnecessarily long process each time, users are giving a clear signal: we’re going to share these dress fights by any means necessary, even if it takes me extra effort. And for good reason, too: the information contained in the sequence of messages, in each case, is a lot more interesting (in this case, funnier) than any individual message.

Some great screenshots weren’t message threads either:


Yet still no effective way to share these funny bits of content without resorting to a clunky analog method of capturing an image, saving that file, then sharing the saved picture.

As it turns out, my go-to favourite for these types of insights Benedict Evans wrote about this a few months ago. Smartphone screenshots are desire paths – think footpaths after a snowfall indicating where people want to be walking, regardless of where the actual paths lie – and contain clues of what features users want but don’t have.

screenshots are desire paths

I’m really looking forward to seeing who solves this problem. Sometimes existing companies clue in to well-worn desire paths, like when Twitter learned from its users that Retweeting was actually a very useful function. Other times it takes a new entrant, like Yik Yak, to see that physical proximity was the ingredient missing from anonymous messaging apps like PostSecret and Whisper. Perhaps the answer to screenshot problem is for them to become shareable as cards within existing social platforms like Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat, but perhaps not. Hopefully it doesn’t require another internet implosion: although, I’ll admit, I found the whole episode pretty funny.

Also: about that dress? The mystery was finally solved: it’s blue and black. 

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