Up in northern New Jersey is Pyramid Mountain, a trek up which yields a pretty amazing sight: Tripod Rock, a “glacial erratic” – a 160 ton boulder, to put it in simpler terms – abandoned by the receding Wisconsin glacier. What makes this massive rock amazing is that it is perched atop three comparatively tiny rocks, and this seemingly impossible arrangement has survived thousands of years.
On the left is a photograph of it, taken by me (click on the image for a larger version). Even to an amateur like me, it is evident that this is not a great photograph – among other failings, it is low on detail and sharpness. It has however one thing going for it on the photo sharing service Fotopedia: it is the only photograph of Tripod Rock that has been submitted to the site.
Fotopedia’s Mission is more than a bit confusing. It aims to serve simultaneously as “the largest photo distribution network”, a place for photographers to “showcase their premium content”, and provide an easy way for anyone to “create a page about subjects that matter to them” (founder Jean-Marie Hullot sums it up as a “wikipedia of photos”). In some instances, these multiple purposes can raise questions on the value and proper usage of the site.
Despite offering an acceptable, and importantly, the only, image of the rock, my submission to the Fotopedia Tripod Rock page recently received a down vote, bringing it’s tally to a nice, round zero (the negative vote cancels out my [implicit] positive vote). Voting on Fotopedia is cheap (each user has 100 votes to dispense with) and easy (voting is anonymous and negative votes require no explication). Two features that distance it significantly and substantially from the Wikipedia model of “crowd-sourcing”. And in the usage of this voting scheme, I have noticed a growing trend that seems to place greater emphasis on the technical rather than the informational value of candidate photographs. And the technical merits of any image, unlike informational value, can be judged independent of context and/or interest.
Does the value of Fotopedia lie in its providing a showcase for premium content (with some auxiliary textual information borrowed from Wikipedia) or in its offering an easier way to share photographic information than possible with Wikipedia (to summarise founder Hullot)? Fotopedia, it seems to me, thinks it can do both. After all (they might argue), my Tripod Rock image is viewable through a “Candidates” tab, for those inclined to click on such things. Nevertheless, I am a bit doubtful on whether the “community” and “encyclopaedia” parts of Fotopedia’s mission are well served by the anonymous and burden free voting system and where it seems to be headed. And I write that not merely due to wounded pride!
A mysterious new development: within a few hours of my blog post, a much better photograph of Tripod Rock (than mine) has been found on Flickr and nominated to the page (Fotopedia can pull in photographs from Flickr and nominations can be made by any user, from what I can tell, and can be done anonymously). This new image has been quickly voted up (it’s at 9 votes at time of writing), and as a result, thankfully, the Fotopedia page on Tripod Rock now has an accompanying image. My sense is that this serendipitous event is a response from the Fotopedia team to my modest post (all 8 views of said post have come from France, where I suspect Fotopedia is based). If that is true, then it is a good thing. The page now has an image to go with it, and perhaps there is a glimmer of hope that the Fotopedia folks read my article in entirety and will give some thought to the anonymous nomination and voting systems. Anonymity of this sort is poison to “community”.