Builder

I’m a builder. I love the way an idea flows from the mind into something you can see or touch – something real.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about when my love for building began. I’ve always had a creative streak in me; in fourth grade I made a pretty impressive diorama of Pompeii, if I do say so myself, and in fifth grade I hosted a spinoff of “Classic Concentration” with baseball cards as a class book presentation on The Trading Game. In high school I handed in an essay entitled “My Dog Ate My Homework” on a heavily-crumpled sheet of paper with one corner missing. Those projects – the ones with enough flexibility to allow me to explore the boundaries – were always the ones I loved. They never felt like work, and I wanted the final product to be perfect.

Lately the things I’ve built aren’t tangible. I have many thousands of photos stored on a hard drive, and I have web projects both for work and for myself in various stages of completion. The feeling’s still there, though. When I have that ability to play, that ability to explore… it never feels like work.

Sometimes I wonder whether actual work-with-your-hands craftsmen feel the same way about the things they make. There’s a special kind of connection with your work that you feel when you first see it roughly take shape, and it grows and grows until the thing you hold or see matches what you imagined in your mind. You made that. It’s tough for me to understand why everyone doesn’t have that same drive.

Over the past few weeks I’ve worked on a few projects that have really allowed me to experiment and explore. I’m doing some of the best work of my life. Through all the frustration I feel when I’m boxed in for some projects, it’s amazing to feel that sense of connection again with projects I truly love.

They don’t feel like work. I want the final product to be perfect. It’s that Pompeii diorama all over again – and I love it.

October 19, 2012 at 7:15 am

#teamupperrightquadrant

Twitter is, without a doubt, my favorite social network. As I’ve told many of my friends, it’s an amazing way to discover new people to follow and to take the pulse of the people you find interesting. There’s an adage that circles around tweetstreams every so often that summarizes the point nicely: “Facebook is for the people you know; Twitter is for the people you want to know.”

Tonight Twitter published a bunch of new rules for developers who use their service. As is standard with rule changes (remember the reply kerfuffle?), there’s been a heavy dose of backlash over the last couple of hours – including from yours truly. What Twitter didn’t do was provide a good explanation of why they were making their changes. It makes a lot more sense if you tackle that question (even if you still don’t like the changes).

The new rules

At its core, tonight’s update about the direction of Twitter’s programming interface revolves around a fairly major change: Twitter discourages third-party developers from writing apps that mimic the functionality of the products released by Twitter itself. If you use an app like Echofon or (my personal favorite) Tweetbot, this is going to affect you. Twitter wants everyone using their own client. (Let’s ignore the fact that Twitter’s native mobile clients were pretty late to the game compared to pioneers like Twitterrific, and, as Gruber points out on Daring Fireball, Twitter’s own iOS and Mac client was a third-party app called Tweetie before it was acquired.)

But why?

Granted, the ratio of people who use third-party clients as opposed to Twitter’s official apps is relatively small. But why anger some of the most loyal users of your service… and why tick off some of your cheerleaders, the developers who make the apps?

The answer Twitter gives in tonight’s post is that they want to encourage a consistent interface across the platform. I can appreciate the intent here; if Twitter rolls out a new feature or changes how something works in the system, they don’t want to wait for every third-party developer to implement the change. I understand, but I don’t agree.

I admit, it’s strange to hear a loyal Apple user complain about limits placed by a platform owner on developers. And yes, it is in itself a bit inconsistent for me to shrug off the restrictions placed on iOS by Apple while also criticizing limits from Twitter in a similar scenario.

Third-party apps and services make Twitter a richer experience. I’ve really started to enjoy Storify; it’s a great way to collect tweets (and more) about related subjects in a single place – something Twitter’s tools don’t easily allow. Tweetbot also adds a thick layer of functionality on top of Twitter’s default service; it allows more sharing options, lets you switch between accounts more easily, and frankly does everything in a more seamless and convenient way than Twitter’s official apps.

In this situation, diversity allows innovation. That’s how Twitter has grown, and that’s how Twitter will continue to grow.

So let’s go back to the original question: why do any of this? I mean, really?

