The truth about 500px
Lately, there has been a stream of negativity regarding the photographic site 500px. I won’t go into details but I wonder why any of this needs to be happening. I think much of the angst relates to people’s want or possibly need to occupy to top echelons of the ever visible front page of popularity. As a long time user of 500px it has been a little sad to see this negativity being spread in such a public forum so I thought I would lay everything out in the open with regard to what I think 500px is what it all means. In doing so, perhaps it might give some clues as to what positive aspects it can bring to your photography if choose not to let it ruin your self esteem and social etiquette in that race for #1 spot.
How it works: (or at least how I think it works!)
- The site is a popularity site first and foremost. This needs to be fully understood before one starts making accusations about it failing to live up to its supposed purpose of quality first. Popular and quality do not ALWAYS align but surprisingly ,quite often they do.
- Your images have a 24 hour lifespan in order to gain its status and garner the attention of the public. Beyond that, it will only be seen through social media links, searches (on its very bad search engine) or if the image is listed as ‘editor’s choice’. The theoretical maximum pulse is 100 for the first 24 hours, 88 for the next few days, 85 after a week, 80 for the next week, 75 for a month and then eventually 60 , then 50. This is the so called pulse ‘decay’ people speak of. Images may also be seen after this time period through your follower’s ‘flow’ page though this is often after the initial pulse decay has occurred and hence is unable to viewed on popular pages any more.
- Each image has a pulse which goes up with each ‘like’ or ‘favourite’ but the gains are exponentially less the higher the pulse rises . For instance you may need 100 votes to get from 0-95% but 1000 votes to get from 99.8 to 99.9
- Images appear on three pages : Fresh, Upcoming (at 70% pulse) and Popular (at 80% pulse). If your image is on the first page of upcoming and fresh, these will get many rapid hits from people viewing these pages trawling for images. Once the image has been displaced by newer images in those sections, there’s a bit of a ‘dead space’ in terms of voting until it potentially reaches the first few pages of ‘popular’. Popular images work from most popular to least (unlike the upcoming and fresh pages).
- Aside from the three pages listed above, images can also be seen by those who follow you in their ‘following’ tab and in other users’ ‘flow’ tab. Every time you comment, like or fave and image, all your followers may see that in their ‘flow’. Hence an image that gains multiple early votes will potentially start spreading virally though this method and help the image through that ‘dead space’ between upcoming and popular.
- Once an image hits the upper echelons of popular, it becomes instantly more visible to the viewing public and that’s when it can really take off to that #1 spot.
Methods to achieve popularity (through any means)
- Vote , fave and comment on as many images out there as you possibly can in the hope that other similar like minded photographers will do the same and increase your pulse through this method. This method is clearly visible with comments like ‘great shot! Please visit my stream’. Interestingly you might click on such users’ profiles and find that their own images are somewhat ordinary but they have 600000 favourites and follow 100000 photographers.
- Post only at certain intervals and not within one week. (see below for explanation)
- Troll a famous photographer and hope that they come back with vengeance and comment on one on of your photographs even if negatively. After all, now that they have commented on your images, their 50000 fans will now see your image in their flow!
- Do reruns of former #1s. Maybe slightly cropped, a few minutes apart, or maybe exactly the same image (I have seen this in moments of dejavu where I thought I was losing my mind).
- Be polite and attempt to give some meaningful feedback where asked for. Personally, I won’t attack another user’s images because I don’t think 500px is the forum for it. This goes back to my original view that 500px is a popularity site and not a critique site. If I don’t like an image, I’ll tend to move on and not inadvertently contribute to that image’s rise due to my comment spreading that image’s virality. I tend to say a thanks to those who leave a comment beyond ‘great shot’ or for those who repeatedly view our images. I tend to ignore the V+F comments asking for a V+F in return.
- Produce quality images that will rise to the top based on the quality of the image alone. I mention this point last because some seem to think this is not important and that it’s only through the above ‘gaming’ methods that images reach #1. Sure, there are certain types of images that are more likely to be popular but one of the reasons that I initially joined 500px was that a more cynical version of myself few years ago decided to post some of our 2010 Iceland images without attempting any interaction. To my surprise, 500px machinations appeared to differ from the flickr game of ‘explore’ and the images found their way into the popular pages through their own merit. Much has changed over the course of a few years but I still believe that quality images will rise to the top no matter the games played by others.
