Things seem to be changing in the world of social networking, with some new challengers appearing on the horizon, attracting a potential exodus from existing success stories with the promise of a leaner, meaner feature set and at the same time offering a potentially deeper experience to those taking the plunge. As someone who has felt the need to migrate in the past, I can well see how a particular service or device may be found too stiff to accommodate the dynamically shifting tides that make up the internet. When the way we interact online changes, it can be hard for sites based around an older model to keep up and even if they keep going, interest in them shrinks.
My first shift was from PBase to Flickr, where I found a far more vibrant community and was enraptured by their ‘Explore’ feature, which still now is able to bring up amazing photos from within their selection, by use of secret algorithms. Suddenly, I was getting and giving comments, faves and others on pictures, rather than just posting albums that I’d email out links to, getting not much more than hits on the site itself. I was even getting photos onto explore, receiving thousands of views and faves for them. Me, unknown little me! The only problem with Flickr these days is that whilst in the past I was able to see my photos join that exclusive group, as the site grew I find it a lot harder to get the same attention. It may sound like sour grapes, but I think my work has actually been improving (though perhaps not pushing the same buttons) and that Explore is increasingly populated by average quality photos by people with a great network of contacts. Not only that, but the groups I’d post to, a great feature that never seems to have taken off the same way on Facebook, are now so full of members that within seconds your photo gets knocked off the front page.
There’s still great stuff there, just mixed in with more dross, that gets hyped up more from the photographer being popular than the work being good. In short, Flickr these days seems not so much a photo-sharing site as a social-networking one, where comments are exchanged with friends, which makes ‘your work’ getting noticed that much harder, as it may all depend on your social skills. And if your social skills are so damn hot, what are you doing on the Internet in the first place (joke! Surely we are all there, now).
So who is coming to the rescue? It would seem to be 500px, who have a site featuring literally stunning ‘Editor’s Picks’ that have to be some of the most incredible images I’ve ever seen, not just using the trendy techniques that make Flickr and iPhone-based toy-camera emulating Instagram so fun, but being spectacular photos with stories all of their own. I have yet to upload a thing there yet, but already made an account so as to comment and favourite the ones I see there through the wonderful Flipboard app I use to access the site on my iPad.
Then, when it comes to Facebook, there is the new challenge from Google’s labs that everyone is talking about- Google+. Aside from a cleaner and infinitely more stylish interface (which isn’t exactly hard with Facebook’s amateurish Windows ’98 way of presenting things, something access through apps like Flipboard fixes somewhat), there is the feature of ‘Circles’. With this, you can (privately) arrange people you know into groups, so as to share appropriately. The horror stories of people losing jobs because photos of them drunk appeared online to the whole community may well be a rarer thing this way and also people who wish to share their creations can better target their audience. You can do this a bit on Facebook, but it’s very tricky and basically needs to be done after you upload something.
Personally, I only got involved with Facebook because everyone else did. Meeting old school friends and finding what we have in common now was a revelation and it is still my go-to site to keep in touch with many friends and just to see what is going on with them. It’s very existence is a miracle that shouldn’t be underestimated. Yet as a web service, it’s interface has always lacked the charm and pizzaz I found on Flickr and other more stylish sites. Perhaps it’s simplicity is it’s strength, as by not encouraging the annoying bling of My Space, they attracted a much more diverse following, almost in decreasing order of age. But I digress. The problem faced by Facebook, like any social networking site (or organised religion for that matter) is the fact that once everyone came, the delicate, sincere intimacy of people’s interactions got clouded by the sheer amount of stuff there. Links that may well be interesting to their poster, who you may have befriended but don’t actually know that well, get in the way, spam from badly managed apps saying people answered questions about you, only to try to suck you into an online dating site bring the site down a notch.
Now, of course all of this can be dealt with and I personally think Facebook is currently still growing and won’t be replaced. Other Google+ features, such as video-chat, are currently being emulated, the site could well get a makeover, as it has before (though they’ll have to be really careful about this one, as it could put off regulars if handled badly) and the sheer integration with other sites, services and devices say to me that Facebook may well be here to stay. May well, we really don’t know in the fast-moving world of the evolving Internet, in which some ideas prosper, others languish and still others are shelved.
May the best sites win!