Sunday, October 8

JPG Magazine, a fine example of participatory media

For some time, particularly since Current TV I've been talking with people (particularly video bloggers) about making high level media that is truly participatory bubble up media.

Flickr has acted as a hot bed of activity within the photographic community allowing all sorts of opportunities to create high level participatory media.

Some have created simple photologs of multiple photographers whose work they love. The economics of these mediums are very simple, they promote the very photographers they love and what could be better than that.

Even more interesting though is some books have been published. (I've been flattered to participate in a couple) Magazines and newspapers have established user groups as marketing tools or to aggregate potentially publishable photos.

JPG Magazine is one such magazine. It is a fine example of what can be done with such participatory media.

Ultimately where Current TV failed to create a truly open and sustainable ecosystem for their users by merely creating a giant ongoing contest... JPG magazine, at least in combination with Flickr and other photo-sharing services and independent photo blogs, is a great example of how participatory culture can be bubbled all the way up into traditional and higher forms of media.

In JPG Magazine's case that "higher form" of media is of course a magazine but why can't other opportunities be created.

- A network of videoblogs could create a cable/sat/TV channel, or a weekly show, or a movie... or a film festival, or a gallery opening, or films screening?

- Why can't a network of bloggers publish a collection of essays, a weekly or monthly newspaper or journal, or even a book, or how about a collaborative work of fiction, a novel?

Some of my first impressions on

One of the first things I checked out was JPG magazine's usage restrictions on users submitted photos. I was AMAZED to find out it wasn't draconian, but in fact simple and very user friendly.

JPG Magazine is a big fan of copyright. We respect yours and reserve our own.

Contributors to JPG keep all their rights, and do not have to license their work in any particular way. By contributing your photo, you simply give us the right to display the photo online, and print it if chosen.

That's just freaking beautiful when you consider most websites that take submissions for whatever reason have absolutely draconian terms of service. For example take Youtube, it's terms of service have improved but in essence they claim ownership to anything you submit and can do anything they want with it they like.

JPG Magazine's terms of service alone warrants this blog post of praise. It's an inspiration and it gives me hope that we ARE moving into a much more humane legal age. Needless to say I will be participating in JPG Magazine in the future primarily because of this point, not that it doesn't hurt that JPG magazine pays $100 for each photo it publishes and offers a free subscription if they publish any of your photos.

Side notes:

One of the first things I noticed is that the JPG mag signup had some nice AJAXian automatic verification of data in the signup form. For example when you enter a username the signup form automatically checks that username and verifies visually if it's available. A minor detail, but a very nice detail. ...even though it doesn't tell you if the username is NOT available, which I think might be more important still. :p

Second, after you signup there's a nice introduction to JPG magazine that gives you the lay of the land. Here's the opener to it.

Welcome to JPG, Michael!

We're so glad you've joined us.

JPG is not just another photo sharing site - it's a community that's come together to create a photo magazine.

Here at JPG, we like to say we're all about "imagemaking without attitude." That means we want JPG to be a positive experience for everyone. This isn't about photo snobbery or pixel wanking. It's just about the joy of photography.

If you love photography like we do, welcome. But if you're looking to have yet another fight about film vs. digital, or confrontational critique, that's not really what we do here.

We're also about mostly unmodified photos. That means we do not accept photos that have been overly Photoshopped. No fake borders, digitally-added text, or cutouts. Adjustments to color and sharpness is just fine, of course.

Just keep it real, baby. Here's a handy rule: If anything has been digitally added or removed (well, besides dust), it's probably not right for JPG.

There's more, but I'll leave it to you to signup to see it all.

In fact, the only problem I had with JPG view in this otherwise glowing review was their profile page.

After I typed in a nice little bio I was appalled to find that JPG magazine's website just deleted my copy arbitrarily after a certain number of characters and lines... roughly after 500 characters. Quite contrary to the attention to detail on the signup form there was no limit on the form to ensure I didn't type over 500 characters and no alert when I did. Everything over 500 characters was just deleted when I clicked submit. Frustrated I left the following copy as my profile.

