Monday, July 29, 2013

Post-Flickr Blogging: Thoughts on 500px

For the past couple of months a portion of my energy has been dedicated to the back end of this blog. Namely, I am working on redesigning the layout and restructuring how my content is stored and organised – something I should have done earlier, and can't put off any longer. It’s a huge project, but once it’s done, the blog should be cleaner, more visually current, better suited for browsing content by topic, and easier for me to maintain. 

While it wasn't the main impetus, one thing that finally nudged me to get on top of the blog revamp was the "demise" (okay, redesign) of flickr. Like many bicycle bloggers and photographers, I've been relying on flickr for years to host, display and share my (thousands of) images. As someone with more than a rudimentary knowledge of the internets, I was aware of the risks of hosting images via a 3rd party provider. And even though I paid for a "Pro" account, I knew that I paid too little for the services I was getting and that the other shoe was bound to drop sometime. I expected this other shoe to come in the form of changes in pricing structure. Instead it came in the form of flickr, without a word of warning, dispensing with its Pro accounts altogether and turning into a dramatically less elegant, slower and harder to use version of its former self. I will not go into an anti-flickr rant here. But I will point you to this eloquent summary that reflects my own disappointments. To be clear, flickr still exists and my pictures remain on it, for now. But the service is not the same and I am seeking alternatives. 

One site that's come up in flickr refugee chatter has been 500px. Having met a couple of Irish photographers who use it, I finally gave it a try. I know that many visitors here are into photography and also seeking flickr alternatives, so I hope my feedback is useful.

A Canadian startup, 500px is a photo sharing site aimed specifically at aspiring and professional photographers. The design prevents users from dumping entire folders of images straight from their camera cards, encouraging instead a more thoughtful, selective approach. The layout is (for the most part) clean and portfolio-like. Users can organise their images into sets. They can also control which images show up in their photo stream/ entry page. This is a really nice feature, not available on many other photo sharing sites (which usually simply display your latest uploads first).

Uploading to 500px is a rather involved process. The system resists batch uploads, wanting you to describe and label each image individually before posting. This is fine if you are using the service as a portfolio of only your finest work, not so much if you want to upload your work in sets (as bloggers and event photographers tend to do).

Embedding pictures into web pages and blogposts is straightforward, with the code easily and obviously accessible from the main image page. However, it is not practical to use 500px for hosting images if your site receives heavy traffic, as the system limits users (even those with professional accounts) to 10GB of transfer per month. In layman's terms: If your blog is picture-heavy and receives over 100 unique visitors per day, you will likely exceed this limit. For comparison, this blog receives over 5,000 visitors per day, so hot-linking my images via 500px is out of the question.

As far as a professional portfolio display, 500px is great to use with one glaring exception: The intrusive likes/favourites/voting/comments system. Whether they want to or not, every user receives an overall "affection" rating that is displayed prominently in their header and is calculated based on the activity their pictures generate from other users. Every single image is likewise rated based on the likes, favourites, votes, and comments it receives. Aside from these ratings being distracting in of themselves (and, in my view, at odds with the otherwise professional feel of the site), they also invite spam and generic comments fishing for return likes. Such comments can be flagged (and moderators do remove them), but they cannot be deleted or disabled by the user directly, as far as I can tell. In fact, I would love to disable the entire "affection" system, but 500px does not allow it. Many others have echoed my concerns, and there is chatter of the ranking system being toned down in the future. I will wait a bit to see whether that happens before deciding if I keep my account (definitely not if the "affection" and spammy comment stuff is there to stay).

In short, I find 500px to be a mixed bag. As far as exhibiting photographic work, it could be a brilliant service if it weren't for the intrusive rankings system. It is also odd that the wonderfully easy to use marketplace makes it possible to sell downloads and "prints on canvas"(!) but not prints on paper.

As far as being of use to bloggers for embedding images into their posts... err, only if you have a lightly trafficked blog which you do not anticipate growing. Otherwise, no, 500px is not the right platform for that.

