The State of Social Photo Publishing Rounding Out 2019

Why Instagram is Trash & Why the Fediverse is Good

The State of Social Photo Publishing Rounding Out 2019

TL;DR: I need to make an effort to help the Fediverse to get the features I want in a photo platform since they’re all flawed.

Addendum 2022: Instagram deleted my account. I was using a third-party FLOSS Android client at ð time to remove ð tracking & anti-features that made ð experience pretty bad. I get an email after messaging someone that my activity looked too suspicious. I was also having issues with their CAPTCHAs & wasn’t willing to give them more info. Once ð account was suspended, attempts to try to re-log in were going to require a 3D facial scan which is probably ð biggest nope I can think of for a proprietary service. I never bothered fighting beyond that as Meta can eat my ass (I had warned friends ahead of time something like this could happen giving alternative contact info, but many declined to do anything with it which is very depressing).

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Late Chill Stroll at Wat Rong Khun

I like photography. I also like when others can view my photos & interact with a community (but of the photographers & photography enthusiasts). Right now there are options & a few big players in that space.

I’m dismissing immediately Imgur & Tumblr since while they are social networks/communities, they’re aimed for a different community than my intent—more of the meme-share-y kinda thing. Anything run by Google or Amazon should probably be a no (as is Facebook, but that one’s trickier in this case). There’s also the more hosting-solution-oriented options like SmugMug or Unsplash (which only has one license), et al., but they don’t really offer feedback, trending, sharing type of thing—it’s just a way to display & get credit for your work.

So really the only ones that seem to have groups or contest or sharability with a professional/serious amateur vibe that fit the broad idea I’m looking whittles down to:

  • Instagram
  • Flickr
  • 500px
  • DeviantArt
  • Google Photos
  • Amazon Photos
  • Facebook
  • Unsplash
  • Tumblr
  • Imgur
  • SmugMug

Many years ago I used DeviantArt, but it’s faded in some ways as a photography thing & when I did more drawing/graphics, it made more sense. I went to school for art, but I don’t enjoy designing like I did as you can tell by this half-baked site as of this post. 500px vs. Flickr has been a long ‘rivalry’, where it seems their both quite similar in letting you license photos, find groups of similar taste, participate in contests. Having a Flickr for so long, I never saw a big enough reason to switch other than hoping to trying to get some sort of monetary kick-back as we’d all love some free cash (altho my style of street photography doesn’t often lend itself to the stock photography style). It seems tho that 500px has a strong preference for a particular style of photography & is filled with bots. Also the 7-photo-per-week thing is curse for me. It does ensure you’re selective about your uploads, but I tend to upload in bursts after a event & go dormant for weeks or even months. You can pay to circumvent this, but what else are you getting?

Flickr however, especially since the 1 TB limit of yesteryear, became a dumping ground for a lot of normal folks just wanting a back-up which added a lot of noise.

I’ve still been using Flickr as my primary posting platform relinking everything back to that Flickr account (and now post SmugMug acquisition offer the ability to change your account ID, which would have been better than creating a new account).

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Inside Wat Luang

So why is Instagram on this list?

Instagram is currently the leader in a lot of spaces around getting your art/content followed, liked, & appreciated. It’s the best marketing tool to many. It has so many flaws tho. You see it used by everyone in this ubiquity sense from folks’s lunch & pets, to photographers, to digital artists, to fashion icons, to memes, & so on.

Instagram is also (arguably) ruining society right now causing FOMO, depression in wanting to live up to others’ lifestyles, & it’s destroying natural places for getting photo shoots. We used to not have this sort of issue & while some platform was going to have to bear the weight of this societal issue with social media, Instagram is the worst of it now.

It’s also filled with bots, & has weird gated content with the follow requirements. Users end up going private due to harrassment & whatnot.

So why do I prefer Flickr to Instagram:

  1. Flickr doesn’t strip your metadata… Which includes all that juicy EXIF camera data about everything that happened in the shot & the gear used, embedded color profiles if you use a color calibrated workspace (like I do) so everyone can see your image exactly as you intended, & your license. This can all be searched too!
  2. Flickr doesn’t convert to sRGB so you can have wider color gamut. A lot of phones now support DCI-P3 (and newer OLED laptops) & high-end monitors often support opRGB. I believe the iPhone app will allow DCI-P3 specifically, but that’s a small slice of the support pie.
  3. While there are limits, you can upload strange dimensions where Instagram limits you basically to a square so panoramas are impossible. People may use letter-boxing in some cases, or making the seams match up with multi-photo post, but these are hacks & you can’t do anything about most portrait shots (odd seeing how they drive you hard to use the smartphone app, but you can’t upload an uncropped photo straight from the camera).
  4. Flickr keeps your original uploaded file so you have a backup in case of an unforeseen event or some offhand need to get a copy now.
  5. Flickr lets me edit my content even after posting; not just the title & comment, but the license, location, & even the image itself can be reuploaded if you need to make a tweak.
  6. Flickr is still a hot spot for finding Creative Commons licensed content (which almost all of mine is), so the licensing is clear, but also folks looking to remix or use on their blogs can find content that works for them.
  7. Flickr is not owned by Facebook, & while it’s not open & is connected to an ad network like many sites, it isn’t directly feeding into that big blue machine.
  8. Not being Instagram, Flickr doesn’t have a bunch of normie uploads. I don’t like to gate-keep photography, but it’s nice to not have to wade thru coffee cup photos or follow specific folks to see what I want. There absolutely is a place for that style of thing, but I want these separated.
  9. …because of #8, browsing the daily interesting photos are pretty good (outside the Second Life content that always slips in). The interestingness algorithm is guarded, but they do have a system that helps good photos be found altho I would like to know more.

I don’t think these things can be overlooked in the sort of experience I want. If you haven’t noticed, all my images in this post I had issues uploaded to Instagram for a number of reasons like dimensions, colors, & cropping to a square on previews.

What Instagram & its ubiquity gives you despite all of these is the ability to have anyone heart/comment with your content. I can’t get regular folks to sign up to Flickr to follow my stuff & also too many folks don’t know how Atom (or RSS) works, & even still, they can’t interact.

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Menora on One Leg

So then what’s wrong with Flickr?

While the SmugMug acquisition did breathe new life into it, Flickr now has a 1000 photo limit for free members. If I tho the paid service were worth it, I’d consider. The biggest feature really is the unlimited storage, backup, & I can get that elsewhere. The rest is capitalist bullshit deals to try to get you to buy more stuff you don’t need. I particularly don’t like folks partnering with Adobe as its subscription model was a toxic move for that sort of software which, along with switching to Linux, swiftly prompted me move to open source solutions. Switching from Lightroom to Darktable was a breeze & it’s powerful enough that I rarely need to reach outside of it (which would be even more true, if Fuji support were a bit stronger so panoramas could be done in-app, but I didn’t know what I was getting into with X-Trans cameras).

The community—it exists, but many groups are mere husks of their former glory & have new new threads in months. Newcomers are rarer & it seems many just stick to Instagram. I do enjoy the Southeast Asia group (currently as it’s active & has monthly contests for amateurs.

However, it’s still owned by a corporation. I get to keep my licenses which is nice, but with a dwindling community, & knowing a closed source business is behind all my photos is unsettling. I could host myself & it’d be similarly priced, but I wouldn’t get the tech support to fix issues—having that burden fall on myself.

So for now it’s working, but I’m unsure of the future.

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Spouting Rock Higher Ground

What else could I want?

Well, how about I keep good licenses but also my files. I want to host it myself, but also be a part of a network—a network that doesn’t require anyone signing into one particular service. This is what the Fediverse gives you. It’s decentralized, & you can use basically any service to like or boost the original post from any other service (think getting to ‘reweet’ a Bandcamp song using Mastodon + Funkwhale).

What are the current options in this space tho? Well, with PeerPx being on hiatus since it’s a lot of work to make this sort of thing. You have to either make your own (which could be fun if I liked back-end programming, but I don’t) or use the closed-to-polished Pixelfed.

Pixelfed is good, don’t get me wrong, but it does lack in the sort of features I’d want in a platform. Being open source tho, I have the ability to help. I’ve so far submitted a few bugs or comments, but haven’t worked on any code (tho I have read some). The initial knee-jerk was that I hate the stack choice—which you’d normally never see with a closed-source dealio.

Biased rant against Pixelfed’s stack

I (unnecessarily) despise PHP after having done a number of WordPress & Drupal things early on in my career …and it’s not at all functional-programming-friendly. I can forgive this tho in the sense that if you want to maximize the ability for folks to run their own instances, PHP & its shared hosting situation making it a goto. Granted, VPSs are nearly the same price but whatever. A contemporary application tends to be front-end-heavy anyhow so the back-end isn’t all the relevant especially if you start using things like GraphQL & the like. It doesn’t do this & is a bunch of encapsulated Laravel, but 🤷. I mean I guess it can work offline if it’s not front-end-heavy, but this is definitely an app.

Had it been a more traditional SPA, different, competing front-ends could be made to consume the content.

