Tag Archives: social media

Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer: The Evolution of Photo Sharing

Hey all. I know it’s been quiet ’round these parts—I’ve been lending a hand to SF MusicTech Week, writing some posts for other folks, settling into a new house, and, of course, seeing great concerts. I’ll be moving more over to this blog, slowly but surely.

The below piece was an essay on the intersection between social/sharing and photography, and let me tell you, I had a blast writing it. This is back from May, so keep in mind that the research may already be a bit outdated. What a fast-paced world we live in!

“This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels—around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”
Mad Men, The Carousel

Photography today is more than just a time machine. Photography is instantaneous, spontaneous—the documentation of life is no longer just about the past, but about the present. The ease of recording human experience means that the process becomes a more conscious and accessible act of creating: photography shapes who we are and how we relate to the world around us. Capturing and sharing photographs is no longer a painstaking process, and has thus become a mode of communication in its own right; it conveys meaning both informational and emotional.

Kodak’s Carousel is no longer the whole story.

Photography As Identity

“To collect photographs is to collect the world.”
“Photographs really are experience captured, and the camera is the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.”
Both Susan Sontag, On Photography

Social media gives us the agency to create our own identities. Our profiles are curated, often on a moment-by-moment basis, allowing us to engage in the shaping of our online personas. Photography, more than any other medium, adds authenticity to these identities: it captures something closest to truth, and establishes a connection between people. The social sharing of photography is a way to gather the collection of photos that present who we are to the outside world. We’re not just collecting the world itself, as Susan Sontag suggests—we’re collecting definitions of ourselves. This concept goes as far back as photographic calling cards in the 1860s, which became, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “the social currency, the ‘green backs’ of civilization.” Like social network profiles and friend circles, people would collect these portraits as representations of their network—which, even today, is another representation of your identity and social status.

Photography generates cultural capital. By capturing and sharing moments and experiences, we are able to identify ourselves with both the things we photograph and the artistic agency in being a photographer. Photography establishes us as cultural beings in ways that are digestible by our peers: a photograph of a meal we ate or a concert we went to fits into ways of categorizing ourselves by our hobbies, interests, and perspectives. Pinterest does that explicitly: it’s a way of organizing those visual stories and meanings into ways that clearly define our interests. A Pinterest profile provides a raw vision of who someone is: it’s based on desires, interests, dreams, preoccupations rather than traditional structures for social definition (location, occupation, marital status, et cetera). Photos reinforce the messages we’re sending out socially about who we are, how we identify ourselves, and how we connect to others.

We have always been a visual society; we’ve always judged books by their covers. The Library of Congress says about daguerreotypes: “In an age when phrenologists offered to read a person’s character based on their physical characteristics, portraits of society’s leaders were thought to have an edifying and moralizing influence on the viewer.” The public was suspicious of the accurate representation of daguerreotypes, so photographers relied on influencers and tastemakers (i.e., sociopolitical leaders) to lead the way. But even though we no longer measure character by physical characteristics, we do measure character by the visual presences we have online. The flood of photographs being produced every day makes that display of identity easier than ever. Alicia Eler even posited on Read Write Web that children will have a ‘second mirror stage’—a phase of self-identification that occurs in the realization of one’s own social network identity.

Photography As Language

“This very insatiability of the photographing eye changes the terms of confinement in the cave, our world. In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.” Susan Sontag, On Photography

Photography is the modern language. Due to the immediacy of shooting and sharing, photographs have become distilled in meaning: unlike the Carousel, which is about a personal relationship to the memory and people/places/things being photographed, modern photo sharing is about conveying meaning. It’s no longer about looking backwards and evoking nostalgia; it’s about presenting the immediate time, place, and emotion. The prevalence of photo sharing has absolutely widened the perspective of what can be photographed, what can be considered important, artistic, and meaningful, for that very reason—it’s about the emotion being sent out into the world. Networks like Instagram, and others adopting similar presentations, act like a photographic Twitter: the photo is a status update, an emoticon, a tweet. They’re bite-sized pieces of meaning that people present to the world in the hopes of evoking a response and connection.