I will continue to explore other possibilities and report if I find anything interesting. But most likely, I will host images on my own server and may try to set up my own portfolio-type system for browsing (and possibly purchasing) interesting images. Flickr was good while it lasted - in particular for the online cycling and bicycle enthusiast community. Alas, nothing lasts forever. I thank you for your patience as this blog goes through its own changes, and, as always, thank you for reading Lovely Bicycle. 

38 comments:

  1. I think you couldn't be more wrong about Flickr. Both this post and the one you link to in the body don't give any clarity about what you really dislike aside from change. The new flickr is stunning and a vast improvement on the previous version. Nicely put here http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2324482,00.asp

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    1. If you like the new look and enjoy using flickr, I respect that. To some extent it's a matter of taste.

      As far as objective things that bother me, the main one is that the system has become noticeably slower and glitchier to use - both when browsing though the images (they load slower, they stall, they time out), when uploading (they stall, time out, and sometimes plain disappear or load doubles), and when embedding them into posts. There are other random glitches as well that were not there before. Combined, this has noticeably impacted the time and flow of my working on blog posts, which rely heavily on embedded images - sometimes lots of them.

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    2. True, the new flickr is way more bandwidth intensive, and if you don't have a lot of bandwidth, you will experience hiccups like you describe. But on a fast two-way pipeline, flickr works just fine. I also find the new interface clunkier and less user-friendly.

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    3. I have to agree with Velouria on this one. I have had a Pro Flickr account for six plus years and unfortunately have over 8,000 photos uploaded. Besides my more proud accomplishments, many of my photos are family photos arranged in sets for the convenience of family members. I have loads of bandwidth with an extremely fast internet connection at home (60+ Mbps via SpeedTest.net) and I still find Flickr very slow to load as you scroll down the page. And try paging back more than a few pages. Extremely slow to load, with stalls and time-outs as Velouria describes. I am a former lover of Flickr, as it worked great with my workflow of: import raw files from camera to Lightroom; make adjustments; export jpegs to hard drive; upload to Flickr set. It used to be awesome. Thank god I have all the jpegs backed up on multiple hard drives.

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  2. I am with you on the new flickr, HATE it. But I am less clear on why you and other bloggers cannot continue to host your photos there. Are they discontinuing this feature or limiting their bandwith?

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    1. In theory I can currently continue hosting images there and embedding them in blog posts (although see my comment above - It used to be very easy and quick; now it is glitchier and more time consuming).

      But the real issue, is that flickr is obviously in a state of transition, so who knows what will happen to it next. Over the past couple of months, they have shown that they are liable to make major changes without notice. This makes them an unreliable service to use for the purpose of image hosting. Of course, it was a mistake to use a photo-sharing site for that in the first place. But lots of blogs were doing it, and flickr seemed extremely stable for years. Ultimately, nothing web-related is entirely stable; on occasion change is called for.

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    2. Or just ask the NSA if you can store, er, I mean, access your already stored, photos directly from them? We all know they're not going away anytime soon, right?

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  3. As a fellow blogger with a very casual, low volume blog, I notice that you use Google's blogger to host your blog, as do I. I have spent way less time customizing my blog than you have and mostly just stay with the defaults, which brings me to my point; by default, if you use blogger, Google hosts your pictures on its own service, which is Google+/Picasa Web. I would be very curious to know why you are not using that default. THANKS!!

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    1. I used it in early 2009 when I first started the blog, and still upload the occasional picture to blogger/google directly. The reason this is not my main practice, is that using this system degrades the image quality visibly. This is not so noticeable with instagram pics, but with nice photos it can be quite striking.

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    2. there also comes a time when blogger starts deleting your photos from your blog on old and little read blog posts. the blogger/picasa/google photos do have a limit. Embedding is the best move.

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  4. I would suggest you look into using Amazon S3 to host pictures for your blog. You'll pay only for exactly the bandwidth that you use, it's highly reliable and it's fast. It's not an integrated solution like Flickr, but there may be some applications that make it easier to use and do things like provide versions of your images in different sizes etc.

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    1. Cycling (maths I has thems) PeppyJuly 30, 2013 at 4:57 PM

      S3 is 12 cents per gig. So:

      0.00012 $ /Mb * (5 to 10) Mb / session * 5500 sessions / day * 30 days is $100 to $200 per month.