The answer (surprise, surprise) has to be advertising. Twitter controls the entire experience in its own app, including the option to insert ads (“promoted” stuff) anywhere it likes. If the same user visits the site using a third-party app, Twitter doesn’t get anything. Therein lies the problem.

The inevitability

This day had to come at some point; it’s the fatal flaw of Twitter’s current business model, and they’ve chosen to finally do something about it.

Are there other options? There must be compromises, like maybe…

  • Charge users an access fee to use third-party apps. Most developers probably wouldn’t like this, and it won’t fly for Twitter; it’s a numbers game for them now. New services like app.net, on the other hand, could be a new place for devotees who want complete control.
  • Push ads through the API and enforce rules for displaying them. This sounds like a great option, but it’d be really, really difficult to enforce. That adds a ton of overhead for Twitter.
  • Develop a mandatory revenue-sharing program for third-party apps. Sell ads in your app, Twitter gets 30%. Works for Google and Apple. Could it work for Twitter? Again, lots of enforcement and overhead.

In a dream world, I hope the complaints from developers and loyal users will cause Twitter to reconsider their policy. But in reality, a change like this is inevitable in order to allow Twitter to be sustainable. Something’s gotta happen for them to be successful as a platform.

But again, it doesn’t mean we have to like it.

August 16, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Credit where credit is due

My friend Audrey recently found herself in the middle of a debate about copyright and fair use. As a photographer and a general technology nerd, I’m pretty interested in that area of the law and its effects on everything from Pinterest to slogans to stickers, and I’ve been watching as this new saga unfolds.

A stolen situation

Here’s a quick rundown. The Portland Press Herald in Portland, Maine, used one of Audrey’s Flickr images in a story. They made very little (if any) effort to contact her, and they didn’t credit or link back to her in their story beyond listing her job title at the time the photo was taken. This frustrated (if not angered) Audrey a bit, so she wrote to them; instead of removing the image from the story, they maintained that the usage of the photo in the article was covered by fair use.

I’m definitely not a lawyer, but I know enough to say that fair use in general is a very, very complicated piece of copyright law – complicated enough that some pieces are still being defined in court cases. (The Internet complicates the issue even more, of course. Stupid Internet.) Let’s leave the legality of the situation to the people who know something about the law and focus instead on what it means for all of us who enjoy taking photos.

Reproduction repercussions

I love capturing and sharing photos. I’ve posted hundreds of photos on my Flickr account and on Facebook; it gives me quite a bit of joy to be able to share events with the people I know and others who attended. What bothers me about this particular situation is that under the Press Herald’s interpretation of the law, there’s no way for me to know whether my photos will be used in one of their stories – and there’s no way for me to tell them not to use my work.

Sure, it’s flattering to have your photo used in a widely-circulated piece. Without any form of credit, though, sharing devalues your time, effort, and talent as a photographer. Their usage of a third-party photo in a piece is an implicit way to say, “We would’ve liked to have one of our staff photographers there, but we don’t have any media from that event. Yours are good enough to use, though.” Shouldn’t the photographer of the work be compensated for their time and effort – or at the very least, credited or contacted about its use?  (Note that, for example, photos taken by PPH staff photographers are all labeled with the photographer’s name. Their work is part of the Press Herald’s brand and quality.)

From my perspective as a photography hobbyist/enthusiast, there are many options for the Press Herald to handle the situation in a better way. Listing the best first:

  1. Compensate Audrey for her work. (This isn’t unreasonable to ask.)
  2. Contact her before the story is published and ask if she minds if her photo is used. (This just seems like good journalism to me.)
  3. Link to her photo on Flickr within the story, but don’t use the photo itself. (This would give her work the traffic for anyone interested in seeing the photo in question, and it would allow people to view more of her work.)
  4. Don’t use the photo at all. (The article itself describes the situation well; the actual photo doesn’t really add much.)
  5. Credit her for the photo, preferably with a link. (This would put her photo in line with the attribution used for other photos in the paper.)

