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500px expanding into the cloud

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An intriguing algorithm pushes photographers' images onto 500px's "Popular" stream.

For a website that’s really only three years old, 500px has carved out an impressive niche for itself. One of the image sharing sites that thrived during the decline of Flickr, the last few years have seen 500px balloon to become one of the largest and most popular photography sites on the Internet. Now with 10 million page views daily, a new iPhone app and a second round of funding flowing in, can this website by photographers, for photographers, keep it up? And can they pull in the non-hardcore photographer market? With a very interesting take on cloud storage that will debut next year, that’s exactly what 500px is hoping to do. 

The photo sharing market is in a state of flux right now. The once castoff Flickr is resurging in popularity thanks to some recent changes it’s made, and Google+ has worked long and hard to court the photography market. Even more social rather than serious platforms clamor for attention: Instagram is more popular than ever and Twitter is making moves to boost its own features for photo sharing.

While 500px in its current form may only trace its roots back to 2010, the origins of the site can be tracked back much farther, to the still operational 500px LiveJournal page. This long-lived group started back in 2004, and it was from here that founders Oleg Gutsol and Evgeny Tchebotarev branched out to create a photography website that included the features they wanted to see and use. While much of the western world has abandoned LiveJournal for more recent blogging tools, it’s still a huge platform in Russia — and its Russian popularity is why the 500px group is still going strong.

CEO Oleg Gutsol still uploads his photos to 500px on a regular basis — including from his recent phototrip to Tibet.

The shutterbug DNA in 500px is evident with features that appeal to the photography crowd. It displays images in fantastic quality, writ large, with EXIF data natively shown — and if you’re willing to pay for an account, you can also host sub-domains, and trawl deep into the statistics of which of your images are being viewed. But part of what gives 500px its draw is the ability to get your photos seen. 500px is rightly proud of their algorithm that generates the “Popular” and “Up and Coming” sections of the site, exposing work to millions of eyes. While the editorial team strives to feature excellent work, the algorithm behind bringing new work to the attention the world is intriguing. To do this, 500px generates a “pulse” for each image, which takes into account the age of the image, and how many times it's been liked or disliked. This has lead to a great deal of discussion about the algorithm that 500px uses to highlight these imagesand how to break it.

It doesn’t take much looking around forums and sites online to see people both discussing and complaining about how to abuse the algorithm. Some suggest posting at specific times of day to get certain users, or simply reposting the image again and again until it gets that first crucial push to get it on people’s radars. 500px takes outside discussions of the algorithm very seriously — and they’re keeping an eye on those forum posts, too. In fact, they’re closely watching the chatter about the site as much they can — be it about working the algorithm to get your photos noticed, or just to talk about the service as a whole. And they’re watching out for people trying to abuse the system, and constantly working behind the scenes to prevent it. CEO Oleg Gutsol told me “we are very closely monitoring what is going on with the algorithm, and people trying to game it ... we try and be very, very responsive, our algorithms change all the time.“

Tiered pricing gets you access to handy features, like deep analytics and custom domains — and kills the weekly image upload cap.

Come 2013, the algorithm side of 500px is about to take a very interesting turn. Gutsol revealed to me that 500px is planning a cloud-based service that they’re calling “Infinite Pixels.” While that’s hardly surprising (everyone seems to have a cloud service right now), what’s really intriguing is what they’re planning on tying in a special version of their recommendation engine. 500px will harness its experience with recommendations and the expertise it picked up with its purchase of Algo Anywhere to trawl through your private images that are hosted in the cloud, and tell you which ones might do well on the site, and could be worth putting up for purchase. Gutsol wouldn’t reveal exactly how the program would work, but that it would use a great deal of data, including information culled from the image directly, like its metadata, geodata and coloration. While this will be separate from the popularity engine that runs the public side of the site, eventually the code will be folded in together.

According to Gutsol, the new algorithm would be able to trawl a user’s images, and tell them “what the most interesting photos they have may be ... they can put them for sale, or for licensing if they wanted to do so.”

