Chinese Photo App Adds PM2.5 Image Filter, As If Air Isn’t Already Polluted Enough

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Vida PM2.5 pollution photo filter

This week I noticed that the Chinese photo-sharing app Vida had joined in the national discussion about China’s polluted skies by adding a PM2.5 photo filter. When the filter is applied to your image, it make the photo slightly grey-yellow tinged, as if the air is as much chemical-y particulates as oxygen. Or if you live in Beijing or the parts of China worst affected by PM2.5 pollution and you then apply this new Vida filter, your original photo will surely be totally obscured. Thankfully I don’t live in Beijing, so when I tested out the filter, the visual results were not so bad as Beijing actually is much of the time.

Vida PM2.5 pollution photo filter

Once posted, the app tells you your location’s PM2.5 pollution data. Any number under 50 is good. Beijing’s pollution often hits 500, and has even gone off the scale once this year. (Click to enlarge)

The startup team behind Vida explained to me via Sina Weibo that the photo filter has another clever use. Aside from giving your friends a laugh, it’ll also use your location to display the PM2.5 pollution reading for your area in the form of text (pictured right) on the photo. The Vida team points out that their data feed is “delayed by one or two hours,” so it might not be hugely accurate. But still fun. In my test today, a PM2.5 result of just 31 shows that the air is clean (though gloomy) after being freshened up by yesterday’s snow and wind.

For the most up-to-date pollution read-outs, Chinese urbanites already have some neat dedicated apps, such as another startup’s perhaps sarcastically-named Fresh Air app. There’s also the official Beijing Air Quality app created by the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center, which gives PM2.5 data. That’s at least some progress after years of authorities trying to ignore and cover-up PM2.5 data, instead preferring to use read-outs for larger particulate pollution which didn’t make for such horrific reading.

Vida is one of many Instagram-like photo-sharing apps in the country, combining funky filters with a mini social network. Perhaps the largest of these is Tuding, which already had over four million users back in December 2011. Vida says it has four million right now.

Both Vida and Tuding recently incorporated voice comments to accompany photos that you post, which seems to be a new trend among local photo apps. Plus, both apps have been very nimble and clever in adding more fun filters – in contrast to the glacial evolution of Instagram – and have even added branded frames/filters as part of companies’ social marketing campaigns. Imagine the pained cries and agonized goatee-pulling that would occur if Instagram tried that.

The Vida app supports English and Chinese and is available for iPhone and Android.

(And yes, we're serious about ethics and transparency. More information here.)

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