Transcript

Photo Blogging

Andrew Long, Adam Seifer
Fotolog.book Editor, Fotolog Co-Founder
Friday, May 12, 2006; 11:00 AM

How are digital cameras and photo sites changing photography and the Web? Andrew Long , editor of "Fotolog.book: A Global Snapshot for a Digital Age," and Adam Seifer , co-founder of Fotolog , were online to discuss the rise of photo blogging.

A transcript follows.

Fotolog.book, published last month, is a collection of photographs originally published on the Web. Fotolog boasts that people from 200 countries post more than 300,000 photos and 3 million messages at the site daily.

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Korea : How do you get over copyright issues? Is publishing a photo on a blog OK? I am an artist and I am not sure if I would appreciate my Art Images, that I do paste on blogs, published in a book without my permission. Most of the Images I don't want shared, I add a Digimarc Watermark to. How do you feel about publishing a book without the permission from the owners of the images used??? Or did you get permission? Blog owners are quite protective of their postings...Ladymaggic

Andrew Long: For Fotolog.book, the editors of the book, myself included, contacted every potential contributor beforehand. We asked for their written permission to use their photographs, and at all times they retain copyright in their work.

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Bethesda, Md.: Photoblogs can be said to be a sub-group of art blogs.... right?

In the D.C. area, a couple of art blogs (such as DC ART NEWS and Thinking About Art) have become the main sources of visual arts related information for D.C. art lovers, picking up the slack left by the Post's minimalist art galleries coverage.

Do you see Photoblogs becoming the main source of imagery in a near future?

Andrew Long: I don't necessarily see photoblogs, or Fotolog, as a sub-group of art blogs. I think in fact there are many more Fotolog members, and general personal photoblogs, out there than there are art blogs. Fotolog is a way for people to share their world with friends, family, and millions of other people around the globe. I think some of the more art-minded users do check out art blogs frequently, but they're a different kind of thing.

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Arlington, Va.: I can't help thinking that this is another example of the Web lowering the quality of another art form. Why shouldn't we spend our $$ on a book showing photos of professional photographers?

Andrew Long: By all means do spend your money on books by professional artists. But take a look at Fotolog.book too. You may find you think a lot of what's in there looks and feels "professional." Or you may be interested in the fresh, funny, and moving ways some "amateurs" see the world around them. The book isn't really trying to be an art-filled coffee-table book. It's a chronicle of a new way of communicating on the Web, told in pictures.

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Calhoun, Ga.: The copyright laws seem to have disappeared, both on the internet and at the local one hours photo shops. Who protects the owner of a photo? This fact has destroyed many photography businesses...

Adam Seifer: It's going to become a bigger and bigger issue as more images come online... it's so easy to grab and reproduce a digital image. Since Fotolog is more of a consumer-based anyone-can-do-it kind of experience, and so far, we only publish lower-resolution images, having a picture "appropriated" by someone else is less of a stealing from my livelihood thing than it would be for a professional photographer who is expecting to make money from their photos. That said, it's still extremely frustrating to have someone take your photo and pass it off as theirs. And so it's something we give a lot of thought to as we grow. The easy part is to support our members and make sure other Fotolog members don't re-publish stolen photos within the Fotolog community. The harder part is to find ways to make sure Fotolog photos don't show up elsewhere on the web - and there are no perfect answers yet.

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Washington, D.C.: "I can't help thinking that this is another example of the Web lowering the quality of another art form."

Or, of opening avenues of communication between more people and more viewers. Yes, some photos published on blogs are of low quality. Others are exceptionally good. The majority fall into a middle area and a community of viewers and fellow-bloggers can do wonders for helping someone improve.

Some of these fotoblogs end up getting grants to do work beneficial to others as well (www.mountpleasantproject.org) ...

Andrew Long: Yes, I agree, there is a huge middle ground, and Fotolog and photoblogs in general are places where people can learn and get useful feedback. But Fotolog is also for anyone who isn't that concerned with the artistic quality of their images, they just want to share what's going on in their lives.

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Arlington, Va.: How was the censorship process? Did you have to reject any photos because of controversial or offensive content?