Viewing images in 500px not only shows the photos large and in excellent quality, but also includes tags, metadata and geolocations.

It’s an interesting move to try and computationally calculate which images are more appealing than others, based on years of what users have liked and disliked on the website’s public pages. For a newbie photographer uploading every image they take on a photo walk, it could be a useful tool in guiding them to highlight images that are really good, rather than just spamming the service with dozens of uploads.

The Infinite Pixels project is due for Q1 of next year, on both mobile and computer platforms. Mobile is set to get a lot more attention in the near future with 500px, not in the least due to the recent update of the 500px iPhone app. And yes, all you iPhoneographers out there, you’ll soon be able to upload images directly from your smartphone. The 500px iPhone app has in fact proved remarkably popular. People are spending an average of 20 minutes per session with the iPhone app, and 40 minutes with the iPad version. With more than one million photographs uploaded every month, more people seeing the site means more of a chance for users’ images to get viewed. The average image on 500px is seen approximately 30 times, and the site as a whole gets 500 million page views per month. The userbase is currently sitting at one million photographers (growing at a rate of 100,000 per month). While it’s hard to get official numbers to compare with the likes of Flickr, this information from 2011 cites 51 million users, but 415 million page views — which translates to fewer eyeballs on your images.

But with that many photographs and photographers, how does 500px avoid the “eternal September” problem that hits any site as it grows in popularity? While it hasn’t fallen down the rabbit hole of tedium that is Flickr group spam, the countless “Great composition!” comments on 500px don’t really seem to add much to the discussion. And with one million photos (and climbing) uploaded every month, how do you make your stuff seen? How does it not get lost in the crowd? And how does browsing it not become overwhelming? The staff of 500px is hard at work to make sure the site can handle all the traffic, and that it’s shown to you in an artful way. This year will also mean behind the scenes optimizations for speed, stability and scalability, as well as an overhauled uploader (just released today). In order to make browsing more manageable, 500px uses the Flow page to show work of those you follow prominently, and there’s also a change in the works to personalize the images that you see on the site as a whole, and to roll out a weekly digest of excellent images to your inbox.

500px came out with an overhauled image uploader today for getting images online that much easier.

Above all else, 500px is pushing to remain about “great photos and great photographers.” However, it doesn’t take long to notice there’s a certain aesthetic that seems especially prominent. Browse the popular page, and you’ll see certain styles seem to doing markedly better: scantily clad women; macro shot; heavily post-processed landscape and architecture; and wildlife photography. However, even with this particular feel it’s still an excellent way to get your work noticed. One of the most popular images in 500px history was bought by Apple for use, and the recent rollout of Creative Commons licensing should allow more people to get their work more widely seen.

Yet Flickr is starting to push back against these upstart companies. The last week or so has seen a resurgence in interest in Flickr thanks to a significant redesign of the browsing experience, and widely lauded updates to its iPhone app. The return of the long dormant Flickr could mean more competition for the very same users that 500px seeks to court — and from a company with significantly better name recognition. If Flickr continues in this direction, 500px could have a battle on its hands.

Yet at its heart, 500px remains a site by photographers, for photographers. Both founders are still active users, and regularly upload their own shots. In fact, in November the pair went on a photo trip to China and Nepal — and yes, the images are up on the site, if you want to see just what sort of photography chops the pair have.


Tim Barribeau is a freelance science and technology writer based in San Francisco. He's been taking photographs since he got an Olympus OM-10 in High School. You can follow him on Twitter (@tbarribeau) or through Google+, and occasionally see him lugging a Mamiya RB67 through Golden Gate Park."

Comments

Total comments: 34
hasifleur

500px is a site rife with nepotism and favoritism. If you want your photo to rank high, make it a shot of a naked woman, or at least part of one. Make friends with a lot of people and favor their work so they in turn will favor yours. Liking and disliking is a major factor on this site.

