Television remains the most common way for Americans to get their news.
Popular photo sharing networks like Instagram now boast tens of millions of users and an endless treasure trove of images. They are also becoming a bigger part of how modern news events like inaugurations, elections and natural disasters are documented. But such networks have also sparked questions about who holds rights to the images, the degree that they’ve been doctored, and how they affect those who take photos professionally.
- Jay Westcott Freelance Professional Photojournalist
- Jeff Sonderman Digital Media Fellow, The Poynter Institute
- Declan McCullagh Chief Political Correspondent, CNETnews.com
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. This is what a presidential inauguration looks like on Instagram: Hundreds of thousands of spectators gathered on the Mall, ready to become photographers the moment they touch their smartphones, all shooting, editing and uploading images to social networks for their friends to see, all documenting the history and the personal experiences that came with the moment, our nation's first black president beginning his second term.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut should those images of you waving an American flag with your daughter or freezing your tail off in the shadow of the Capitol's West Front belong exclusively to you? Or should the company that helped you capture and share them have any right to them? Should the faux Polaroid photo you took using the Hipstamatic app on your phone contribute to the official documentation of the historic day?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOr is it more of a fun, personal memento than something a professional would create to capture a moment in time? Joining us to explore what life in a world crazy for mobile photo-sharing means or those taking the photos, the companies building the digital tools and the people who make a living from taking photographs professionally is Jeff Sonderman. He is a digital media fellow at The Poynter Institute. Jeff, good to see you again.
MR. JEFF SONDERMANHi. Good to be with you.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Jay Westcott. He is a professional photographer. He has worked at Politico, The Washington Post, The Examiner and TBD.com. Jay, good to see you again.
MR. JAY WESTCOTTGood to see you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from the studios of KQED in San Francisco is Declan McCullagh. He is chief political correspondent for CNET. Declan, good to talk to you.
MR. DECLAN MCCULLAGHThanks, Kojo. It's a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation at 800-433-8850. Were you Instagramming photos from the inauguration festivities yesterday? How do you think photo-sharing social networks have affected the ways in which we experience and document historic events? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com, send us a tweet, using the #TechTuesday, or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there.
NNAMDIJay, we've been living for a while now in a world where just about everyone carrying a mobile phone is a potential photographer, but this latest generation of smartphone applications, the Facebook-owned Instagram being among the most popular, gives anyone with a smartphone the ability to instantly edit their photos and share them with friends in their social network.
NNAMDIPhotos from yesterday's inaugural festivities were flooding the Web, competing for attention with photos taken by professionals like yourself. What do you see as the significance of this in terms of how we experience and ultimately document historic events?
WESTCOTTCrowdsourcing has always been a viable means of sharing a user's experience with an event, such an inauguration. Long before Instagram, long before Hipstamatic or Facebook or Twitter, people have taken their own pictures and shared them in different ways. Newspapers would solicit prints. And you could send them in, and the newspaper would publish it. You have their local users' experience. That hasn't changed.
WESTCOTTIt just sped up the process. And more and more people have access to it. And it is definitely a unique perspective to get, you know, a citizen's take on an event, such as this. The issue I see that has potential downfall is the content. A professional journalist is going to source, you know, is a trusted source. And when citizens take on roles of journalists, even though they're not trained and are not held to the same ethical standards, that's where the issue can come up.
NNAMDIHow do you feel about it, Jeff?
SONDERMANI agree. It's been in many cases a good thing. You know, we've seen this presence of smartphones everywhere, meaning that there are now cameras everywhere. And then when big news happens, particularly happening in public, something like Hurricane Sandy recently striking most of the eastern U.S. seaboard, literally millions of cameras out there are all put to work documenting these things.
SONDERMANIt does also present new challenges, such as verifying all the photos that these cameras take and that people start circulating. For instance, during Sandy, there were several photos of sharks swimming in the streets of New Jersey circulating wildly on social media.
SONDERMANNone of them were actually true, of course, but it was believable enough to capture people's imagination. So there's some new traps to fall into there.
NNAMDIWell, crowdsourcing was the rage yesterday. Every news organization under the sun was encouraging viewers, listeners to send them their photos on social networks. How would you measure the potential influence of those photo-sharing networks during an event like yesterday? Starting with you, Jeff.
SONDERMANI think Jay made a really interesting point in his first comment, which was it's a great way to see the experience of these users who are at the event, what they're seeing kind of through their eyes and their lenses. And that is extremely valuable because it brings a diversity of view, you know? It brings more than just what you get from the designated press area beneath the space where the inauguration is taking place. So you get diversity of perspectives and views. It is different in the sense of the story it can tell, though.
