Poor Rick Sebak.
Or maybe not.
WQED-TV's popular purveyor of Pittsburgh nostalgia seems to have captured a whole new audience with the advent of Yinztagram -- a new iPhone and iPad app that takes the hip in Instagram and adds a dose of Yinzer to it. [See yinztagram.com.]
First for those who have no idea what Instagram is: It's kind of the Brooklyn of photo-sharing programs, allowing the online posting of pictures in cool, vintage-y, artisanal ways -- faded Instamatic square photos of the 1960s, for example.
Yinztagram -- a play on the word "yinz" that many native Pittsburgers use instead of "you all" -- takes that idea a wee bit further: Users can insert various Pittsburgh icons into photos and post them on Twitter: your next-door neighbor with a fully loaded Primanti Bros. sandwich hovering above him -- or, better yet, in Sidney Crosby's mouth; a construction detour sign above Downtown's former-Hilton-now-Wyndham hotel; Bike Pittsburgh's iconic round "rivers" bike rack; a faded Green Belt road sign; or Mr. Sebak, whose cheery face has been adorning hundreds of Yinztagram photos on Twitter this week.
There he is, like Lewis Carroll's ubiquitous Cheshire cat, grinning from huge bales of hops from the East End Brewing Co., lurking in a studio portrait of a guy and his cat or hurtling into the space between Mitt Romney's gesturing hands.
"It's flattering," said Mr. Sebak, who noted that he has added several hundred extra followers on Twitter because of Yinztagram, "which must make me even more of an icon. But the best thing about it," said this curator of all things Pittsburgh, "is the name. It's a great name."
Thank Drew Von Arx, 30-year-old manager at Commonplace Voluto in Garfield, for coming up with it.
"If you come into the coffee shop on any day, chances are you'll hear me being a [Pittsburghese word for annoying wiseguy that begins with a 'j']," said Mr. Von Arx. "I like to think of ways to make people's eyes roll."
On this particular day, "I was kind of bored, and I was posting a picture from the coffee shop on Instagram, and suddenly I thought -- 'why isn't there a photo app called a Yinztagram?' Why isn't there something specifically for Pittsburgh or for people who love Pittsburgh as much as I do?"
So he texted the one person he knew who might be able to help -- Matthew Pegula, director of engineering at Deeplocal, an East Liberty Web and software design firm. Mr. Pegula, whose LinkedIn profile says he designs everything from "iPhone apps to mind-controlled bicycles," was happy to try.
That night, at happy hour at Kelly's Bar & Lounge in East Liberty, Mr. Pegula and some friends brainstormed about Yinztagram and voila! A few hours later, Mr. Von Arx received a photo of Mr. Pegula's wife, Holly -- sitting next to Rick Sebak.
Or rather the Pittsburgh icon, Rick Sebak.
"We just thought it was a joke, but one thing led to another," Mr. Pegula said.
He submitted the Yinztagram prototype to Apple, which approved the app for use on iPhones and iPads Monday, and as of Tuesday night, 4,500 people had downloaded it.
The Twitter site, #Yinztagram, has been busy too, with self-proclaimed yinzers, hipsters or a combination of both, posting any number of Primanti "sammiches" -- huge glistening mounds of cole slaw and fries in the arms of Star Wars robot R2D2, or sprawled across the cashier's counter at Target, where "DanceMoms1313" tweeted that she loved the sandwich with "fries on top!"
The app is a bit crudely done, Mr. Pegula acknowledged. The iconic images are often clearer than photos from smartphones, but the app actually seems to encourage the practice of what The New York Times once called "the Galapagos Islands of dialect" -- Pittsburghese, a language like no other.
"Hey, yinz," tweeted someone named ClothesKarma, posting a picture of the round rivers bike rack perched precariously atop one of Pittsburgh's famous steps. "Be sure to park yer bike at da top of those steps."
StathiPM at Niagara Falls tweeted a photo of herself at that famous misty destination -- with Dippy the Dinosaur. "Why not include a billboard featuring Pittsburgh icon Edgar Snyder?" tweeted someone called Spicuzzac.
Therein lies a problem: Some Pittsburgh icons on Yinztagram are in the public domain, while others, like Rick Sebak, readily agreed to have their image used. Still others, like Steelers football players or the Eat'n Park Smiley cookie or the Kennywood arrow -- or Mr. Snyder -- might balk at offering up their brand identity to legions of crazed Yinztagram users (after all, HughShows tweeted that he would "only download #yinztagram when the picture of Rick Sebak has him playing 'strip-pool.' ")
"It does get into brand issues," said Mr. Pegula. "I don't know about the legal ramifications of what we're doing, and I'm hopeful I will never need to know."
Still, he is entertaining suggestions for an updated version: A shot of Pittsburgh's tunnels, for example, or mullets. Some require a certain institutional memory: "You should get a pic of ironhead heyward beating up a paperboy," tweeted Randy Baumann, the host of WDVE's morning show. Others seem a bit -- well -- are they really Pittsburgh icons? "What do we need to do to make this happen?" tweeted Turner Iced Tea.
Mr. Von Arx is still happy, at least, that his little idea -- born in a moment of boredom -- has entertained so many social media users.
"I didn't think anything would ever come of it, and even if the app did get made, I thought our friends or families would have a little fun for one day, but here we are," he marveled.
"I just posted one of my 11-week-old daughter with a Primanti's sandwich," he added, "because how can you not do that?"
Mackenzie Carpenter: email@example.com or 412-263-1949. First Published August 26, 2012 4:00 AM