25 Jan 2023

Not for the first time, I’ve been experimenting with photo sharing options. As you may have seen, I have a photo subdomain on this site — right here1 — and I’ve tended mainly to use it as home to a relative few of my favourite photos. What I’ve been searching for is something to work in tandem with that, to act as an outlet for less considered, more ephemeral pictures: snaps that are fleetingly interesting, but which I don’t need to keep around for very long. I think of text-based output similarly: anything substantial, or that I think might have a shelf-life, I post here. But, I have a Mastodon account where I can also fire off quick, one or two sentence thoughts that are of only momentary interest (and which are set to evaporate in seven days).

In terms of images, I sometimes like to post the artwork of an album I’m listening to, the tasting notes card for the new coffee beans in my hopper, or the same shot from the same point on my walk around a local park, again and again2. This stuff should be ephemeral, and I don’t want to amass a great pile of such images; I certainly don’t want them to pollute the aforementioned, more curated stream.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve tried Instagram. For the most part, it feels as though its continued place in the culture is owed entirely to network effect at this point: it’s where most people (still) are. Each time I re-install the app and dip a toe, I’m convinced its not the product itself that is retaining users. It’s kind of a horrible experience. I follow a handful of accounts, and it quickly becomes difficult to find their posts amidst a tide of ‘suggested’ content, and adverts (so…many…adverts). The platform has become such a cumbersome, Frankensteinian monstrosity of bolted-together modalities: still image, image series, (Snapchat-style) stories, (TikTok-style) short video, (Periscope-style?) live video etc. etc. And, at the same time, it has developed a truly bewildering labyrinth of settings, preferences, and options hidden in sprawling, layers-deep menus.

So, what are the alternatives? I’d heard enough good things about Glass to sign up, and after some playing around, I feel like it gets part way to what I’m looking for, then falls frustratingly short. The presentation of photos is great, but the (admittedly minimal) social features are frustratingly mandatory, and aspects like the surfacing of EXIF data perhaps speak to the platform’s courting of a professional & semi-professional user base3 rather than iPhone snappers like myself.

I used to be way into Flickr (we’re talking c. 2005-10, ie. two ownership changes ago), but likewise that feels more like a place for showcasing photography as opposed to sharing what amount to quick, image-based updates.

At this point you may be thinking: why not just post these photos to Mastodon, or drop them inline on this blog? These both feel like viable options, and ones that I may push on a little harder to see how they feel. There remains something appealing, however, about the idea of a dedicated channel for this kind of output.

I took a look at Pixelfed: the federated image-sharing platform that is obviously taking its inspiration from the early years of Instagram. At the time of writing I haven’t found an instance that feels quite right for me — a consideration unique to decentralised platforms, and which shouldn’t really prove a stumbling block, but I went through a couple of Mastodon instances before finding one that felt like a good fit, so I know it’s something that can make a difference. I’ll keep an eye on this option.

Likewise, I’m going to poke around at VSCO. I like the relative starkness of their image galleries, which they’re not cluttering with data on camera models and shutter speeds, or prompts for likes & comments etc. One concerns I have is, I’m not sure how nicely it’ll play via the mobile web, and I’d rather not be using a platform that’s going to nudge visitors to install an app they don’t otherwise use.

If you have tips on other options I should take a look at, drop me a line.

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Update: I’m testing Pixelfed as @zioibi@pixey.org — ping me if you’re also there.

  1. It also has its own RSS feed, if that’s your thing.  ↩︎

  2. Hey, I like to notice the trees changing; it helps me mark the passage of time.  ↩︎

  3. which it seems to have attracted  ↩︎