SONDERMANI agree that much in the way that anyone could write a letter home about their experience of going to the inauguration, that's a different quality of storytelling than if say the New Yorker dispatched a staff writer, a correspondent to come and tell a meaningful thought-out narrative about the experience of the inauguration. And I think in photos, it's the same way. What a professional photographer can show you from a visual event like this is a little bit different than what you get from the crowd.
NNAMDIDo you agree, Jay Westcott?
WESTCOTTI agree. A successful crowdsourced initiative such as Instagram or Facebooking, you know, for a news organization, is going to be the curation of those photos. So having a person with a good eye that can weed through the clutter and, you know, help drive a narrative, that is going to be a successful crowdsourced, you know, social media event.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number. We're having a Tech Tuesday conversation, your life on Instagram, so to speak. 800-433-8850, if you have questions or comments. Declan, for a lot of people, the process may have seemed rather simple. Yesterday, I shoot these pictures of me waving a flag along the parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue. I edit them. I upload them to Instagram or some other social network. And I own them.
NNAMDIBut Instagram sparked a controversy last month when it rolled out a new user agreement that left a lot of people worried about the rights they had to the photos they shared on the network and the control that Instagram ultimately wants to claim. The company walked back and clarified the new user agreement somewhat. What exactly happened last month, and where did it ultimately lead?
MCCULLAGHAnd another section allowed Facebook, which owns Instagram, to charge money. Now, lawyers sometimes write policies that are broader than they really need. I'm married to one. I understand this. There's -- but -- so I'm not saying that this was Instagram's plan, but nevertheless, this is what the language appeared to allow. And so this sparked a massive outcry.
MCCULLAGHYou had millions of people on Facebook and other social networks saying this is -- this will not stand. We don't want Instagram to do this. And so within a few days, to their credit, after rivals, including Yahoo! and Google, saying, "Hey, we don't do this. Come to us." Instagram did apologize to users and did back down and deleted the most controversial language from its term of use policy.
NNAMDIHow does this controversy compare with others that have popped up in online publishing before? Is this a new debate, Declan?
MCCULLAGHAnd then a few years later, Yahoo! tried the same thing or something similar with Flickr content. This is the photo-sharing site that Yahoo! owns and try -- and claimed the right to use uploaded photos in advertising and marketing purposes. And again, they backed down after a public outcry. And so this is not the first time we're going to see an outcry like this. Facebook has weathered a lot of privacy outcries unrelated to copyright reasons and sometimes changed their policies, sometimes haven't. This is just an ongoing tussle between users and the companies they love.
NNAMDIDeclan McCullagh is chief political correspondent for CNET. He joins us from studios in San Francisco. In our Washington studio is Jeff Sonderman. He is a digital media fellow at The Poynter Institute. And Jay Westcott is a professional photographer who has worked at Politico, The Washington Post, The Examiner and TBD.com and who also took a photo of the cough button in this studio, Instagrammed a photo of it and then tweeted it. Now, whose photo is that? Is it yours? Is it ours? Is it Instagram's or all of the above?
NNAMDIBut it's our studio.
NNAMDIWe use this.
NNAMDIBut it's your photo?
WESTCOTTIt's my photo. It's my view of your studio.
NNAMDIDeclan, Facebook acquired Instagram for almost $1 billion. This is an application that is free to download, free to use. Where is the value in something like Instagram to Facebook? Is it the ocean of user-generated content that's sitting on that gives it value if they can't use Jay's picture of the cough button?
MCCULLAGHThink of what was going on when Instagram was bought by Facebook. This was before Facebook's slightly buggy let's say initial public offering, and Facebook was being beaten up by not having a good mobile strategy. Their mobile app that you used on an iPhone or an Android phone was not that wonderful.
MCCULLAGHAnd Instagram had all these millions of users, and it had a very nice application, a really market-leading application on mobile devices. And so Facebook very quickly and almost very suddenly that reports from the Times said that the CEO and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, led discussions himself without informing the board until the last minute. They bought Instagram.
MCCULLAGHThe value has since fallen because it was, in part, a stock deal to something like $750 million. But this was Facebook's effort to try to become more relevant in mobile. And I think it worked. They've since upgraded their application, but that was the reason why they spent so much money on a site that really had no obvious revenue stream and was probably losing money.
NNAMDIThis question, I guess, is for all of you. I'll start with you, Jeff. So what are the options for Instagram if its ultimate M.O. is to try to make some money, charge for downloading the app, charge monthly for using the service, advertising?
SONDERMANThe thing that Instagram brings that's different than just anyone else taking a photo and putting it on their blog or email, the people is the social connections, right? So Instagram is a social network that also takes photos. So that's where the value is here for Facebook and for Instagram before it was acquired is owning the relationship through which we share all of our photos with each other. And that's where they're likely to try to tap into this for value.