And by the way, the editors and owners of the site can and do control the voting and rating. I've been banned a number of times on the site for pointing this out, and tracking down chronic trolls of the infamous dislike button.

Contribute your work to this site with great caution. The site is run my stalinist russians who don't give a crap about what you think or feel.

1 upvote
NickBPhotography

Great site - much better then the others I've seen in recent years. Shame there is not entry requirements prior to joining - lucky the various feeds sift the good from the bad quite easily.

Find people who frequent these sites are always too nervous to critique though which is a pity - photographs with massive technical flaws can do well which should not be the case (e.g. massive burnout for example in a nature/wildlife portrait = fail fail fail).

Comment edited 23 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Dan Tong

A very good and even handed review of this site, but it would be extremely important to discuss the licensing issues, that some commenters have brought up.

Thanks

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Stephan Kleinert

"However, it doesn’t take long to notice there’s a certain aesthetic that seems especially prominent. Browse the popular page, and you’ll see certain styles seem to doing markedly better: scantily clad women; macro shot; heavily post-processed landscape and architecture; and wildlife photography."

Hear, hear. But isn't above sentence true for virtually every single image sharing site on the www?

0 upvotes
tinternaut

I use both Flickr and 500px; Flickr for a stream and 500px as the place where I try to put my best work. Now, I'm no pro and nor do I aspire to being a pro but having a page of half decent photos to put under the interests section of my CV makes sense (my Flickr page has a lot of crap).

In terms of getting a little recognition for you photos on 500px.com, it's not hard! Browse the place regularly and like/comment those photos that knock your socks off (finding those isn't hard either) and fellow members will sometimes reciprocate. It quickly becomes apparent which photos of your own don't cut the mustard there.

0 upvotes
BSHolland

I'm a bit confused about 500px Terms of Service, with regards to licensing & sublicensing. (English is not my mother tongue).

500px claim the "right to sublicense". But only "in connection with the Services".
From my understanding, sub licensing is only necessary when it is NOT in connection with the services.

So what's the point in phrasing it like that?

0 upvotes
Dvlee

Even those of us who speak English as our first language are asking that question.

1 upvote
SantaFeBill

+1 on that. ;-)

0 upvotes
SantaFeBill

Just curious - Why is the site referred to as '500px'? The posted logo is _clearly_ '5' plus the infinity symbol, so why is it not '5infinity'? Is 'px' mathematical shorthand for the infinity symbol?
And where do the two '0's' after the '5' come from?

In short, how do you get from '5infinity' to '500px'?

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
meanwhile

500 pixels

0 upvotes
jeremybarton

Nobody has mentioned the Disliked button !! the site sucks! no matter how good you are or how professional you are you will be disliked! it is a very hateful site when you get disliked for a reason you will never know!!! you are your own critique !! people will dislike to leapfrog you !
been on many sites i have come full circle going to back to flickr! it is still No1 to me

0 upvotes
Spectro

I have both flickr and 500px, I am on flickr, more. 500px looks better, and has better photographers. I only upload a few to it, because of the odd uploading interface, and I have to rename thing? Flickrs get more views so I will dump more photos where people will actually look.

0 upvotes
klopus

Since it's a paid photo hosting, marketing and sales site what makes it different from SmugMug or Zenofolio both of which are also targeted to "serious" photography?

0 upvotes
graybalanced

500px focuses on web portfolio-style presentation and in a lot of ways is better than SM or Zen in that area. But unlike SM or Zen, 500px does not have industrial features like customized branding page design or back-end client fulfillment of various photo products. 500px store is extremely limited compared to the other two.

500px tries to tell people to upload only their best shots (even though a lot of 500px users disregard that), while sites like Smugmug and Zenfolio tend to be unlimited-storage warehouses of entire client shoots or any number of images you feel like uploading.

0 upvotes
Dvlee

The terms of Service make it different.

