About the broken feature of photosharing: discovery and explore

Whereas photosharing has become so popular for the last years, it is well known that most of the time, looking for “good photographers” – which means someone who takes pictures YOU like, has become more and more challenging. Arthur Chang has already written an excellent post about this. Curation is indeed a real challenge as the flow of new pictures is getting each month even bigger.

Some may argue they can always find good picture easily. I can’t and more important, I am struggling finding photographers I really like. That’s surprising because I am a very versatile photographer and I can like a lot of different “species” of photographers. But the reason is trivial. There are now too many pictures!

Too much information

I don’t know Arthur, but he seems to have tons of good ideas about curation of your friends’ photos. And obviously, there is some real room for improvements. I have had several times some discussions with Pictarine‘s founder similarly. There service is a great curating tool, but it still does not help with information overload, at least so far. That’s more the other way around, you are not going to miss any picture! And again, I don’t know whether my existing contacts are really so close to connecting me with the photographers I like. In theory, yes, and the only good tool I know, flexplore, is doing a really decent job. Most of the pictures are beautiful. It helps a lot to discover great pictures, but not to connect with photographers I like because a good picture does not mean you will like the work of the photographer! At the end of the day, photosharing is about people, not photography.

Most of the photosharing services are egocentric, which can be fine, fair enough. But it is not enough. When you like photography per se, not only because you need to have some people who are faving your photography just because you faved theirs, you would love browsing for more. You want to be surprised, you need emotions, you want to discover. And like said Thomas Hawk, most of the photographers’ work will stay unknown by those who would like to see it. More over, it is now so easy to engage and communicate, you would love to contact them but you can’t because there are lost in the noise of “too much pictures” and “very limited explore features”.

What a good picture means

OK there is maybe Flexplore again, but it is still very limited. So I don’t know any tool good at showing me some interesting pictures for ME, and I have no doubt someone else will not find interesting the same pictures than I do. And that’s the point. Some services have tried to quantify the aesthetic of a picture. I tried it, and I am not convinced! Other clever tools exist to auto-tag pictures and autocrop them (Which means they could quantify a lot and help you a lot). But no real “discovery & explore” tool aside from Arthur’s criteria:

  • Quantity of views
  • Quantity of actions taken
  • Quality of person who viewed or acted (based on their own accumulated algorithm results)
  • Time (recency)

I am sure this tool would need some personalization because, again, there is no way to find and absolute way to classify photographies. I can’t care less about puppies’ pictures, some would love seeing thousands of them, I respect that. Conversely, I like HDR, B&W and many other kind of pictures, some love or dislike HDR or B&W and so on.

We are still far – well at least as far as I can know – given how poor the existing libraries are able to quantify the aesthetic of a picture and also because auto-tagging is still at its infancy. But for sure there is here a fantastic subject for brave and talented entrepreneurs… In the meantime, I would love seeing Pictarine and Arthur’s project helping me on my urgent need for good pictures!

Some thoughts about the future of photostreaming

Photostreams are now just a commodity for any social service, and has improved dramatically for the last months. Facebook and Flickr recent improvements may be two obvious examples. Let’s list first some trends in 2012:

Bigger is better
That’s obvious: the experience improves with the picture size and photostreams are now able to display much bigger pictures.

Adjust to your screen size
Services like Flickr allow you to see a given picture of a stream, by clicking it, at the maximum size possible. Cool.

Endless stream
That’s also obvious, we hate clicking on “next page please”, and, freaking consumers that we are all like to see as many pictures as possible in the shortest time frame available.

Mosaic and no blank space please
Similarly, photostreams are now more and more mosaics without any blank space between pictures. That’s sound obvious nowadays, but that’s something actually recent. However, how and if you must crop pictures to display the stream is something yet not so clear:

Square crop
Square crop has become very popular, but for some, like Flickr, who are still preferring a justified streaming. Unlike some, I am not a fan of square crop, even if I do understand its usefulness, and to be more specific, for mobile device.

Present limitations
I understand my pictures must be cropped, but right now, it is far from being ideal. And browsing my Google Picasa albums with front page badly square cropped is just depressing for a photographer. Intelligent cropping tools are now starting to be available, so hopefully, this will improve soon.

Another problem with streaming is actually the search. We mainly browse mainly by either “time” or “tags”. This experience can be really frustrating, as pictures are now counted by billions, and you don’t want to see most of them for many reasons. Actually, it is becoming a real challenge to find the kind of pictures you are looking for. The trend – more and more pictures taken every year – will make the search experience on pictures more and more frustrating without some dramatic innovations.

That’s why I am sure, or at least I hope, that many new intelligent tools will be soon available. There are many ways to find what you are looking for and that’s how photostreaming may evolve: you can already give an aesthetic number to a picture. That’s very arguable, though. But I prefer from far missing some good pictures because the tool miscalculated their aesthetic value and browsing only “nice” pictures than browsing tons of uninteresting pictures for me. Yes, interestingness is really something photostreams are taking care of in a very basic way so far. Other tools are now providing a context to pictures, trying to avoid not only the tagging tasks, but providing some semantic to a picture to let people browsing it the way we want.

On top of this, there are now many ways to push your content to different channels and one person can post a picture to many streams. So services like Pictarine look to me a great way to display photostreaming by person. This dimensions does matter too. Search & display by people is really something still at its infancy for photostreaming. But let’s go a little bit further, I would love being able to look after a kind of photographer. Right now, finding new photographers that you like is a challenge, as we have all very different tastes. And photography has become so popular, there is no such thing than discovering new skilled photographers lost in armies of photographers you can’t care less about. Anyway, tha’ts something else I would discuss in another post.

Conclusion: how to handle an exponential volume of pictures?
So to make a long story short, the main challenge of photostreaming, in the future, would be to take care of “volume”. I believe that several business will be extremely successful if they will be able to improve the photostreaming experience of users. Welcome to a digital world of billions and billions of pictures… and counting.