Why do people share? To be told that they and the way they see the world resonates with someone else. People want to connect with others, whether they know those people in real life or not. That sense is embedded into most online communities, from LiveJournal to Twitter to Tumblr. And that world is increasingly photo-driven: especially in a global community, photos are the unifying language. Prominent figures from Robyn to Richard Branson to Desmond Tutu have joined the photo-a-day project, which (according to the LA Times) seeks to “show the commonalities of the human experience.”

The prevalence of photographs is such that an individual photo no longer needs to contain the depth of meaning that they once did; it’s the collective that matters, the emotion around the moment in which that photograph was taken. Individual photos are taken as art for art’s sake, mood for mood’s sake, rather than only subject for subject’s sake. We have the ability to make meaning out of a photo of our shoe, snapped with no foresight, and a simple desire to be part of the conversation.

More Than Real-Time Information: ‘How’, Not ‘What’

“On the web today, all we do is share. But, I think more than sharing — the discussion and the interaction — are what matter most.” Om Malik, “Say Hello to the Alive Web!”

Om Malik was referring to Turntable.fm, the DJ-centric music site that exploded last year and prompted numerous discussions about real-time interaction as the future of web. Whatever happens to Turntable itself, there’s no denying that the social world is instantaneous—we can connect to each other on a moment-by-moment basis, and we seek out that interaction. It’s why Google+ has announced immediate photo-sharing from their web app; if photography is the language, social networks are the place for discussion. We throw information—photos, text, status updates, et cetera—into the world in the hopes that it will be received and reciprocated. It’s about the interaction, the connection, more than just the information. Photographs are information and emotion.

“Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are.” Susan Sontag, On Photography

If Twitter is largely about gathering information, photo sharing is about gathering ways of seeing the world. Edward Aten wrote in Giga Om, “Somehow by using filters we don’t see exactly what the photographer visually sees (as they would with a raw picture) but how they see it.” It’s another way of finding ways to resonate with other human beings, be they loved ones we know IRL or complete strangers that we connect with through social networks. Because we can express our perspectives so clearly and easily through photography, we take into account everything we see in our day-to-day lives as appropriate subject matter for our photos. We make them our own through our filters and our artistic visions, and then share those visions to connect with others.

It’s a Small World After All

It’s a Facebook world out there, but Facebook’s own face is changing—and not just because of Timeline. Certainly the site looks more public-geared, photo-focused, and curated, but a large part of the changing nature of Facebook has to do with its expanding base, shifting privacy settings, and sheer ubiquity. At least for now, it’s the monolith of social networks—the all-encompassing force that people are looking beyond for other sorts of small-community needs. According to a recent poll by AP and CNBC, 46% of respondents think Facebook will “fade away as new things come along,” and more specific communities are around to fill the voids.

Whether it’s Path, which incorporates a tighter network, or Pinterest, which focuses on a specific type of interaction, other social platforms are attempting to recreate smaller, more localized interaction. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all focused on people users already know (although Pair, which is geared toward one-on-one interaction, and EveryMe, which pulls circles from other sites and doesn’t have any public component, both do), but it does mean that we want to break the world into manageable pieces. Instagram serves a specific purpose, as does Pinterest, as does Microsoft’s new network, So.cl. They’re not trying to be the new Goliath.

Indeed, even Friendster—which also restricted users’ ability to add people past a certain degree of separation—eventually succumbed to the network expansion inherent in this sort of social media. Like Facebook, the tight circles began to grow, incorporating acquaintances and even strangers. Twitter, on the other hand, has never attempted to segregate its users in such a way; expanding networks is an intrinsic part of the Twitter experience. Bernard Lunn at Read Write Web, even back in 2007, isolated this into two social network motivations: “One is, “I want to communicate better with the people that I already know and trust”. The other is, “I want to increase my visibility so that I can connect with more people”.” Today, this is a spectrum rather than a binary—and social networks all fall in different places along the line.

