Glass, a new photo sharing app, has been making the rounds this week since it launched to the public, via an invite only roll out, and has had a fair bit of press and photographer fain fare. I gave away a few invites myself.
First, a bit of background material you may want to peruse before reading my observations.
- Om Malik's interview with the founders of Glass
- M.G. Seigler's thoughts on Glass
- and John Gruber's take on Glass
There has been a growing demand within the photography community for a new place to publish our work that isn't Instagram. Instagram clearly does not want or care if photographers stay on Instagram. And over several releases of their app we feel them pushing us out the door more and more.
Prior to Glass shipping there have been myriad other places one could showcase their work.
A personal website is one such option. It is the very best option for a number of reasons not the least of which is that you control it, you can show your work in whatever way you'd like, no one else own's any rights whatsoever to it, and as fans of your work grow you own that relationship. It is, however, the most work to maintain. Even with website tools like Squarespace and PhotoShelter keeping one's website portfolio up-to-date is a lot of work compared to the simplicity of uploading to Instagram.
Another option that has existed for decades are photo-sharing websites like Flickr, 500px, SmugMug, etc. These are excellent options. Many of them offer lots of storage space, apps to help you manage your portfolio, and direct access to sell, license and/or print your work. But these options are missing a key component to the success to Instagram; reach.
And of course, there are other social networks like Twitter and Facebook. These have reach but they do not have features that cater to the photographer. In fact, both prioritize text over photos whereas Instagram is photo first, text second.
In 2012 I wrote that Instagram was "a network, not a camera". At the time, if you can believe this, the debate was whether or not one should only upload photos taken with your mobile phone to Instagram rather than with other cameras. It was seen as disingenuous to upload a Photoshop-edited photo taken with a DSLR. Today, we see photos on Instagram taken with every form of camera from pinhole to drone.
But Instagram is the same today as it was in 2012. It is a network. It is a huge network today compared to then. Billions of users open the app on a monthly basis.
Photographers cannot leave an app with the potential to reach billions to jump on an app that only reaches other photographers.
So therein lies the challenge for Glass or any other app that hopes to slice off a sizable chunk of the world's population to replace Instagram. They need the network.
Without the network there is no clout. Without the network there are no brand deals. Without the network there are no influencers (and, believe it or not, a huge percentage of today's professional photographers are in this category on Instagram). Without the network there are less serendipitous business relationships that happen between people scattered around the globe. Without the network large publications don't find new talent as easily. And, without the network nothing goes viral.
Glass will never replace Instagram for photographers. But I don't believe they built it to replace Instagram as a whole, they built it to be a calming alternative space for photographers to gather. If you look at it as a replacement to Instagram you will not see the value in it. If you look at it as a place to share your work where other photographers can see it, respond to it, perhaps even critique it - you may find some value in it.
I'm glad Glass shipped. Alternatives to Instagram should exist. Personally, I still prefer Flickr (if you haven't tried it in awhile, you should look at it again) as my alternative to Instagram and I prefer publishing photos to my site over publishing them anywhere else. I'll be watching as Glass matures.