      Compare that to flickr's $25 per year.

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  5. The complaining about new Flickr is worse than when Facebook changes their font! I always thought the old Flickr was clunky and outdated, the new one is quick, engaging, and enjoyable! What don't you specifically like about it I'm curious to what I'm missing.

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    1. Not so much complaining, as saying the system does not work for my needs anymore. See my replies above for details. For those who use flickr recreationally, like facebook, I guess I can see how the changes might be a welcome thing - in fact, to my eye, flickr now somewhat resembles facebook.

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  6. i would like to know more about those bw images?!

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    1. Just some self portraits. Here is the set.

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  7. I discovered 500px through your twitter feed last week. There is some amazing work there! My own photos are not 500px quality, but it is a pleasure to browse. The Affection ranking does not bother me. I hope you keep your account.

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  8. Have you thought about using something like DropBox if all you're wanting to do is have a place to host your pictures?

    DropBox is not an image-specific gallery site, but rather a place to put files. Primarily it might be used for "private" stuff, that you would want to access from home or work (or even smart phone) But there is also the concept of public folders where others can see files.

    I've been using it for about a year now for information I want at my fingertips at any given time.

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    1. I've used dropbox. But I actually have my own server, so my preference would be to simply host the images there (or Amazon S3).

      The reason that I, like many others, was drawn to flickr to begin with, was how nicely they combined an image gallery format and an online community, with the hosting. That was really nice, it made everything integrated. Some are now hoping to find that same combination of services elsewhere, but personally I do not think it is realistic.

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  9. One more thing about 500px - it's a Blocked Domain for me at work (nudity! horrors! ;-). Since I'm not the IT department, I can't change it. I'm not sure if that will affect my viewing of embedded photos, but you might want to check into that potential problem before committing.

    Rich F.

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  10. I have been using pbase.com for years and was always pleased with their service. You may give it a try.

    On my own blog, I just upload all pictures directly to Google Blogger. I covert them them to 800px on longer side first, then upload. I have never seen any drastic degradation in quality but at that size, it doesn't really matter.

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    1. Pbase is great, been on it since 2003.

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    2. Pbase works for me. I have been using it for years as well. I find the "lookit me lookit me" crap on 500px intollerable. The "Great shot now look at ... linkie ..." comments I used to get when I cared about 500px for a week or two got very old very fast. The community is not about photography there, but about attention seeking. Pbase has a much more mature and dignified community.

      Regarding flickr - yep, it is slower, but now? It looks like 500px and Google+ do, more or less.

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  11. no gran prix beverly write up?..

    [sad face, double sad face]

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    1. It's coming! I take too many pictures.

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  12. Maintaining your own server ≠≠ fun.

    Flickr was essentially free for what you got, even the pro acct.

    Complaining about photo or blog hosting sites is never ending, though in you case valid picture-wise. 500px won't be around in x years either. The blog thing - blogger is free, you get more than what you pay for. Topics are organised on the left, easy to see from anywhere.

    People want elegance, but you have to bury content for it- cake/eat it case study.

    If you want a pro feel I think you have to pay pro prices for IT unless you'd rather sit on the beach trouble shooting your infra.

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  13. "It is also odd that the wonderfully easy to use marketplace makes it possible to sell downloads and "prints on canvas"(!) but not prints on paper"

    It looks like the only print option is outsourced to a outfit called Canvaspop. Maybe there's a market of people willing to pay for art that looks like it came from a Target, but is maybe slightly nicer? Maybe it's just me, but browsing the site it seems like most of the photos have that highly polished but dull look of stock photography.

