Friday, June 13, 2008

The Magic Behind Explore: The Evil Monkey Makes His Daily Picks

The Magic Behind Explore: The Evil Monkey Makes His Daily Picks
Originally uploaded by lorenzodom

"There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about." Oscar Wilde

What makes a picture popular on flickr?

Some, perhaps a lot, of people believe that a picture is popular, because it is posted to the enigmatic magical bingo-drum of flickr's Explore.

These people would certainly be right. Many people unquestionably immediately assume the merit of a photo simply because it is listed in the top photos for the day on Explore.

Alas, I would argue that this alone does not make a photo, and more importantly, the photographer who took the photo, worthy of recognition. For there are countless measures that can determine the worthiness of a photo and the photographer.

"There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it's right." Martin Luther King Jr.

Moreover, no one knows how these photos are chosen on Explore. Most people simply blindly accept that it is some magical algorithm, much like the one used for Apple’s iTunes. I surmise that the Explore formula is primary based on universal appeal, the lowest common denominator in many cases—that is, what can people from a variety of cultures, ages and perspectives, relate to most?

For on any given day you’ll find that the slew of photos showcased on Explore are rather limited and include pictures of clouds and flowers, sunrises and sunsets, cats and dogs, babies and children, pretty women and bohemian or funny-looking men, nighttime cityscapes and rural landscapes, boats and beaches, birds and insects, horses and a variety of other animals.

Ultimately, that leaves out a significant lot of what constitutes good, or more importantly, great photography, historical speaking. For conspicuously absent from Explore are many of the great shots taken by social documentary or street photographers, conflict photographers (i.e. pictures taken in areas of war, famine and civil strife), erotic photographers, and/or photographers and artists that present controversial, disturbing, thought-provoking or politically incorrect images. Just do a search on any of these subjects and you will find thousands of photos, many which readily deserve recognition, but which likely have never made Explore.

Since flickr does not share what determines how photos are chosen (for all we know it may be an evil monkey selecting these images) I would almost immediately wholly discount the number of photos in the flickr Explore application count when assessing the merit of a photographer and her work, because there is no open or logical reason for the basis of assessment and measurement. Thus, it is not scientific by any means—as the formula cannot be tested, nor can the results ever experimentally be repeated.

"Thus we should beware of clinging to vulgar opinions, and judge things by reason's way, not by popular say." Michel Montaigne (1533 - 1592)

That said, I would argue that any legitimate assessment of a photographer’s work should include a number of factors, most of which can be gleaned from the person’s stats page on flickr. These include, but are not limited to:

1.The total number of views of the member’s work.
2.The number of photos that have been deemed favorites by fellow photographers.
3.The overall count of favorites (i.e. adding up the total number of times that the photographer’s photos have been deemed a favorite or simply adding the total number of favorites within the top 200.)
4.Adding the total number of views for the top 200 viewed photographs.
5.The number of contacts the person has.
6.The number of testimonials the person has.
7.The total number of comments a person has from the top 200 commented photos.
8.The number of times the photographer’s work has been published, blogged or cited outside of flickr.
9.Are they getting paid for their work? What is the market value of their work?
10.Has their work been exhibited in a gallery or is it part of a permanent collection in a museum?
11.Has the photographer published any books or articles about photography?
12.Does the photographer have a specialty subject?
13.Does the photographer create work unlike others?
14.Does the photographer take risks where others will not?

Point is, one cannot judge the quality, merit or popularity of a photographer on flickr or any other photosharing site by flickr's Explore alone. That would be a disservice to both established professional and aspiring amateur photographers and could easily discredit the judge.

Just a few words to think about for the weekend. Thanks for reading.


“Seek not the favor of the multitude; it is seldom got by honest and lawful means. But seek the testimony of few; and number not voices, but weigh them.” Immanuel Kant

No comments: