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Thursday, December 5, 2005

Photo Blogs Click with More People Worldwide


On a recent November day, Adam Seifer had corned beef hash and eggs for breakfast, a goat cheese salad for lunch, and a grilled veggie sandwich with fries for dinner. Anyone who cares to know what else he ate that week can easily find out on, where Seifer posts a picture of every major meal he ingests. Apparently, plenty of people do care about Seifer's diet. Several comments by site visitors accompany each photo, ranging from "That looks yummy," to "How can you eat like that, you fat American swine?"

For Seifer, co-founder and CEO of FotoLog, it's all in a days work. He's been taking photos of everything he eats for the last three years, posting them to the site, and waiting for "feed" back in the form of text comments.

FotoLog ((New York, NY; private)) is one of many sites commonly called photo blogs, where members of an online community post pictures of their everyday experiences for all to see and comment on through accompanying text blogs. Photo subjects run the gamut, from an interesting piece of graffiti on a wall seen on the way to work, to a car accident, or even the birth of a child. Whether commonplace or monumental, chances are someone will view the photo, and put in their two cents.

Currently, 13 percent of North American online consumers use photo sharing sites, like Flickr, Shutterfly, and Smugmug, according to Charlene Li, an analyst with Boston-based Forrester Research. About 3 percent publish photo blogs on sites such as FotoLog and Fotothing . However, the distinctions between photo sharing and photo blogging are becoming increasingly nebulous. Photo sharing once meant posting a set of photos for family and friends, where blogging was more of a photo diary, but many of the popular image sites, and their members, use the terms interchangeably.

Moreover, the 3 percent is probably only a small representation of the worldwide photo blogging community. Seifer says more than 75 percent of the people posting photos on FotoLog live outside the U.S.

FotoLog was started in 2002 as a photo-sharing project among about a group of friends. Seifer, who has a background in building online communities as former chief creative officer for (acquired in 2000 by Youthstream Media Networks) took over leadership of the site in 2002, and built it from about 200 members to 200,000 in its first year.

Today, FotoLog site has more than 2 million members worldwide, posting over over 180,000 photos and one million text comments each day. The site, is not making money yet. Membership is free, but the company is currently experimenting with various revenue models from "Gold Camera Memberships" for $5 per month (which allows you to upload more pictures) to revenue from unobtrusive ads. .

Seifer says he started a text blog before coming up with his photo blog idea, and found he couldn't come up with something creative to say every day. So when he started his photo blog, titled "Get in my Belly," he looked for something that would make it really easy to figure out what his subject would be each day. It started as an experiment, but ultimately turned into a simple and satisfying way of creating a journal; it shows not only what he's eating, but where he is, and often, who he's with. "The photos serve as visual bookmarks for my life," he explains. Every meal has a story behind it. It's not just "I ate a taco, but more like 'Today I'm at the San Diego zoo with my family eating tacos."

I think I lead a fairly interesting lifestyle," says Seifer. "I eat out at restaurants a lot, and meet a lot of interesting people. And in some senses, there is an element of voyeurism which is probably why reality TV is so popular. You might think of FotoLog as 2 million reality TV shows, but they're a lot better because they're not all about humiliation and pain, and you can interact with the people who the shows are all about."

He says that the growth of FotoLog and other photo blog sites marks a change in the way people use pictures. "It used to be that people would break out the camera once a month or so to take pictures of a birthday, wedding, or some other event with the goal of getting them into the hands of very close family and friends. There are lots of great sites out there that make it easier to do that, by allowing people to post and print photos, but blog sites attract a different culture.

Seifer says photo blogs sites, like FotoLog, appeal to people intrigued by everyday images, or what he calls "moment-driven" photography, images of things like interesting grafitti on the way, a weird-looking dog, or maybe even a car accident. "My mom and my mother-in-law always looked at my birthday pictures, but aren't at all interested in my grafitti pictures. And frankly, they don't really care for my lunch pictures, but I still want to share those pictures with someone." Photo blog sites, he says, provide the venue and audience for them.

Li attributes the popularity of photo blogs to the availability of reasonably priced camera phones that make it much easier to capture and post day-to-day images: your camera is always with you, and you can e-mail them right to your blog, computer required.

She believes photo blogging will ultimately surpass text blogging in popularity. "People find it easier to take pictures than to write something interesting. Taking pictures, and sharing them with others is a very natural process, and new technology has now made it even easier to do it online.

Photo bloggers aren't just sharing their photo collections; they're co-mingling them, as in sites like Flickr, currently owned by Yahoo ((Sunnyvale, CA ; Nasdaq: YHOO)). Flickr offers its members many options for posting their photos, including the chance to tag photos so they appear in particular "group" areas, usually centering around a particular theme. Themes are all over the map, ranging from "Celebrate the Cow," a bonanza of bovine beauty, to "You as a Child," where you can post an adorable mug shot from days of yore.

Heather Champ, Flickr's community manager, views the site, and photo blogging in general, as much more than a chance to share photos. It's about sharing a language, and a community, with other photo bloggers through images, rather than through text, she says. "You feel like you're a part of something much larger, and that's very comforting. It's all about wanting to belong."

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