Moving Forward

According to a study by 6Sight, the majority of people still consider their computer the primary hub for photos. Most photo editing is still done on a computer; 6Sight’s Hans Hartman commented that “…Even with the audience we [surveyed], which was slightly younger and more into smartphones, people still see their computer as a primary environment to enhance their photos. That was a big surprise to me.”
Just this morning, Bump announced that you can now push photos straight to Bump’s website—the idea being that you can then easily drag it to your desktop, or share it via link to a social network. Bump’s CEO and cofounder, Dave Lieb, told Mashable: “One of the comments we always hear is ‘I wish my computer worked just as well. I wish there was Bump on my computer’ so we decided to build that.”

This suggests that there’s still room for growth in the mobile photo editing sphere; as the iPhone camera continues to improve, there will be fewer and fewer reasons to push to desktop photo editing.

Additionally, Google+ has just announced immediate photo sharing through their mobile app, an idea that further illustrates the instantaneous nature of photography and its growing role as a status update.

If photography continues to become a primary source of information, emotion, and communication, embedding context into images is one of the next steps. Companies like Thinglink (interactive images with embeddable information/links/videos), Tiny Reviews (short phrases over images for place reviews), Picle (lets you embed sound with photos), and others (like, in a related vein, Viddy) are already jumping on this trend. Thinglink in particular is business-oriented, but this has definite potential to enhance advertising styles and campaigns.

Besides Facebook’s movement toward a more photo-centric experience (especially in the mobile sphere), other networks are rapidly expanding into the photo—and filtered or edited photo—realm. Google+ cites photo presentation and sharing as key strengths over Facebook, and Bradley Horowitz hinted at the Google+ Photographers Conference that photo processing is part of the company’s future.

This One Time, At Bandcamp…

The buzz of the day: Sufjan Stevens’ new EP, All Delighted People, is currently available, immediately and for a very reasonable $5, on Bandcamp. You can also stream the full album before deciding to purchase. Why is this interesting? Because the genre-bending songwriter Sufjan is giving Bandcamp some street cred as the new music publishing platform. Already being positioned as the most viable alternative to the long-reigning music giant Myspace, Bandcamp is generating considerable buzz for its streamlined technical structure (making the process easier for musicians and fans alike). Though Bandcamp is currently free, it makes no bones about eventually charging a percentage of artists’ profits–and rumors are swirling about Myspace exploring new revenue models, such as a paid subscription service. Even with a new music video iPad app and upcoming facelift, Myspace has some work to do to get its mojo back.

To read more about Bandcamp, check out their rather entertaining FAQ.

Bit #1: Here It Goes Again–Or, OK Go Goes Viral, As Usual

March 1st, 2010
I hadn’t really thought about OK Go in a while and then all of a sudden they come up again with a vengeance. Though they are obviously best known for their quirky and creative videos, this LA foursome should actually hold a bigger claim to fame: they get social media. They’re at it again regarding the release of their second official video for their single ‘This Too Shall Pass’.

Obviously their treadmill video was a massive viral success, culminating in their performance at the 2006 MTV VMAs. Pretty impressive stuff. This video was actually preceded by not one but two choreographed videos: ‘A Million Ways’ (or In the Backyard Dancing) and ‘Cinnamon Lips’. They were playing around with these ideas years ago, not too long after the rise of Youtube itself (another non-dance/music video is their Table Tennis Program–I believe this was their first, but don’t hold me to that).

The new video, following the old ‘This Too Shall Pass’ video featuring the Notre Dame marching band, is the appropriately subtitled Rube Goldberg Machine, a crazy concoction directed by James Frost (Radiohead’s ‘House of Cards’, Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’, and more). It follows in the same tradition as their old videos, capturing their zany spirit and “we will eschew traditional videos that just make us look sexy” ethic (they’ve directly mentioned this–but they do still look sexy), while still being a bit of a refreshing aesthetic departure. ‘This Too Shall Pass’ feels more reminiscent of their self-made material, unlike their slightly glossier videos for ‘WTF’ and ‘Do What You Want’ (the wallpaper version).