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  14. I've been an active member of Flickr since 2005, and I have an opinion to share. I agree with you about the new interface: I don't like it either. I'm not having issues with the speed of the site, but the landing page is horrible. They've changed the landing page to show when others have commented on photos that you have commented on. Like "Fred Smith commented on Susie Reynolds photo." It makes no sense. This isn't Facebook. It's very unlikely I would know Fred Smith. Therefore, I find myself going straight to Recent Activity, and then it's a lot like the old Flickr. So I'm not happy with the new Flickr, but it's useable. I would think that for your situation, Constance, Flickr is perfect. You can post multiple photos at the same time with virtually no limit, and now you don't even need to pay for a pro account. Having been on your Flickr page, it doesn't seem you use the social aspect of it much, so the interface doesn't affect you to the extent it affects others. (Though I don't know the speed issues you're running into.) Best of luck in whichever service you decide to use. I'll miss seeing your stuff on Flickr.

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  15. Yes, I wondered what on earth had happened to flickr, knew it had been purchased by yahoo(iiiicky!) awhile ago so it was only a matter of time before things went sour. I know anytime I try to look up any photos anymore it is difficult. I used to be able to type in random bike part, bicycle and 'flickr' in the search engine and voila, I would be rewarded. Now, nothing! And what about all the photography sites on flickr, like the ones dedicated to leica M6 or M8 or CL old Nikons etc?!
    Flickr was also started by some Canadians, and I wonder how they feel now? Anyway, the 500px sounds interesting, but no way would I want anything to do with ranking and the stupid comments that likely ensue? Why would they do that? Think how much space that takes up! Part of the instant, twitter linking everything up to everything? I do hope there is something more 'boutique' out there.
    Anyway, good luck with your headache inducing project, at least you are somewhere nice while you work on it.

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  16. ... by the way, have you noticed any improvement at all in the load times or other speed and glitchiness issues since Flickr's many-hour maintenance shutdown the other day?

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  17. I'm excited to see the updated Lovely Bicycle!

    I never used Flickr to host my photos, preferring the complete control of self-hosting on my site, although I pay more for bandwidth as a result. Since I use Flickr only as an extra backup for my favorite photos, I'm pleased that I no longer have to pay for a pro account.

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  18. Flickr's changes made me feel like I had lost an old friend, but on the other hand, I haven't found a decent replacement. I will continue paying for the two Pro accounts I have -- keeping away ads and making it "unlimited" -- and once in awhile I'll use it to host photos for my blog. As for alternatives, I can say for sure that 500px, SmugMug, Dropbox, Shutterfly, Ipernity, and Snapfish don't work for me as well as Flickr. Too, from what I understand from friends at Yahoo, the signups to Flickr after the changes have gone through the roof. Maybe that'll be a good thing for its community.

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  19. Maybe its time for own website, Its quite easy to do with web editors like Serif Webplus which I use on my own website at www.southlakesgroup.org.uk which as alot of photo ride reports on it, also alot of web hosts like 1&1 which I use offer features like Wordpress blogs which are easy to set up with feature call click and build which I use for a blog and forum on my own site.
    The only reason I use flicker is post one photo from each South Lakes Group ride to promote the South Lakes Group website on several flickr cycling groups and on several cycling forums.

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  20. Thanks Velouria - you said all that I'd been thinking about Flickr and misery loves company! I will keep a watch out on your blog in case a real alternative surfaces.

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  21. I've been dumping my images into Google+ for a while. I'm not thrilled with some of the new features, and full resolution images count against your storage total (feel free to upload every image you own if 2048 pixel-wide shots are good enough for your needs). But it's getting some serious photographer traction under it, and the vibe is very social.

    Smugmug is another obvious choice. It costs, scaled to your needs (pros get all kinds of enterprise options). They just happened to launch an entirely new site today. It's gorgeous, uncluttered, and allows photographers to make very impressive portfolio sites which can be aliased to custom domains.

    I don't know why you're hosting blog images offsite, or how simple Smugmug makes image embedding. But it looks like they offer unlimited bandwidth.

    A self-hosted, self-owned site of any kind is always a good investment.

    I'll be watching to see what you do. :-)

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  22. You might be far too invested in your Blogger account at this point, but there's a new platform that's worthy of some serious attention: marquee.by. It has a stunning drag-and-drop CMS and can host big, full screen images. It creates the kind of long-form multimedia stories (insert reference to NYT's Snowfall here) we're seeing more and more of from the best content sites. (PS: I'm not connected to Marquee in any way.)

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