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Facebook in Real Life: Startup Finds the Art & the Ego in Social Interactions

Name: Social Printshop

Quick Pitch: Social Printshop is an early-stage startup working to significantly alter the web’s relationship with the physical realm. Its first product, the Facebook Friend Poster, is the equivalent of a real-life Facebook Wall.

Genius Idea: Capitalizing on social interactions

Benjamin Lotan is the founder and CEO of Social Printshop, a startup that turns social media connections and photos into physical prints that buyers can put on display in their homes and offices.

On the surface, it’s a straightforward printshop serving the social media obsessed. Social Printshop’s products — Facebook fan/friend posters, Twitter prints, social media stickers and mini photo books — all add tangibility to social media relationships. What better way to experience those Facebook or Twitter relationships than to observe the avatars of these “friends” on your wall, in an art-like fashion?

There’s no controversy here, except that Lotan admits to building a business that caters to the ego and capitalizes on social interactions. It’s a regular business objective, but Lotan sees himself as a Robin Hood. “We’re almost stealing money from our customers,” he says, “to reroute money into projects we believe in.”

Lotan, a Visual Arts student working toward a Master of Fine Arts at the University of California at San Diego, believes in the artistic sensibility of those around him. Frustrated by seeing friends’ and fellow students’ solid ideas fail for lack of funding, Lotan chose a road that would potentially right those wrongs.

“I saw the tech route as the easiest route to get money pretty quickly,” he says. So, Lotan built and launched the Facebook Friend Poster in a week, and used it as a vehicle to mobilize friends and create a business.

Lotan speaks of a three- or four-year plan to make Social Printshop into a profitable company, at which time he’ll funnel the money into projects closer his heart.

The immediate goal is to feed off early attention, create a brand and work on a more meta goal of adding point-of-sale to social interactions, something Lotan refers to as both “supremely nice and supremely evil.”

Though a handful of other products have since been released, the Facebook Friend Poster remains Social Printshop’s most recognized product. Mashable, as a customer, will create the world’s largest real-life Facebook Wall to put on display in our New York headquarters as wallpaper. Our interest has spawned a me-too reaction from huge brands who want a giant life-sized social canvas of their own, according to Lotan.

The look-at-how-big-my-following-is motivation has an Old Spice Guy ring to it. Look at your Facebook fans. Now back at mine. Now look at all of the people who love me, and marvel at my greatness.

Lotan, omni-conscious of the ego-appeal in his existing products, may or not may soon release, a site that could take self-importance too far into the absurd.

The name alone sounds like everything that’s wrong with the web, and that’s almost the point. The app caters to the notion that you are your greatest fan. It will hook into your Facebook profile, strip out your friends, and just show you in all your glory. started as a way to poke fun at Facebook photo app Pixable and online start page Lotan says that the irony behind these products is that people really only want to look at photos of themselves. Though, after continuing to iterate on the app, he’s now conflicted between building a product with real appeal and releasing something that could be perceived as a joke.

That battle wages on, but Social Printshop’s 15-person team — an unusual blend of developers, writers, musicians, poets and an investor with a soft-core porn background — is currently using its $70,000 in seed funding to build two photo-centric mobile apps, with associated for-charge print products, of course.

Today, Social Printshop processes anywhere from one to ten orders per day and handles custom corporate requests. “To get to be a 100 million dollar company,” Lotan says, “we’re going to need to produce something significant.” He talks of producing a print API and creating an ecosystem of its own to make that happen.

Still, Social Printshop traffics in the ego. And, is there any less art in that? A Twitter photo print of all my followers would be a cool way to represent four-plus years of social achievement. Where do I sign-up? Cha-ching.

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