SONDERMANThe same way that Facebook now shows you ads based on what your friends like and what your friends have done, say, three of your friends have checked into Starbucks on Facebook. That becomes an ad in your news feed. Instagram maybe doing some of the same things with your photos showing you things your friends took pictures of that are sponsored by maybe a certain business. That's certainly a route. But unlocking those connections and the people you have relationships with is certainly where they're going to be looking.
NNAMDIJay, what should be in it for Instagram?
WESTCOTTWell, I'm not opposed to Instagram making money, of course. But I want to retain my right to make money as a photographer, and, look, I -- if the photos weren't valuable, they wouldn't have wanted them. You know what I mean? They wouldn't have set the terms of service the way that they had done. There is value in these photos and they know that. They overreached when they wrote the terms of service.
WESTCOTTAnd the pushback they got was incredible, and I applaud everybody that, you know, posted and tweeted and, you know, sent their last Instagram with a note from their kid saying, you're taking away my daddy's way to make money. That was fantastic. So -- sure, I think Instagram is going to make their money, you know, through, like Jeff said, the social networking aspects of connecting with other people and what they like and kind of integrating that into some sort of business-model level, you know, produced advertising.
NNAMDIIf you would like to join this Tech Tuesday conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. What do you think photo sharing networks like Instagram should do if they're interested in making money off their services? Would you be willing to pay to download their app or to use it only on a monthly basis? Or would you quit if it were anything other than free? 800-433-8850. You can send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Declan McCullagh, what are the options for Instagram if it's to make some money?
MCCULLAGHWell, it's a good -- it is. I mean, Facebook is now a public company. It has -- it's under a lot more pressure to make money and boost its stock prices not at the lows it used to be. But it's still not where it started. And if you're an employee there, you might well be considering offers from Google and Twitter and other companies that say, hey, look, you know, your Facebook stock options or restricted stock units aren't doing all that well.
MCCULLAGHSo they have to find a way to make money. At the same time, these lawyers who write these terms of service or expensive engineers or expensive hosting services bandwidth as expensive. So there are only a few ways you can make money. I mean, you can do -- you can charge a fee per month or per period of time, which is what Blipfoto does.
MCCULLAGHIt's a much smaller scale, and it says, we're not going to sell your photos because we charge you for it. There's -- they can try to integrate this more closely with Facebook, and I think that's what they're doing. They can use photos in advertising or marketing them. There's not a huge -- many options they have to choose from.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back -- if you have called, we will get to your calls. If you haven't yet, the number is 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, using the #TechTuesday or an email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Tech Tuesday conversation on your life on Instagram. We're talking with Jeff Sonderman. He's a digital media fellow at The Poynter Institute. Jay Westcott is professional photographer who has worked at Politico, The Washington Post, The Examiner and tbd.com. And Declan McCullagh is chief political correspondent for CNET. 800-433-8850 is our number. Let's go to John in Alexandria, Va. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNGood afternoon, sir. It's marvelous to talk to you. Well, I've got sort of a anecdote here and then my question. I had taken up a temp job to work helping clean up around the inauguration over the past couple of days. Last night, fairly suddenly, I found myself in a position to actually take part in the parade route. But what we were doing was following the horses of the parade and cleaning up the mess that they left on the street immediately after they did it.
NNAMDIYou're on the parade, though. Go ahead.
JOHNYes. It was nice. But it was a bittersweet moment. So I found myself directly in front of the presidential viewing stand performing this service. It felt pretty embarrassing at the time, and I have to admit that it still does. Today, I do a quick Google search and, sure enough, find the picture of myself doing this in front of President Obama.
NNAMDIWas this a voluntary activity, or were you getting paid for it?
JOHNThis was a temp job, yes.
NNAMDIYou're getting paid.
NNAMDIThere is honor in being paid. Yes.
JOHNBut this does just raise my curiosity as to at what point performing a service like this in public and why it's a concern to be photographed?
NNAMDIJay says that's a no-brainer.
WESTCOTTYou're in a public space. You're going to get photographed and especially in an inauguration.
NNAMDIIf you stay out of public spaces, then your chances might be better. But if you're in a public space, John, that's it.
JOHNI understand. OK. Well, again, it was just a convenient moment to call up and get some clarity on that. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Jay, generally, what are the things you consider when you upload and share your professional work on the Web?
WESTCOTTWell, in a case like that, the rule of thumb I go by is: What is this gentleman's expectation of privacy? He's in a public space on the most famous street in America on the most important day of our country, you know, Inauguration Day, and his expectation of privacy is zero.
NNAMDIWhat is your own expectation of privacy, so to speak, in terms of your ownership of that photo you have posted it on the Web? Can anyone else who chooses to use that photo use that photo?