The front-end however is Vue, which I dislike even more. It’s like the the ‘magic’ of Rails meets the mess that is Angular. Directives on HTML are just bad. Data flow thru stateless components is so much easier to reason about. If you use their templates you have the same issues you do with JSX’s magic without improving on the XML syntax which is harder to read & easy to make mistakes with the main selling point being fAmiALaRiTy (tho still a good format for extensible data transfer!). I took a brief foray in it testing the Vue waters for a remote gig & was basically done with it after a week & literally done after two. If you have to do vanilla JavaScript/TypeScript, you should be probably be in React—and still I’m biased towards FP stuff. (Altho Svelte a couple releases ago actually offers something worth looking at).

I don’t even like SCSS-style Sass. It adds a compile step with a parser but SCSS doesn’t improve on the ugliness of CSS (who even likes semicolons?). I’ve switched to SugarSS on basically every project & haven’t looked back.

The stack reminds me of my advertising firm days, where the goal was to have the most common-denominator, milquetoast stack possible to be able to pull random juniours off from the street to be able to touch it. It’s so normal it kinda actually disgusts me. Maybe that’s a problem with me… (Definitely a problem with me)

My distaste to contribute to a project with this stack aside, dansup built all this & it works & I’m merely ranting from a sideline so I can probably shut up about this.

Pixelfed does feature federation so you can talk via anything using ActivityPub under the covers. It also is big on NSFW tags, CW tags, & licenses which are great.

It is still missing features however.

Notably to me

Editing
Mastodon has “delete & redraft”, which is better than the nothing this has, but I find myself needing to adjust colors once it’s uploaded & check on my phone too or I made a typo or I want to add some tags I forgot. Sadly maybe this is impossible with some Fediverse platforms (tho the append only & git-style edits were intriguing). I think image uploading behaves different than a ‘tweet’ does. I guess even the ability to do a preview state would help, but I totally hate being stuck with errors or having to redraft & losing my faves/boosts just to change the license. It seems Plume, federated blogging, offers the ability to edit a post. I think tho that editing the actual image’s EXIF data is the true goal here & it should be kept in sync.
Color profile & metadata stripping
I get that we want to make assets nice & small for web transport, but this images need licenses & stuff. And if you want a platform to be a serious competitor for photography, you have to keep the color profiles. Since I’m in favor of keeping the image data on the image, this obviously needs to stay, regardless of if it’s redundant.
Save the original option on the server
It can be implemented many different ways, but having an access to a backup in case of emergency or needing to migrate is important.
Show EXIF data
I want to see the cameras used. I want to see some badging bonus for folks using open source / ethical image editing software like Darktable or RAWTherapee.

Nice-to-haves

  • A Flickr-like feed where things aren’t limited to squares but can show the complete image albeit scaled down.
  • …if not, give the user the ability to set the object-position / background-position when these photos get cropped for such view. I have images where the subject is cut since I build the composition around such weight. It also would not be that hard as there are 9 possibilities between, top | center | bottom & left | center | right (having a 9 points on a box to click along with an image thumbnail preview to make it more obvious). Or number/ranger sliders for x/y percentages that can also be used by dragging a thumbnail to a specific spot. Or heck, fully expose it allow calc() (tho sanitization would be required). The discover page would have more intent this way.
  • Scale down images that are too big in the feed rather than stretching images that are too small. It looks terrible.

    Solution?
    /* & similar */
    .card-img-top {
    	display: block;
    	object-fit: scale-down;
    	width: auto;
    	max-width: 100%;
    	margin: auto;
    }
  • Let’s see some other image sizes for pixel density. And maybe using alternatives file formats like JPEG XL, AVIF.
  • Read some of these fields from the EXIF data like title, description, & tags.
  • Tag/hashtags overhaul where they’re not a part of the description. It muddies the text to see #me do #this sort #ofthing. If tags are separate, the description would be more legible. Append the tags as hashtags at the end of the description for the greater Fediverse tho.
  • Groups?: I mean you could create a collective on a instance or just follow the right folks… Altho this would likely be better solved using a different ActivityPub platform & associating the Pixelfed account.
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He Rings the Bell

What to do now?

Well, I should probably suck it up & contribute to Pixelfed instead of gripe (which would be a good New Year’s Resolution in contributing to open source). It seems the changes I want would likely be flags for the admin or env which means touching back-end code and PHP. Unless someone out there has an itch to write a back-end for a Flickr alternative?

With some comments about Pixelfed’s paradigm, maybe something different is actually more warranted. It seems there is a regular struggle between those that envision a photo enthusiest UI & those that do not. The main issue is that Pixelfed is by far the most polished & ready to use now.