Adam Seifer: The censorship issue, as you'd expect is really tough. At Fotolog we've chosen to draw a very clear line - no nudity or sexual content whatsoever. As fine arts major who spent years and years drawing nude models, it pains me to have to do that and miss out on some wonderful artistic images that might have included nudity. But, as someone who runs a community where 3 million members upload over 330,000 photos a day, I know that if you don't make it black and white like that, you end up judging whether or not something is artistic enough to be "acceptable nudity" based on completely subjective criteria - which I think is really inappropriate for us. Also, by making the issue so cut and dry, it makes it easier for us to respond IMMEDIATELY to "inappropriate" content that violates our rules (instead of having to refer things to a jury or something) and THAT makes it easier to keep the site porn-free... the people who would post obviously unacceptable content know it's a waste of their time and go innundate other sites that have more subjective criteria and longer response time.

Adam Seifer: Also, we don't consider it "censorship." Censorship is when the government (or someone else who has full control over you) doesn't allow you to express yourself. Fotolog is just a community-based website. We make the rules for participating in this community very clear before you join and on every page where you upload a new photo. If you disagree with the rules of this community, you're free to go somewhere else where they have different rules.

The rules of the Fotolog community have evolved out of the wishes of our members. They want the Fotolog site to be as inviting and family friendly as possible. So we also don't allow pictures of gore and extreme violence. Beyond that, though, we try not to restrict the subject matter of people's photos.

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Vienna, Va.: I'm in the process of scanning some old family photos. To get an acceptable resolution, the resulting file from a scan is too big for Microsoft Digital Image Suite 2006 to pull up.

Someone suggested I buy a digital camera and take a snapshot of the family photo and then load it into the pc from the camera. Also, I've noticed when I look at photos on the internet, the resolution is very high and my pc pulls them up with no problem.

So I'm missing something in my understanding of this. Could you point me to a resource that may help me sort it all out?

Andrew Long: I don't know of a resource, offhand. But if your software can't open a large file, I think there is more likely to be a problem with the software, or possibly you could use more RAM in the computer. That's just speculation though.

There's no reason to reshoot a photo with a digital camera.

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Alexandria, Va.: Is permission needed when using a photo from a postcard? I have several very old postcards I would like to show since they have images of my hometown back in the 1950s.

Adam Seifer: This is an interesting scenario. Technically, you should never post work from another photographer unless you have their permission.

That said, my personal belief is that in a situation like this, where you're talking about vintage photography, as long as you're not making money off of someone else's hard work or passing off the work as your own, I think it's a neat idea to share the images - it's a way of celebrating the work and making them part of the collective archive of human culture (which wouldn't happen if they gathered dust in your closet).

Fotolog wouldn't proactively ask you to remove photos like that, although if the original photographer or publisher complained we would absolutely support them in having the images removed from the site.

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Arlington, Va.: fotolog book has several different sections and subject matters, like the landscapes, homeless people, vacations, food, etc. How did you decide what was most important to put in or how did you decide categories?

Andrew Long: We chose categories based on our collective knowledge of what kinds of interesting, funny, moving, and amazing imagery was out there on Fotolog. And some of them were just no-brainers: We Are Family is 14 pages of pictures of daughters, mothers, uncles, newborns, etc., and it's so prevalent that there could have been a very good book of just that kind of work. The same goes for all the food imagery on Fotolog, which we represent with a chapter called A Viewable Feast. There are other kinds of work which we wanted to get in--digitally manipulated imagery, for one--but we only had 344 pages.

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Baltimore, Md.: How do you address copyright with photo blogging? People posting photos can tag them as copyrighted, but by posting them on a blog, do different rules kick in re: DMCA? Do you have advice for photobloggers along these lines? Watermarking, size limitations, etc.

Adam Seifer: This is a juicy area and something we expect to give more and more attention to as we grow and as technology and copyright laws evolve.

So far, Fotolog takes a fairly simple approach to this. And, because we only publish low resolution versions of photos (so far) it's *somewhat* less of an issue than if you were sharing high resolution originals - a particular problem for pros.