Admittedly I realize that there are different thoughts on the issue, and I can understand that. I decided that I should ask the opinion of someone well-versed in this kind of usage, so I sent an email to the Portland Press Herald’s own reproduction permissions address:

Good morning! I want to write a post on my website about the Gentlemen of the Road show. I really love the photo you have of the promenade on the story at http://www.pressherald.com/news/City-will-debrief-on-Mumford–Sons-on-Thursday.html . I’d like to know if you would mind if I used the photo in the post. I think it would really help to have a good photo on the piece.

Their reply informed me that they don’t allow other sites to use their photos, and they suggested that I link to the story from the post.

I’m glad at least someone there agrees with me.

UPDATE (August 13): For those not following the story closely, here’s where the situation stands. Since the time this post was published, the PPH has removed the response linked here from their site and has replaced the photo in the online version of the original article with a link to the photo on Audrey’s Flickr account. I’ve also heard that they may be compensating Audrey, but they have not offered a retraction or apology for the photo – which, as it turns out, appeared at the top of the August 7th print edition’s front page.

August 11, 2012 at 11:15 am

Rock and woe

I think it’s probably pretty clear by now that I have a little Maine bias. I love this state, and I love watching it grow and improve. But I’m also a realist; I know that not everything that happens in Maine is perfect. Unfortunately, yesterday’s Gentlemen of the Road stopover in Portland featuring Mumford & Sons was one of those less-than-perfect events.

If you find an attendee and ask what he thought of the show, you’ll likely hear that he either loved the show or was really fed up with the event. I’ve heard them both.

I think the disconnect there depends mostly on what the person you ask did at the festival. If she found a place on the lawn, didn’t move for a few hours, and enjoyed the music, there’s a good chance she had a wonderful time. If she had to get up for any reason – to fill a water bottle, to buy some food, to use the bathroom – the story will probably be a little less rosy. That’s the takeaway from the festival: the music was incredibly good, and everything else could use some improvement.

People, people, people

Gentlemen of the Road Portland, Maine stopoverThe biggest problem of the day was that there were too many people for the venue; it was physically difficult to move from one side of the Eastern Promenade to the other. Since this was the first show of its kind on the Prom, this may have simply been a misjudgment of capacity.

With the people came secondary issues, most notably of which were lines: lines to enter the beer area, lines for food, lines for water. One line stretched the length of the venue. Some friends and I were sitting near the end of the line, and this kind of conversation among people wasn’t uncommon:

“Is this the line for beer?”

“No, it’s the line for water.”

“I thought it was the line for pizza.”

Nobody knew.

Those determined enough to enter the line ultimately waited two hours or more to grab a bite to eat or to refill their water. On an 80-degree day in direct sun, that’s not only inconvenient; it’s dangerous.

Even the toilets were inadequate: within a couple hours into the nine-hour event, some of the portable toilets started to overflow.

Poor entry management was rampant, too, with a lot of confusion about what was and wasn’t allowed in the venue. Some people with children in strollers were turned away, for example, despite numerous strollers allowed into the festival grounds.

Finding solutions

Over the last decade I’ve helped plan a number of events to various degrees. Sure, none of them have been on the same scale as the stopover, but I’ve learned it’s difficult to make all the pieces work well in a large-scale event. It’s important to learn from what went wrong in order to make future events better.

First, the Prom can’t handle as many people as it held yesterday. It’s tough to tell organizers of an event to sell fewer tickets, but at a point capacity becomes a quality and safety concern. Fewer people would mean shorter lines, easier movement, and a better overall experience.

There also needs to be more organization throughout the festival. The festival’s attendee information encouraged attendees to bring a blanket, but this took up additional space and crowded the venue even more. If blankets are allowed in the future, there should be a designated lawn area back from the stage where blankets are allowed – and only standing (or blanket-free sitting) directly in front of the stages. There should also be people to help direct attendees into appropriate lines, and there should be more direction as to where lines should form and where general movement between sections of the venue should occur. Two hours to wait in line for food or water is unacceptable.

Perhaps most importantly, there need to be enough vendors and facilities to accomodate the crowd. There should have been more food, more water stations, and more toilets.

Finally, there should be a clear outline of what is and is not allowed in the festival. No one should receive special treatment.

