I’ve made public declarations on Facebook and Instagram that I will not publish on those platforms frequently anymore. I’d like to say that Facebook’s drunken-pirate behavior with our data finally pushed me over the edge, but I can’t. On Facebook I finally had enough of the political tribalism. On Instagram, about every fourth post is an ad. I’m not anti-advertising but that’s too much.
I’m not deactivating my accounts. I’ll still check in from time to time, if for no other reason that I still promote this blog through a Facebook page (here if you’re curious) and share from that page to various Facebook groups. Like I’ve said before (here), Facebook remains the most effective way I’ve found to promote my blog. I still promote the Historic Michigan Road through Instagram (here).
But I want to look at photographs, especially film photographs. When I make time to really study a good photograph, not only does it deepen my enjoyment, but it can teach me something about photography that I can try on my next roll of film.
If I follow you on Flickr, you might have noticed that I’ve starred more of your photographs lately. I’m shifting to Flickr as the primary place I go to view photos and (outside of this blog’s comments) interact with photographers.
Flickr isn’t as fun as it was when I joined in 2006. But I want to believe that new owner SmugMug means what it says and will revitalize the community. I see no ads there, and I’m not aware they use my data beyond what is necessary to operate the service.
I’ve always been able to look at photographs there as easily on my desktop as I can my phone. And now that SmugMug has increased the maximum upload resolution, I can study photographs there in ways not available on any other platform I’ve used. Facebook and Instagram can’t touch Flickr here.
If you’re active on Flickr I’d like it very much if you’d leave your Flickr URL in the comments, unless you’re sure that I already follow you there. Here’s my Flickr stream if you’d like to follow me. Thank you!
I know someone who used to not only work at Facebook, but was in a position where she regularly spoke with founder Mark Zuckerberg. She frequently posted images and stories from within Facebook’s offices. I saw an energizing place to work and a company on a positive mission.
Being on Facebook was fun in those days. It’s not anymore, except for rare occasions when it is. As I’ve written before (here) this is like the abusive spouse who’s nice to you just often enough that you think maybe it’ll be different now and you stay.
Amid the ever growing negative news about Facebook — how they gather and sell information about you, their monopolistic practices — I think they’ve lost their way, if indeed they ever had it. I want to walk away. I don’t want to support them anymore.
Yet I stay, because at the moment it is the best platform available to me for promoting not only this blog, but also the Michigan Road Historic Byway and also my church. I post on behalf of all three on Facebook and it drives more engagement and traffic than anything else I do. It’s not a life-changing amount, but without it my stats would be far, far lower.
I’m also over Instagram, because it’s a Facebook company and because literally every third post is an ad now. I’m especially frustrated with that because Facebook knows my search history and has figured out I’m looking for comfortable shoes thanks to my bum left foot, and keeps showing me lovely orthotically correct shoes and I keep clicking through because foot pain sucks. I hate it that I’m falling for this.
But I promote the Michigan Road Historic Byway there, and new posts there automatically post on Facebook too. This drives more engagement with our byway than anything else we’ve tried. It’s not an overwhelming amount, but we hate to leave it behind.
I seldom look at what my “Facebook friends” are up to anymore. I’ve hidden all the friends who post mostly political stuff, even when I agree with their politics. I’ve also hidden the friends who post mostly memes and share articles. That leaves little to see.
But in the last couple years Facebook’s groups have become a welcome replacement for the forums I used to frequent, about the kinds of arcane and esoteric topics I enjoy — old roads, neon signs, obscure cameras, and more. The Indiana Transportation History group is flat out amazing for the information its founder unearths in his research. I don’t want to leave that behind.
I keep thinking I ought to quit it all. But I hold my nose and stay.
The primary reward I receive for what I publish online is interaction with you.
Some of that interaction is of high quality: namely, when you leave an interesting comment, especially one that teaches me something I didn’t know or helps me see something from a different perspective.
But most of what I get is in the form of likes. Or hearts or upvotes or favorites or claps or whatever it’s called on whichever platform I’m on. It’s a form of acknowledgement that whatever I posted resonated somehow.
One of those platforms is Imgur (here’s my user page), where Imgurians call them “fake Internet points.” Being Imgur, there are memes.