My take on the accusations and myths out there
- Your success as a photographer is based on your ability to hit #1 on 500px. Mostly FALSE. Your ability to hit #1 on 500px reflects your success as a photographer able to hit #1 on 500px. Just like a flashy power dunker is not the most successful basketballer , he certainly does the eye catching stuff in the public eye that gains attention. Having said that, remember that 500px is a popularity site with quality and skill as an afterthought. If your photography career is based on popularity predominantly (and some photographers do operate that way, particularly on Instagram) then the answer to this point is TRUE.
- #1 is not important. You can judge me on this if you like but I think this is FALSE. Our images which have received publication (without soliciting) have largely been through 500px and largely through the images which have made it to #1 or close to. Editorial staff from all kinds of sources (print companies, magazines, journals, blogs) all seem to trawl 500px. It is not a blight on you to achieve #1. I’m being blunt now, but I suspect that some of the rage going on out there is related to an underlying but suppressed desire to be #1 but having failed to get there. Here’s a quick self test : you put up an image on 500px of personal value that you don’t expect to be popular. If it happens to reach #1, do you really feel that it’s all of a sudden a trashy, overprocessed image typical of the ‘rainbow vomit’ that reaches #1? I suspect you would actually be quite chuffed and don’t be so glum, embrace that achievement!! I find that there are actually few #1s that are absolutely terrible.
- I am being penalised by my popularity. TRUE and FALSE. The more followers you have, the more views your images will have when you first post them. Having said that, the weighting of votes for followers who have recently ( I am guessing the time frame of about a week) voted on your images is less than for new followers or those who have not visited your images for some time. What this means is that for those with a legion of followers, it takes more votes to get to a certain pulse but you are almost assured of getting some votes and possibly enough to make it into the first few pages of popular alone. On the flip side, once you are there, it takes many many more votes to get to #1 spot . For instance, I have seen images reach the hallowed 99.9 with about 1500 likes. For some reason, short of 2500 votes, none of our images will get past 99.8. (boohoo you might say lol!)
- Gaming the system can be successful: TRUE . In 2014, a group of landscape photographers decided to attempt a friendly ‘take over’ of the front page of 500px. We would all post an image entitled 51 at the same time of day, we would all vote and favourite and comment on our images and as we all had a reasonable following, these images would become visible on the feeds of all of our followers collectively. This resulted in the front page filled with images titled ’51’ which prompted support forums to be filled with questions asking about a bug in the system. This isn’t a hearsay story, I was involved and am reporting what actually happened! So yes, voting circles can definitely get images up to top spot but I must credit 500px for their attempts to rectify this by introducing what I believe is the explanation for pulse penalty as above. Do any of us really want to reinvest the time to do this again? I doubt it very much but I do believe that some people are partaking in this method of popularity chasing.
Now that I have presented my rather sad depth of knowledge of 500px I would like say a few words in an effort to ease the conflict. I think it all boils down to agenda. We all have different agenda for presenting our images on 500px. I suspect that for those who game the system, it’s all about popularity and feeding self esteem. Many such users may not even be interested in producing quality work, just variations of themes which have been proven popular in the past. There are those who know they produce quality work and want to maximise the exposure of that particular image and so, partake in some form of manipulation in order to achieve this (for instance, by spacing uploads no sooner than one week apart to maximise pulse gains). There are those who simply want to share their images and upload whenever they like, popularity be damned! Many are full time photographers trying to make a living and utilise 500px to gain more income while most are likely amateurs or part time photographers who just want to get their images out there in the public domain.
Why should we judge others based on the agenda by which they may be presenting their images? If an image of seemingly poor quality rose to #1 through gaming methods how does that remotely impact on what we do? Sure it’s not a pleasant sight to see ridiculous images filling front page but I find that most of the very popular images do have some kind of appeal. Ultimately , poor images won’t get snapped up by magazines, travel agencies, online bloggers requesting interviews etc etc. Why should we attack another photographer for a composite image, an enlarged bird, an enlarged moon, fake reflections? When I see those images, I come to my own conclusion about why that photographer may be doing this. What purpose does it serve to say ‘AHA, I caught you out!’. I’m not talking about stolen images, images where the caption is deliberately misleading or where there is blatant misinformation. I’m talking about an artistic direction one has taken where another has disagreed. This is the basis for a public forum war? really?
500px: see it for what it is and use to your advantage. We all have our interpretations of what it should be but lets face the fact that it is a site about popularity first and foremost. Our in-fighting over this race for popularity only reflects badly upon ourselves as landscape photographers in the eyes of the public. Chill pill everyone?
Now I’m going to wait for another week before my next upload ! See you then!