I got into my one bit of real social networking by accident. Yes, I am on Facebook, Academic.edu, and Linked-In, but as anyone who knows me from those networks can tell you, I don’t do much. I have two mostly dormant but not quite zombified blogs, this one and one on porridge. But I can perhaps imagine a bit of what a more involved user of these networks goes through, because I experience every day on Flickr the sense of a routine, the flow of entries, the counting of views, the multiplication of contacts, the use of tags, and the measures of popularity (or lack of it)
My Account page tells me I have been on Flickr since 2007, so I suppose it is true. I set up an account to show students in Ling 233, Researching Media, how to research social media, which is why my Flickr name is so pretentious and unhelpful (in some other social networks, my username is the number of an office I left long ago). I then used Flickr to upload photos I wanted to share with family members, so the folders from the earlier years are mostly holiday snaps.
In January 2012, I resolved to post one picture a day. It was a good experience; I started looking for different kinds of subject matter: a tree stump, a quarry, cufflinks, a bronze lamp, flowers, a view of Lancaster at dusk. My wife Tess set herself the parallel task of writing a haiku about every one, and that meant members of her writing group looked at them, to see what had inspired her (or they didn’t, since the haiku was enough). That meant each one got five or six views, so it was perhaps that experience that got me going. I continued in the next month, focusing on the theme of colour (but Tess stopped the haikus; it was very time-consuming and some of my photos were perhaps not very good subjects for the form). And I did another month, focusing on cropping and framing.
One day I ran into David Barton who has written a book about on-line discourse (with Carmen Lee). He pointed out that there is a Flickr group devoted to posting one photo a day. So that day, I checked, and joined Project 365! (there are in fact several similar groups, and I’ve never tried to compare them). I've made a set of some of my favourites over the last year and a half. What I learned, and the reason I am posting this now, is that being in a group makes all the difference.
Several thousand people post daily on Project 365, so that means there is an average of one photo posted every minute. I would usually comment on one or two of the other recently posted photos, and some of those people commented back and became contacts. Since I invariably post around 10 pm, my contacts are mostly people who post around the same time; that is the most likely way they would have seen my photos. Many of them were in the time zone ahead of me, in Germany or France, or in the UK, though one or two have been in the US (so they must sometimes post in the afternoon, their time).
The nice thing about Project 365 is that participants generally post oen photo, so they choose, but they are driven by the dailiness to look for news subjects. All my contacts do striking photos, or I would not have noticed them in the stream, and most are so much better than me that we aren’t really doing the same sort of thing. Lénaelle does (or did – she has finished her 365) stunning macros of flowers and animals, Heinrich Markus did stunningly composed cityscapes and textures, lucy*photography did wonderfully composed shots of everyday objects, Henry Hemming (my first 365 contact) does flowers and cities, Favmark devotes this time of year exclusively to orchids of an astonishing range (I came across his work through Henry Hemmings). Sunchild57 takes walks in Northamptonshire. JKLSemi seems to be in Ohio, and often does views from university buildings, or witty scenes with plastic toys, and TomMayNC observes the birds at his feeder and the cars along the highways in North Carolina. I learn a lot from them, especially when they capture a strange and intriguing image, or nail a simple task I have fluffed: taking a picture of the cat, making architectural detail interesting, conveying all the needed information about a wildflower, capturing the activity of a street scene.
Flickr, like other social networking systems, though it seems flat, is very hierarchical. There are different possible ways of measuring success – having lots of contacts, being invited to join moderated groups, getting lots of favourites. For me, the interest is in getting comments and favourite marks from people whose work I know. About every third photo or so gets a comment from someone, usually because I have commented on one of theirs and they comment back (reciprocity is not required, but it seems to be an implicit norm). Comments are typically short and positive, and sometimes surprising. In other Flickr groups, there are lots of technical comments about cropping, levels, saturation, black point, and other matters of settings and processing, but my commenters stick to saying they like it, usually saying something about what they like, which is just what I do.
There are several reasons some people get many more comments. First, they are very good, with attention to focus, lighting, colour and framing. Second, there is a kind of photo that stands out in the rush of images that is Flickr, however mundane the subject matter: dramatic lighting, unconventional composition, deep colour, especially almost monocolour. Another reason for higher comments would be that some people post to many more groups, increasing their chances of being seen. And they use tags cleverly, so someone looking for a photo of, say, a canal bridge, might find their image.
I finished my first year of posting on New Year’s Eve 2012, but I went on until I reached the anniversary of my Project 365 with my 365th posting. I stopped then, relieved not to have to go upstairs every night before bed and find something on my camera that would be worth posting, hoping that I would stop soon seeing a 3 X 4 frame around everything I looked at. But it was only a few weeks before I started again. Yes, Project 365 is time-consuming, but I also find it very relaxing, at the end of a day of work, to look over some very striking and unpredictable photos by my contacts and other P365s. My excitement at getting favourable comments is undiminished from my days as a third-grader looking for the teacher’s stuck-on start (a symbol appropriated by Flickr for favourites). And it gives a discipline to the kind of visual roaming that is an important part of my life. My chosen photo isn't always very good; most people in Project 365 seems to find there are some days when there isn’t much time for photography, or when they are confined to spaces that only a gifted photographer could make interesting. But I do now have a better sense what makes a good photo, or at least a good Project 365 Flickr photo. It makes me look.
So why is this my one real bit of social networking? On Twitter and Facebook and even in the blog I am doing stuff I might have done without the social networking site, but on Flickr, the social network involves people I did not know before (the contacts), it is part of my daily routine (up to the computer at 10 pm), and it shapes that routine (seeing the world in terms of one possible picture). Project 365 is social networking slowed down, not the passing of moments but the passing of days and years.