It is fashionable now to pooh-pooh chasing after fake Internet points. Chasing them is, at the end of the day, a waste of time and accomplishes little.
Yet each fake Internet point delivers a small dopamine hit. In moderation, what’s wrong with that?
The primary place I go for fake Internet points is Instagram. I have tried to use it as a way of promoting this blog’s film-photography posts, but it’s not really working. I might get one or two clickthroughs from each Instagram post.
But my followers keep clicking the little heart on my posts, and it feels good to get them.
When you chase fake Internet points you need to consider return on investment and opportunity cost. Do the good feelings you get from likes, favorites, et. al., seem like a reasonable reward for the time you spent posting? And would that time you spent posting have been better spent doing something else?
I make time to write in this blog: I get up early and write in it each morning. It’s because the reward I’ve received for doing it seems to be worth it. Your comments have taught me so much. They’ve also affirmed me as a photographer. Also, it’s just smashing fun when one of my posts gets shared around the Internet and gets a lot of visits. But most importantly, I’ve found community through this blog and many other photography blogs.
I post to Instagram opportunistically, that is, when I have some downtime that I couldn’t profitably use in some other way. When you find a new Instagram post from me, you can assume I had five minutes between appointments with little to do but wait. It’s a nice use of my wait time for the return I get in those sweet, sweet fake Internet points.
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When I share a photo on Instagram it’s usually related to whatever I’m doing on this blog that day. But I try to show images that don’t appear here, so that if you follow me in both places you get something extra.
But I’ve learned through trial and error that an appealing blog photo doesn’t necessarily translate to Instagram. People interact so casually with Instagram, and the photos are so small. I find that big, obvious subjects and images with lots of contrast grab people as they quickly scroll by. At least as evidenced by which of my images get the most Likes.
Not that I get that many likes, really. It’s remarkable when any of my posts gets more than 50. I’ve never had one clear 100. Which brings up the whole tedious “what’s the point of social media” discussion, which I wish to avoid. Getting Likes is fun. It’s a quick dopamine hit.
What makes Instagram even more fun is the other film photographers I follow there, and how we interact with each others’ work. Old School Photo Lab, the lab I use most often, follows me and sometimes shares my work. (See their Instagram here.) Somehow I attracted the attention of a past president of Pentax, who follows me now; perhaps it’s all the work I’ve shared recently from my Spotmatic and my ME. (See his Instagram here.)
I fit Instagram in when I can, meaning that I share images when I have time and don’t worry about it when I don’t. I make time most days to scroll through and see what the people I follow are up to, though.
I often wish that I hadn’t fouled my Flickr space by dumping into it every photo I take that isn’t an abject failure. I wish I had used it to showcase my best work.
My Flickr space
When I joined Flickr a decade ago, I just wanted a reliable photo host that let me share my photos anywhere online. But who knew that I’d come to think of myself as a serious amateur photographer, that I’d build some real skills, that people would enjoy my work?
I’d love to have a single URL I could share, a digest of the photographs I think show my stuff the best.
It’s too late for me to change my Flickr space. 95% of the photos I share on this blog are hosted at Flickr. I hope Flickr never goes away or this blog is toast.
My option, then, is to start a new online space that I will curate carefully. One option is to start a second Flickr account. That appeals to me because a large community is already there. Unfortunately, my existing followers (387 at last count) don’t automatically come along!
So I’ve been trying Instagram again. Now that they don’t force you to crop your photos square, I’m uploading the photos I like best and skipping the filters. I already have 237 followers there. But even though you can go to my Instagram page and see all of my photos there, the app is really meant to be about the present moment, your latest photo. And I tend to post there only photos that look good on a phone’s small screen. Intricate details need not apply. You can see my Instagram photos here.
I’m also experimenting with Tumblr. Check it out here. It’s much better suited to being viewed on a PC, and works equally well on a mobile device. But I have few followers there. I can’t figure out exactly how many but it’s got to be about 20. At least it’s an easy URL to share.
What’s your strategy for showcasing your best work online?
When I started this blog, I found a great use for my languishing Flickr account: hosting most of the photos I share here. Flickr has been a great tool for sharing my photography everywhere on the Internet.