The importance of a good show

The issues at the Gentlemen of the Road stopover show how difficult it is to run a large-scale festival. A half-dozen bands don’t just come together to play for an afternoon; there need to be near-flawless logistics to create a great experience for everyone.

But why is the experience important? Isn’t the music the main attraction?

A poorly-run show reflects poorly on the bands, and they deserve nothing less than the best. Every band at the show was incredible. The music sounded wonderful throughout the venue, and everyone genuinely seemed to enjoy the entertainment. It’s a shame that the rest of the experience tarnished the day for a number of people at the show.

It’s not just about Mumford & Sons, though. It’s about Maine. With events like Gentlemen of the Road, we have the opportunity to bring people to our state – many for the first time. We need to make the best impression we can to bring them back again and again.

If this were a person’s first event in Maine, they may walk away thinking that Maine can’t handle large shows. That’s simply not the case. We welcome a hundred thousand people every year to the Maine Lobster Festival and to the American Folk Festival, compared to the 15,000 at Gentlemen of the Road. We can do concerts, too; we’ve had a number of near-stopover-sized Waterfront Concerts shows in Bangor, and I very rarely hear complaints from attendees. They’re masterfully done.

We can do great shows and great events in Maine, and I hope Portland continues to hold shows on the Eastern Prom. It’s a beautiful venue, and done right, it could be the home for amazing events. But if the shows continue on the Prom, there need to be major changes to leave the best impression possible on those who choose to join us here.

August 5, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Green, yellow, red

Over the course of the 48 hours’ worth of work at New England GiveCamp, the team leaders for each project gather every few hours at a corner of the work floor. The meeting is simple; GiveCamp co-organizer Kelley Muir calls out the name of each of the 30 non-profits represented at the weekend, and the respective team leader lets the group know if there are any barriers they think may stop them from completing their project by Sunday afternoon. They also give a one-word status: green, yellow, or red. Green? Everything’s going great. Yellow? Cautiously optimistic. Red? We have a problem.

It’s fun to listen to how the team leaders respond. Some you’d expect for a weekend of web development (“we need Drupal developers”). But some show what sets GiveCamp apart. Last night? “Everyone’s been so helpful.” “We’ve got a team of rockstars.”

For me the team leader meeting is a great summary of the weekend as a whole. It shows how eager everyone is to make sure everyone’s project is completed in time. And it shows how a devoted group of passionate people can accomplish amazing work in a very short period of time.

There’s an energy from the first hours at GiveCamp that lasts through the end of the weekend. Seeing people coding at 2:00 a.m. Watching a non-profit representative smile as they see their project being built before their eyes. It’s those moments – and those team meetings – that make this an unforgettable weekend.

May 5, 2012 at 8:53 am

This American Lie

This week’s episode of This American Life is bound to ignite as much controversy as the episode it retracts: Mike Daisey’s critical story of factories in China used by Apple (and others) to manufacture electronics like iPads and iPhones. Parts of Daisey’s story was fabricated, which Daisey defends by saying that the theatre show from which it is excerpted serves to raise awareness about the issue by combining personal experience with other accounts.

It’s painful to listen to the “Retraction” episode. Daisey’s long silences before responding to questions from TAL host Ira Glass serve as a uncomfortable confirmation that he was willing to ignore the journalistic standards of This American Life to draw attention to himself and his own show. But just as unfortunate was the fact that Glass and his TAL team didn’t successfully fact-check the story before airing it. I’d say that the latter is the more important takeaway from the episode, but I’m afraid that it will be the less reported of the two.

Throughout the episode, Glass painted a story of This American Life as victim. He asked Daisey again and again why he lied to the show’s producers and to Glass himself. He assured listeners throughout the show that public radio programs had high standards and that they follow thorough processes for fact-checking.

But they didn’t work. And other than calling the airing a “screwup” and saying that they never should’ve aired the show, Glass didn’t apologize.

Was it wrong for Daisey to air his story on a show like This American Life? Definitely, and I agree with Glass’s “worldview” that Daisey’s performances should be marked as fictional. But for a host of reasons, sometimes sources lie. It’s a journalist’s job to find out what is true and what is not – and when there’s doubt about part of a story, it should be labelled as such (especially when the source in question sells a series entitled “All Stories Are Fiction”). The responsibility for the retracted episode is in Glass’s hands, not Daisey’s.