What interests me more than the video itself (which says a lot) is its release. The video debuted today at 4:00pm PST, and was followed by a live stream Q&A. Damian Kulash, the band’s lead singer, answered questions from within the room as well as via live chat on the band’s website. He even got a phone call mid-question from the band’s bassist (and lip-synching lead) Tim Nordwind, who was able to give his brief two cents as well via speaker phone.

This latest in fan participation further illustrates the band’s grasp of the importance of interactive social media. After their ‘A Million Ways’ video success, they opened up a contest in response to the entirely organic outpouring of fan-made replicas. I’ve called the dance jokingly the ‘Single Ladies’ of its day, but the public reaction was no joke. They set a precedent.

The band has built its success and reputation on these sorts of ‘grassroots’ endeavors; on multiple occasions, for example, they’ve encouraged fans–via Facebook–to meet them in various locations to give food to the homeless. They’ve set up yet another contest, this time looking for remixes of their ‘WTF’ video. The fan response is clearly a reflection of this mentality: a post on Facebook from yesterday, for example, reads: “A fan is giving $1 to charity for every comment he gets on his repost about our video. What an excellent idea: http://bit.ly/d8i4Sm“. Another fan made their own online app inspired by ‘WTF”s crazy coloration, allowing people to try it out for themselves.

Yet another interesting choice from OK Go has to do with Youtube embedding. Damian’s op-ed article in the New York Times criticizes his own label (EMI)’s involvement in disallowing the embedding of Youtube videos. He mentioned in today’s live stream that ‘This Too Shall Pass’ will not have those restrictions, allowing fans to embed away. This is very much in line with OK Go’s ideology: not only do embedding restrictions hurt the band’s views, it also undermines their overall marketing strategy and ethos.

In general, OK Go is a band that strives to avoid the traditional. From their quirky dress to their funky videos, they really do give power pop a slightly different flavor. But their genius comes from their methods, which are, in a way, much more traditional than the corporation-dominated marketing strategies of others in their field: they try to connect. They try to know you, and let you know them. It’s almost neighborly–as if you were invited to dance along with them in their backyard.

About Red

Music has been the one part of my life that has always stayed the same. Certainly my tastes have changed, my knowledge has increased, but it has never been anything less than a joy, a motivator, and an essential life force. It has taken on a crucial role in my topsy-turvy life, maintaining my emotional homeostasis even when I’m closest to completely losing it.

My decision to devote myself to music felt very unconscious, about as voluntary as deciding to breathe. My decision to write about music was more purposeful: thus, this blog begins. It’s about time I write a legitimate, full-fledged music blog, so here I go!

Here’s a bit more about me:

My name is Katie Carroll, and I’m going to be a fourth year at the University of California, Berkeley. I’m double majoring in Political Science (not my scene, it turns out) and Rhetoric (no one knows what it is, but it’s the coolest major in the world). And although I live in the Golden State, my head almost permanently resides in London, England: I’m a proud Anglophile, with a Tudor rose tattoo to prove it. As with music, I really don’t remember when I fell in love with the United Kingdom, but I’ve had British maps on my wall and books on my shelves since elementary school.

It’s no wonder that these two loves eventually intertwined; a few years ago, I was introduced to the wonderful world of English new folk, and quickly fell in love. English music in general has since taken over my life. I was fortunate enough to study in London during the fall of 2009, and I spent as much time as possible soaking up the music scene–and now I can’t wait to go back. Until then, I observe from a distance: reading about, listening to, and occasionally viewing English bands as frequently as possible.

This blog will be not entirely Anglo-centric, or purely folktastic, but you can expect a fair amount of Mumfords and Marlings, Flynns and Finks. This is your official warning.

Cheers! Katie

p.s. I’m also a singer (jazz, folk, classical/choral), a marketer (Director of Marketing, CalTV; former Paramount Pictures promoter; social media admin), a clothing nut (sales associate at Anthropologie), and a coffee/tea addict (former barista; lover of Ceylon 1 Teas; owner of an orange espresso machine).

I also tweet like a crazy person, so check out my jumbled twitter feed in the right column or click here.