While the sidebar says ". We will protect the copyright and will not sell your photos without your permission.” the terms of service imply that by the mere act of posting content to 500px, you are giving them that permission. Like most of the other photo display sites, they make it a point to say they are not claiming the copyright, but they are claiming what is essentially unlimited usage with the right to sublicense.

Zenfolio does not do that.

While YOU can sell photos on 500PX, the terms of service imply that 500PX is claiming the right to sell your images through some other portal...say an independent photo stock service?? If you had discovered that 500px had sold your work to a third party, by virtue of the terms of service, you would have no recourse to sue 500PX. Not only do the terms of service feature the standard usage rights grab, it also includes a waiver of your right to sue 500px for any reason whatsoever!

1 upvote
D Sharp

500px lost me when they partnered Pinterest and their support refuse to acknowledge that there are some people who don't want their pictures pinned.

0 upvotes
Denton Taylor

Whatever happened to pbase? It's what I'm mostly using but wonder why no one even mentions it anymore.

0 upvotes
klopus

It's still there, frozen in time. Slug seemingly abandoned improving it but still busily collects money.

2 upvotes
graybalanced

The reason nobody talks about PBase anymore is that because it is frozen in time (with that time being around the year 2002), PBase doesn't have many of the aspects people want in a photo sharing site today. It doesn't have a strong mobile presence or mobile-friendly design, strong integration with social media, flexible handling of photographers' client jobs (like event support or product fulfillment), use of the latest web design techniques, high-end visual design, etc.

There are a bunch of grumpy old-school PBase users who are on there because they like it that way, though. They don't make money off their photos, they just want a simple, cheap service, they hate social media, and they don't care if it looks crappy on the smartphones they refuse to use.

In contrast, if you compare 500px presentation on phones and tablets to PBase, the difference is stunning. 500px executes mobile so brilliantly that browsing photos is addictive, while PBase is frustrating on mobile.

Comment edited 33 seconds after posting
1 upvote
Basco

what id like to see in 500px is a full-screen image viewer, like almost the rest, with this high quality algorithm that they've got in image decode ... still its one of the best sites to me

3 upvotes
photosecosse

500px is very much a site of "It ain't what you know, it's WHO you know"....!!!
The most popular pages are full of over processed, amateur CRAP ! As for Editors choice ? Sheesh !!
"Support" are nothing of the kind. Post something they don't like and they immediately close the thread......it would seem discussion is not on their agenda !!
Upgrade to Awesome ( ? ) and you will find many things simply do not work.
The only thing that they have head and shoulders above the rest is the QUALITY of image display.
PhotosEcosse

6 upvotes
igorek7

500px is a great tool to share your best photos, while Flickr, Google+, Facebooks are mainly for me to get a first independent judgment about most of my selected works.
Another important use of the 500px is to evaluate the current trends in the modern photography. The internal (automatic) algorithm of 500px is wonderful in showing of what is popular and bestselling (IMHO, better than the Flickr "Explore"), while the Editor's choice section allows to see a possible true-art works.
500px is not substituting but complementing other art/social networks. The most noticeable 500px's drawback for me is the lack of well organized discussing groups, which makes Flickr and now Google+ a better place to exchange ideas and discuss the methods/tools/you name it. Nonetheless, the 500px is a fantastic web site for all who is interested in the photography.

3 upvotes
kischorsch

500px is broken by design: it is impossible to get an overview without scrolling through a lot of (overprocessed) crap. Something like the flickr groups are missing.

3 upvotes
ElevenSixteen

Expanding into the "non-hardcore photographer market" is exactly the opposite of where I want to see 500px go.

4 upvotes
vFunct

Basically some of the dullest, most horrible, over-processed imagery in the world.

Nobody in 500px will ever be represented by a real art gallery.

2 upvotes
Imaginik

I agree with you to a certain extent. But 500px is also another great place to study composition. I have to admit that some photos look very unreal, but I still think that poor composition/technique cannot be easily fixed in post-processing, if at all.