Why didn’t TAL producers corroborate the story with others who had visited the factories in question? Why didn’t they talk to Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz, a public radio reporter featured in the retraction episode who “heard the story and had questions about it”, before running the original monologue? Schmitz had been to numerous Chinese factories and had talked with some of the Apple supplier workers who were mentioned in the story.

The tragedy of the original story is that all stories about Apple supplier factories will now be tainted with uncertainty and doubt. That could’ve been prevented if the story never ran at all.

The retraction attempts to place the responsibilities of journalism on the subject of the story, not on the journalist. That’s the real tragedy.

March 19, 2012 at 7:53 am

Calling in and cashing in

Apple issued a curious media alert late Sunday night, saying that Apple’s CEO and CFO would be waking up early to hold a conference call at 9:00 a.m. Eastern / 6:00 a.m. Pacific (!) on Monday morning to address what they planned to do with their enormous cash reserves. I’ve been looking around the web to see what people expect they might announce, but a lot of the options don’t make a lot of sense. Let’s take a look at each of them and why they might not make much sense for Apple.

  • Announce a stock dividend. This seems to be the most popular guess. But Apple, above all else, is stubborn, and their stock has been doing remarkably well. I don’t think they’d see a dividend as beneficial, and I think some people may take it as a sign of weakness. (For the record, I own a single share of Apple stock. I bought at $367.24.)
  • Buy back stock. I’ll be honest: I don’t know much about stock repurchases. From what I’ve read, it seems like it’d make a lot of sense for Apple, and the fact that only serious investor-types know what the heck it is would explain the late notice and the early schedule. There’s a part of me that thinks Apple really doesn’t care that much, though, and would want to keep the reserve for investment down the line.
  • Buy Twitter (or such-and-such tech company). Some have said that it’d be a good idea to buy Twitter, noting how integrated it’s become into iOS. It certainly makes sense; Apple has a notorious reputation for controlling everything within their ecosystem. I’m not sure the Twitter guys want to be bought – and I think they might ask more than Apple’s willing to spend. Then again, Apple’s never been strong in the social space (see: Ping), so if they want some heavy-hitters in that area, Twitter might be their ticket. (See also: A Brief History of Apple Not Buying Things by Harry McCracken)
  • Buy a phone company. There have long been a few calls for Apple to buy Sprint, AT&T’s wireless division, or the American portion of T-Mobile. This, too, speaks to Apple’s desire to control everything. In this case, though, I think they may run into regulatory problems – and I don’t know if Apple wants to deal with the hassle of wireless infrastructure.
  • Buy a component supplier. Buying suppliers is right in line with Apple’s way of thinking, but I can’t remember a time in the past where they’ve announced such an acquisition on a conference call. They might if it were big enough, but the likely player in that scenario (Samsung) could trigger some antitrust issues.
  • Invest in Chinese factories. With all the press about their suppliers, Apple could decide to put a few billion to improve conditions in their Chinese supply chain. Frankly, though, I don’t think they’d want to attract additional attention to the issue so close to the This American Life controversy, and if they did, I think they’d do a bigger announcement than an early morning conference call. (But if they disregarded public opinion, as they have in the past, it would definitely be a good investment.)
  • Invest in non-Chinese factories. Many people want Apple to invest in American (or non-Chinese) factories. Tim Cook is a ruthless operations guy, though, and the logistics don’t pan out at scale (for details, start listening to this week’s This American Life at 42:40). If they did anything, it’d probably be mostly symbolic… but Apple hasn’t done much like that in the past. But again, I think they’d want a bigger event than a conference call for this kind of announcement.
  • Announce a component purchase. Apple likes to pre-buy components to save money, so a huge memory/display/battery reservation would seem in line. Not sure they’d announce this publicly either, though.
  • Announce a research and development program, or an incubation program for startup companies. It’s a noble thought, but I don’t think they’re at that place right now. It’s not completely out of character (remember the iFund?), but I think they’d want to use a bigger venue than a conference call for that kind of announcement (especially one at 6:00 a.m. Pacific).
  • Do nothing. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on the option to do nothing. My guess? Tim Cook says something along the lines of, “We want to keep a reserve available so that we can continue to lead the industry and protect the products we’ve invested billions to develop.” but it’s a bit suspect that they’d announce this right as trading opens on a Monday.