The other day, I uploaded my 10,000th photo to Flickr. That’s a lot of photos! It’s so many that finding one particular photo on my computer is nigh onto impossible. From the beginning, I should have used the photo organizer that came with my copy of Photoshop Elements. But I’ve let too much water pass under the bridge: years and years of photos remain unindexed in folders on my hard drive. It would be a big, unpleasant job to organize them now.
It turns out that the easiest way for me to find one of my photographs is to search for it on Flickr. I’ve left enough bread crumbs in the titles, descriptions, and tags that with a few words in Flickr’s search box I can find anything I’ve uploaded.
It also turns out that I was inadvertently leading the way. Flickr recently made some changes to the site that makes it easier than ever to store all of your photos and find any of them in an instant. I think these smart improvements reposition Flickr well in the new world of photo storage and sharing, and give it a solid chance at remaining relevant and vital.
And it’s not a moment too soon. Flickr had been geared toward people interested in photography who wanted to share and talk about their work. Many users appeared to carefully curate their photostreams, sharing only their best photos. It remained wonderful for this purpose. But in the meantime not only have digital cameras almost entirely supplanted film cameras, but camera phones have also largely supplanted dedicated digital cameras. People were taking pictures on their phones just so they could share them on Facebook and Instagram — and Flickr was getting none of that action. It was falling behind.
Flickr finally awoke from its slumber in 2013 with a new, more modern user interface, plus one terabyte of free storage — upwards of a half million photos — for anyone, for free. Flickr’s mission had shifted: please do dump all of your photos here. And then last month Flickr rolled out yet another new user interface, and has added several powerful new features meant to make the site the only photo storage and sharing site you’ll ever need:
Automatic photo uploading. Flickr can now automatically upload every photo from your computer and your phone — every past photo and every new photo you take. Flickr marks them all as private, so only you can see them, until you choose to make them public. To enable this, you have to download the new Flickr app to your phone and download a new “Uploadr” application for your computer. But after you do, you may never again lose a photograph to a crashed hard drive or to a lost or stolen phone. And if you do have such a mishap, Flickr now lets you download any or all of your photos en masse.
Image recognition and automatic tagging. Flickr now uses image-recognition technology to guess what’s in each of your photos, and adds descriptive tags to them. You’ve always been able to tag your photos manually; those tags appear with a gray background. Flickr’s automatic tags have a white background. These tags make photos easier to find in search. It’s not perfect — a photo I took of a construction site was mistakenly tagged with “seaside” and “shore.” But it works remarkably well overall, and Flickr promises that they will keep improving the technology.
Camera roll and Magic View. Flickr has introduced an iOS-style camera roll as the main way you interact with your own photos now. Flickr is criticized for stealing this concept from Apple. But they’ve gone Apple one better by adding Magic View, which organizes photos by their tags — including the automatically generated ones. It gives you astonishing views into your photos, grouping them smartly. Finally, all of my bridge photos are in one place, and I didn’t have to lift a finger!
Flickr found 105 photos of bridges in my photostream.
Improved searchability. All these new tags makes Flickr even more searchable. You can find any of your photos in seconds on Flickr.
All of this makes Flickr a compelling place to store all of your photographs, and be able to easily find them. They’re stored on Yahoo! servers and are always backed up. With a couple clicks or taps, you can share them from there to most of the popular social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram (but only on your phone), and Twitter.
The best thing: You can still use Flickr for everything you could before. You can share your best photographs and have conversations about them. You can explore the beautiful photographs others have taken. You can geotag your photos and save them to albums and groups. And if you want nothing to do with Flickr’s new features, you can just ignore them.
I’m astonished by how well Flickr has shifted to its new mission without leaving legacy users behind. As someone who has made software for more than a quarter century, I can tell you: it is enormously difficult to do this.
Still, many of Flickr’s longtime users feel alienated. They’re expressing far less paint-peeling rage than they did after the 2013 changes, thank goodness, but they’re still quite upset. The leading complaint: there’s no way to opt out of automatic tagging, and no way to delete at once all the tags already generated. Longtime users who have carefully chosen their tags find Flickr’s automatic tags to be an unwelcome intrusion.
Flickr should probably address that. But first, they should congratulate themselves. They’ve done journeyman work.