I was surprised at how good the usability was on until this profile page. It throws all high standards out the window.

The very idea of a "profile" implies and encourages the user to write freely, but jpgmag arbitrarily truncates (deletes) the users first attempt at a well written profile at 500 chars with no alert, and no way to recover a lost attempt.

There's no reason why there should be a 500char limit. It's just asinine. Why have a limit at all?

To be fair the input form does say "maximum 500 characters" above the form, but this is no excuse.

An arbitrary limit of 500 characters does NOT discourage spam or other negatory activity. It merely tells the user they're unimportant, makes users take less pride, and makes a site like this whose value is in it's sociability a far less powerful and therefore useful too.

The profile page is not just about identity, it's the root building block of user participation... the precursor to the users submitted photos themselves. Case in point I've noticed quite a few grease-monkey scripts floating around on the web that change the user icons all over to link directly to the users profile page and NOT the users photo-stream. JPG magazine like Flickr may be about the photos, but the identity is still the most important building block in community interaction.

The objective of is to aggregate great photos, but without strong identity and identity based mechanisms for identifying great photos and Flickr would merely be websites with a bunch of meaningless photos. Identity is directly tied to meaning. And MEANING, not beauty or interestingness is the root value of such sites and the root underlying mechanism for discovery and sharing.

To put it simply identity is the root from which all things participatory media grow. The stronger the identity, the stronger the community, the more trust, and participation.

BTW, I also submitted my thoughts to their bug report form which is at the bottom of every page. Yet another VERY nice touch.

All in all I thought I found JPG Magazine to be one of the finest if not the finest example of bubbling up participatory media into higher and more traditional forms of media.

JPG magazine only pay $100 for each photo they use in JPG Magazine, if they do use any. ;) However, while this is pretty low considering how much revenue they take in I suspect or at least hope it will rise in the future as their subscriptions and profits increase to attract an ever greater quality of photographers. This could be both a good and a bad thing. In fact... maybe one day there should be an amateur photographer's JPG magazine and a professional photographers JPG magazine. (competition anyone?) The only difference between such magazines would be the bounty they offer for photographs. This would keep the amateur photography magazine accessible to amateur photographers, while creating the opportunity for all to shoot for a higher level of profit and status. Some like me will revel in amateur photography, others will aim for profits and status... and so be it.

All in all, while I do hope JPG Magazine's bounty for great photos continues to rise. I would probably still submit at least some of my photos to JPG magazine no matter what they paid.

This is not to say money doesn't matter to me it does, but being published in JPG magazine is worth more than simply money. There is a far greater value that's often completely over looked. That core value of participatory media is simply social capital.

Social capital includes things like trust, visibility, recognition, credibility, good will, shared history, education, connectivity and above all the potential for greater upward mobility... aka. opportunity.

Let's not forget simple bragging rights and fun! :)

JPG Magazine is creating a tremendous amount of social capital among photographers and while it just past it's second year birthday I'd still consider my contribution an investment and the greatest ROI not money at all, but simple social capital.

Besides what else am I going to do with all the awesome photos I take with my $150 camera? :)


Anonymous said...

Michael --

Thanks so much for your comments - we take them seriously. It's funny, too, since JPG's other publisher, Paul Cloutier, worked on Current as well. Small world.

As I said in my email to you, I'm sorry you had a bad experience with the edit profile form. You're right, of course. Arbitrarily cropping user input is lame. We'll get it fixed.

While JPG is over two years old, the new website is still a baby - it's been around for less than a month now. We've got lots to fix and lots of ideas for features we wanna build.

Thanks for helping us grow!

Michael Meiser said...

Dave, thanks for the response.

I'm honored.

I could not believe that you personally responded to my support email within a couple hours.

been doing some research since this... about the history of JPG mag and your present site. It's doing pretty good for a new release, very polished. Usability is a very granular and ongoignt thing, just as long as you keep evolving it and working on it your website will rock... usability is not about jumps and innovation, it takes time.

I hope you don't call me a hippocrit for my work on :)

It's all about the back and forth conversation.

We're bootstrapping it on table scraps. :)