My top guesses, in order: do nothing, buy back stock, and invest in Chinese factories.

Whatever the case, this proves that there’s no such thing as a minor announcement when Apple is involved.

March 18, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Not looking

Here’s a partial list of what’s happening in the Bangor area tonight:

  • Boeing Boeing at Penobscot Theatre
  • Brewer Winterfest kickoff fireworks over the Penobscot River
  • Eastern Maine Class B basketball quarterfinals at the Bangor Auditorium
  • Husson Eagles basketball vs. Johnson State at Husson University
  • UMaine hockey vs. Massachusetts at the Alfond Arena
  • Avenue Q by the UMaine School of Performing Arts at Hauck Auditorium

If you don’t think there’s anything to do around Bangor, you’re not looking.

February 17, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Pin It!

The attribution ambiguity of Pinterest highlights another issue as far as sharing is concerned: it’s tough to tell if a site-owner wants their content to be pinned. Sharing has a number of benefits; the exposure (especially for pins from content that encourages click-throughs) can be an amazing boost for a site. Understandably, though, some artists wouldn’t want their content duplicated or spread without their approval.

This supporter versus critic situation reminds me a lot of the Live Music Archive. The LMA is an amazing resource to find bootlegged audio from concerts, and before the days of YouTube is was a great site to visit if you wanted to find out if you’d still like your favorite band after you heard them live. The LMA faced a similar permission issue, and they solved it by requiring (and publishing) a confirmation from the artist (or their management) that taping and sharing was OK.

Does Pinterest need this kind of registration system? I think it’s way too much of a hassle, and frankly I don’t think it’s practical.

Over the weekend I found that Pinterest has an option to put a Pin It button on your website (scroll down on the page to “‘Pin It’ Button for Websites”), similar to the buttons for Facebook and Twitter sharing. I quickly added it over on both the blog and store at Pine Tree Photography, and it’s an awesome fit. The website button benefits site owners in two ways; it reminds people to share their content if they like it, and it gives a stamp of approval from the artist saying that he wants his content shared.

If Pinterest continues to grow and thrive, I’m convinced that it will face permission issues from artists. The Pin It button for sites is a perfect solution for both site owners and Pinterest users, and we should encourage every social-friendly artist we know to add them. Let’s make those buttons the standard way to tell if an artist says, “I’m OK with being pinned.”

February 15, 2012 at 8:24 am

Pinterest and an artist’s dilemma

I’ve been watching Pinterest pretty closely over the past couple of months. It’s the most interesting new player in the social space since Twitter debuted, largely because of its extraordinary growth (especially among women). Personally I see it as a kind of visual Delicious, combining my visual interest with my love of collecting and organizing.

Pinterest’s growth creates challenges, though. They need to make sure the site is beneficial both for users of the site who want to share and for artists who create work worth sharing.

Pinterest’s problem

Sharing images on social networks is nothing new, but Pinterest takes a different (and more troubling) approach. On sites like Facebook and Twitter, there’s often a reasonable assumption that someone will click through an image or link to find more information about a photo that’s been shared by friends. When you click on a shared link on those networks, you’re taken to the image’s original source.1 That’s great for content creators, as it brings new people to their site and gives the creator the chance to show new visitors their work.

Pinterest is different. When you add a new pin, you’re asked for the address of a web page; the site loads the page, pulls a prominent image from the page, and shows it within Pinterest. While you’re viewing your friends’ pins, there’s no direct way to visit the original source; a source link is only available on the pin detail popup. (Clicking the full-size image or the inconspicuous source link above the image sends you to the source site.) These popups show images at full size, so there’s very little motivation for normal users2 to visit the original author’s site; the Pinterest user can view everything from his friends without ever leaving the site.

