So: Are We Ruining Photography Now? / by Dan Weingrod

Last September on a panel we were on together , resident media provocateur Ben Kunz pointed out that, “advertising has pretty much ruined the telephone”. With do-not-call lists and caller id the phone is rapidly becoming an intruder for privacy and an enemy of conversation.

I thought about this when I saw this article about Stipple, a platform that will allow photographers, publishers and brands to create product related tags on images. It’s really a brilliant idea. It flows directly out of the success the InStyle magazine “I want what she’s wearing” philosophy of celebrity merchandising, blended with the undeniable fact that uploading and tagging of photos has become probably the most popular activity on Facebook. Great media idea, but at what cost?

If you know me, you know that I’m a huge fan of Instagram, the social/mobile photo sharing app. It’s changed the way I’ve approached photography and I believe is part of shaping a whole new approach for imagery in the future, (more on this in a later post). But when I read about great ideas like Stipple I wonder if we’re off to ruin another media again.

What works for me about Instagram is the way it’s helped me form a community around the daily life of friends, acquaintances and pure strangers that I’ve met based on imagery alone. It’s about what they notice and what delights us on a very direct, almost instinctive basis. Sure, there’s all the usual social capital of making sure to like friends’ photos and hoping they’ll like yours, but at the heart of it it’s about bringing a new dimension of non-verbal information and a new presence into your friends’ life. If you happen to like the image of a building, food or even an item clothing you might comment, “cool hat, where’d you get it?”and you might even get a reply and recommendation, or maybe not.

So in steps Stipple with the unacknowledged, (but we know it’ll happen), potential of having everyone tag any photo with branded, ecommerce links and helping us all become a walking affiliate marketers. I can imagine photo decisions being overtaken by thoughts of product placement and gaining likes likes in the hopes of gaining cash along with potential social prestige. That will be followed by photo-spamming, do-not-send-photo lists and…we know where this all could go. Add to this the whole raft of in-image advertising networks coming our way and it’s hard to imagine shared environments like Instagram staying above the fray.

I know that this feels like railing against the inevitable. It’s just too hard for advertising to resist a new media channel ripe for monetization, (another word I’d dearly love to find a replacement for). One potential hope, if we’re lucky, is that the inevitable might become something like Twitter’s failed dickbar experience. In which case it will become part of an additional lesson from the aforementioned Ben Kunz’s. His second mistake of online advertising in his latest Digiday column: “Never try to disguise your message by blending it with editorial”. If community generated content such as Instagram can be seen as producing its own, semi-private “editorial content”, it may be possible that the inevitability of commercialization may not happen.

A deeper issue with platforms like Stipple is brought up in Rick Webb’s provocative On the Bubble post, where he points out that too many startups and developers make the assumption that their latest cool app or platform will be adopted by advertisers looking for a new channel. When I think potential for intrusion by Stipple and other like platfoms into the nice, quiet Instagram environment I wonder if maybe its time to stop this consistent forcing of new media channels for brands and maybe just develop new experiences that do a better job of entertaining, informing and enriching our lives.