The couple art galleries I've visited (Tampa & Chicago), they had what one could consider "over-processed" images. What set them apart was the composition and the material that the image was printed on (e.g., photo printed on canvas, metal, etc.)

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
BigEnso

vFunct, like all open systems (e.g., Flikr, Instagram, etc.) there will be some terrible imagery that shows up on 500px. The difference I see is that the ratio of good and excellent work to the more mediocre work is higher on 500px. As a whole, the quality of work on 500px is quite high.

As for "real art gallery" representation, very few photographers have (or need) that anymore. While it was once essential, with the advent of the Internet it has become less so and will continue in that direction. Few photographers these days derive substantial (if any) income from gallery representation.

1 upvote
John De Bord Photography

I am sorry but I am not the biggest fan of 500px but what you said here with "Nobody in 500px will ever be represented by a real art gallery" is awfully ignorant. As in extremely. Some of the most recognized nature photographers around are on 500px and display their work all the time in real galleries.

Guy Tal http://500px.com/guytalphoto
Ian Plant http://500px.com/ianplant
Joe Rossbach http://500px.com/josephrossbach
Buck Shreck http://500px.com/buckswildlifephotography
Marc Adamus http://500px.com/MAPhoto

on and on it goes. Please, before making a sweeping statement like that, know what you are talking about before hand.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
vFunct

Wow those are exactly the horrible photography i was talking about.

Please look at actual art galleries that define the state-of-the-art.

Do you know Gregory Crewdson? Or Ryan McGinley?

0 upvotes
John De Bord Photography

Ryan McGinley? As boring as vanilla ice cream. I mean seriously... http://ryanmcginley.com/animals-2/ come on. And this? http://ryanmcginley.com/photographs/ Is that suppoosed to be "good"? As far as Crewdsen is concerned, much better and I am a huge fan of his work. That being said, you made a statement which has no validity. Truth is, many on 500px are represented in and currently showcase in actual galleries. I don't have to "look" at actual galleries as I have been a member of several. let's not making bad sweeping statements which hold no basis reality, k?

0 upvotes
vFunct

Uh no, let's make sweeping statements, since that is more useful than being completely incorrect. Get with the program and develop your own tastes on what critics have decided, not your own personal opinion. Everyone has already agreed that Ryan McGinley ended up being the leading photographer to emerge over the last decade. After all, he was the youngest photographer ever to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum, and is one of the top 30 fashion photographers in the world.

Also, galleries, like photographers, also have influence levels. There are only a select few hundred galleries worldwide that matter. They are the ones that show at Basel, for example, as the galleries themselves are curated. Every other gallery is irrelevant, might as well be a garage sale.

And, no one from 500px has ever been represented by any gallery that matters. It is obvious why, just by looking at the works on it, such as the examples you cited.

0 upvotes
vFunct

BTW i find it completely amusing that you have no idea why those Ryan McGinley photos are beautiful.

It really does speak of personal tastes and how influential your personal tastes are. Develop your tastes. Learn why 500px photos are utter garbage, and why they are different from actual artists.

Here is a good site showing actual art photographers that matter: http://www.tinyvices.com/portfolios/

Each one of these photographers have done more than the entirety of 500px combined.

0 upvotes
Imajez

vFunct - You say - "Develop your tastes. Learn why 500px photos are utter garbage, and why they are different from actual artists."

In other words like the things I do or you have no taste. That's a tad arrogant I'd say. John De Bord simply has different tastes from yourself, time to get over that and be thankful we don't all have the same tastes, as that would be so very boring.

500px does not support the art world photography aesthetic, but so what? That's the what the art world galleries do. And there's just as much rubbish in that field as on 500px in my my view. The problem with the art world look is that it is anti-pretty, dislikes good composition, just as 500px can be too pretty and is hung up on 'traditional' composition. Both are cliched in their own different way. :-)

0 upvotes
meanwhile

"Nobody in 500px will ever be represented by a real art gallery."

Given that the site is called 500 *pixels* I'm guessing that it's not really a goal.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 34
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