It’s worth noting that it’s possible to separate pins into two categories: those that encourage a user to visit the original source (recipes, products, craft tutorials, etc.) and those that don’t (photographs, style, and design). I see Pinterest as an amazing opportunity for the first group; a user would see a photo of a great recipe, for example, and would take the time to head to the source site to find ingredients and steps. Pins from the second group don’t fare so well for the original author; for a pretty sunset photo, it would be much easier for a normal user to comment right within Pinterest and move onto the next pin than it would be to visit the source site to view more from the original artist. That’s a lost opportunity for a photographer, artist, or designer.

I’ve heard some people respond by saying that Pinterest won’t hurt artists; the increased exposure could benefit them, and even if it doesn’t, it wouldn’t cause them to lose any business they would’ve otherwise had. I think that’s true in most cases, but it doesn’t mean that it won’t cause problems for Pinterest – or that there aren’t better ways to approach it.

A likely scenario

Given how popular Pinterest has become, it’s only a matter of time until some artists, designers, and photographers decide that they want to control how (or if) their content appears on Pinterest. It’s happened with Napster, it’s happened with YouTube, and eventually it will happen with Pinterest. There are two ways they could do this within the current system.

Some will likely send DMCA-backed cease and desist notices to Pinterest on the grounds of copyright infringement. This will probably cause Pinterest to develop some sort of system to blacklist certain sites from being pinned (say, hypothetically, pins of pages from cnn.com wouldn’t be allowed on the site). It’s an inconvenience for users – and probably not the best option for content creators, either – but the legal road is quick and effective.

A more creative (though, I’d argue, even more annoying) solution would be for artists to add prominent watermarks to all the images they post. It’s one way for an artist to maintain the exposure via Pinterest while still branding the images from her site. Again, though, it’s not an ideal solution for either the artist or the viewer; watermarks have a tendency to wreck the aesthetics of an otherwise beautiful image.

Needless to say, I don’t like either of those options. But what’s the alternative?

A branded solution

Mockup of a pin with source panel on Pinterest

I want Pinterest to succeed. I really do. I think it’s a great concept, and I think in the end it helps content creators more than it may hurt them. There’s also an amazing opportunity waiting to happen for artists if Pinterest decides to offer it.

I’d love to see Pinterest offer a way for content creators to claim their source sites within Pinterest. An artist could verify that he owns certain sites (for example, justinrussell.com and pinetreephotography.com), and any pins from that site would have the generic gray box underneath each pin replaced with a small, branded panel customized by the site owner. YouTube does something similar with their Partner program; popular uploaders can customize the channel name area that appears above each video. (Head over to Lauren’s channel to see an example.)

What then? Well, with a source program in place, Pinterest could offer the opportunity for users to follow artists or brands. If you like one post by a particular artist or designer, how about having the chance to see whenever anything new is posted from that person?

My guidelines

I’m going to start using Pinterest a lot more, but I want to be sure I’m supporting the artists and content creators behind the images I find there. Here are my personal ground rules:

  1. For pins from one of those categories that don’t encourage a click-through, I’ll always credit the photographer and source in the caption for the pin.
  2. I’ll never write a caption that discourages people to visit the source site (for example, explaining the steps of how to make a craft).
  3. I may use watermarks on some of the photos on my sites, but I’ll never make them obtrusive. I’ll try my hardest to preserve the integrity of the photo.

I want to use Pinterest for the same reasons I use other social networks: finding great stuff and sharing it with the people I know – all while supporting the awesome people who make the stuff I love.

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1 This has changed a bit recently on Facebook as people have started to download images to their computer and then upload them as “Wall Photos”, but you still can’t enter an image URL on Facebook to have it shared without attribution. The difference here is that Facebook and Twitter draw out this process and put the burden on the user to download and re-upload a photo. On Pinterest, the default “Add a Pin” behavior is to grab images from another site via a URL.

2 The term “normal users” is tricky. I think there’s a small segment of the site users who will investigate original sources anyway: most likely other artists, photographers, etc. I think the behavior of a typical user would be to stay within the at-a-glance, self-contained system of Pinterest, though, without investigating further. I’d love to see stats from Pinterest that show click-through rates to sources.

February 9, 2012 at 8:42 am