Every photo posted on Fotolog is considered to be the work of the photographer - they own the copyright. If your photo is "appropriated" within the Fotolog community and republished on Fotolog, then we will absolutely help resolve any dispute, remove the offending reproduction and will deactivate the accounts of repeat offenders.

Beyond Fotolog, however, there's not a lot we can do at this point. Even if technology were advanced enough to scour the web looking for reproductions of a particular image and inform you when they were found, it would still be up to the individual photographer to pursue any offenses.

Ultimately, though, when you post an image on a public website - particularly one that's geared towards sharing - I think you do it knowing that you are giving up some control over what happens with that image. It's not that different than if you made postcards of your image and left piles of them at coffee houses and cafes for people to look at. Once it's out there, you can't fully control what people do with it.

Some Fotolog members put watermarks in their images - with the address of their Fotolog. So, if their image does somehow show up somewhere else, at least it gives credit where credit is due - and so appropriation ends up become like a viral marketing campaign for their Fotolog and their photos.

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Washington, D.C. : What makes Fotolog different from Flickr or Buzznet?

Adam Seifer: There are a few ways that we've chosen to distinguish ourselves from other players in the space. When it comes down to it, Fotolog is NOT meant to be a place where you upload and organize all of your photos. There are plenty of great places out there for that.

Fotolog is meant more to be a place where you go to share your best daily photo in an environment where you're most likely to have it seen by someone, somewhere in the world and get some feedback. That's one of the reasons why we're the only website out there that limits our members to posting ONE photo each day. If you let people publish an unlimited number of photos 2 things happen:

1. They do share ALL of their photos - and we all know that on a roll of film, most of them aren't that great.

2. They let them pile up and then share/dump a bunch at once.

Instead, on Fotolog, people publish their best of their best - making it more likely that someone else would actually want to see it. And, because they can't share a bunch at once, they end up coming every day, which creates a great community dynamic where people check in on each other's Fotologs because the expect frequent updates.

Other photos sites tend to be more about organizing lots and lots of photos than about this daily participation.

Also, Fotolog has gone out of its way to carefully choose only the most important features and tools in order to create a very simple user experience - there are only a few key things to do at Fotolog - which makes it much easier for anyone, anywhere to get involved. You don't have to be a technophile or someone that appreciates RSS and API's and such to enjoy it.

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New York, N.Y.: How come Fotolog limits users to posting only one photo per day?

Adam Seifer: One photo a day makes it the most likely that you'll upload something that someone else wants to see. Which is really important because Fotolog is all about sharing and community response - not just "publishing."

Back before digital photography and the web, most consumers only broke out their cameras a couple times a year for the big events - weddings, birthdays, vacations - and took a roll of film. And, you had a built in audience (your Mom, your brother) who you could count on to look at those photos.

But, now people are carrying around small digital cameras every day and their taking a picture here, a picture there of little ephemeral moments from their lives - a weird looking dog, that funny graffiti in the subway, an interesting shadow, a miss-spelled sign, etc. And, your built in audience (Mom) may not be interested in those.

And it's incredibly unsatisfying to have those photos just gather dust on your hard-drive and never be shared with anyone.

So Fotolog is a response to that. And, by limiting people to one photo a day, we make it more likely that you'll share your best, and also more likely that you'll do it every day. And because of that, people are more likely to get some kind of response - some kind of pat on the back from someone somewhere in the world.

The 105 million photos shared on Fotolog have received over a billion guestbook messages - more than 10 for every photo. That's what makes an environment like Fotolog so exciting for our members and it probably wouldn't happen if they showed up every few months and dumped a load of similar photos all at once.

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Andrew Long: Thanks for your questions all. Good to be here.

Adam Seifer: Yes - we appreciate your interest in photo-blogging and hope you'll stop by the site at http://www.fotolog.com and share your own daily photos with the world.

And take a look a the Fotolog book at your local bookstore (or you can get it on Amazon) - it's a wonderful testament to what happens when you create an environment where people from around the world can share little slices of their lives via photos.

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