WESTCOTTNo. They must link to the original source where I posted it. They can do that often, and I encourage that as often as they like, as long as it directs the hits back to where I posted it, be it a company that hired me to take it or my own blog for my own use.
NNAMDIWhich Web services would you consider to be photographer friendly in that regard?
WESTCOTTWell, with Twitter, there are some upheaval a few years ago with Twitpic and some terms of service and some usage from an image that was taken in Haiti that was unlawfully redistributed through AFP and some end users. Terms of service that are friendly to photographers would be EyeEm. That's E-Y-E-E-M. It's a photo sharing service similar to Instagram that has a great terms of service for photographers. Also, Mobypicture which is a Dutch company that, again, their terms of service are right upfront, and you retain copyright. They make no assumptions and don't want to make assumptions of copyright.
NNAMDIJohn, thank you for you call. Speaking of terms of service, I think that's what Peter in Kensington, Md., wants to talk about. Peter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PETERHey, yeah. Thanks for giving me the opportunity. I do a lot of industry work and from the advocacy side for professional photographers. And I think that your guests probably have not read the revised terms of service because Instagram does still assert the right to sublicense with no compensation and asserts that in perpetuity, as well as requiring the user to indemnify them and pay for their lawyers explicitly.
NNAMDIDeclan, what is your understanding of that?
MCCULLAGHI have read the revised terms of service. That's why I said earlier they deleted the most controversial sections. There's -- some of the language in there is designed to protect them from things like if they want to do a marketing campaign, if they want to do an advertising campaign that does not transfer the rights completely.
MCCULLAGHAnd to tell you the truth, a lot of the language in there is -- in the language even of news sites, they want the ability to take the comments you post to the bottom of articles and use them. So I'm not that as alarmed and -- at the current language that went into effect, I think, four days ago. But if you don’t like and you think it's too broad, then by all means, don't use the service. There are other ones out there. Google and Yahoo will be happy to have your business.
NNAMDIIs that what you're going to do, Peter?
PETERYeah. That's definitely not terms of service that I can sign on to that -- that language is very familiar from 30 years of negotiating photo contracts as a very broad ground to break.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call. You care to comment, Jeff?
SONDERMANI would just say that this is an issue we see repeat itself over and over again when it comes to these free Web services. You know, Instagram is a great example. But anything you basically use on the Internet that you don't pay for is being provided for an ulterior motive. That company is going to use the content you provide or personal data that you use to register or patterns of your activity online or something like that as a secondary means to make their money. So it's important that users be thinking about, what am I really paying with here if not my money, right? What am I giving up?
NNAMDITo what degree do you think there's a disconnect between the average Instagram user who's already accustomed to using this product, this service for free and the cost of the infrastructure necessary to upload and host all the content they're creating, Jay?
WESTCOTTWell, the end cost isn't too terribly much. I mean, the rate to raise in servers and what not really doesn't cost a lot to have photo hosting especially these files. The filter process makes the file pretty small. So it can be uploaded very quickly to multiple areas. You're not going to be able to get a, you know, 20-inch print out of an Instagram photo.
WESTCOTTIt's just going to break down, and it's not going to look good. So the storage base is minimal for a photo compared to, you know, the photos that I take with my, you know, professional cameras. I don't think that it would take a lot to manage, you know, the archive of Instagram photos. It wouldn't -- the content management would be relatively easy.
NNAMDIWell, I got a quote what Computer Guy John Gilroy said on this show earlier this month. He says, "People need to realize that different Web product is being made available to them for free, then it's probably the case that the user is the product." What do you say, Declan McCullagh?
MCCULLAGHIt's a line that I hear a lot in Silicon Valley, and you have -- now, let me give you an example. You had some fuzz over Twitter late last year after -- have really rising to prominence because of a very open platform. They decided to start locking it down more for your third party app provider. If you provide an app that lets you post to Twitter, you may not be able to more -- you may be not be able to support the number of users you want. And then -- and the reason is that you don't really control your Twitter experience as much as you might otherwise because they want to throw ads up there.
MCCULLAGHMaybe you are the product and that -- that gave rise to a new Twitter competitor called App.net, and you pay for the service. And so it's a different business model. I mean, we're going to see which one survives. But historically, I mean, if you're not in the hardware business, a lot of Silicon Valley companies in the last 10 years have been ad-supported, and I think it's going to continue. It's an easy way to make money with, and this is what has led Google to such prominence.
SONDERMANI would just add that you really have to think about the model of the broader company, not just the service. So a lot of the things that Google provides, right, so Google provides tons of Web services whether it's documents, storing photos, now social networking, all of these things. Google made almost all of its money from search and search advertising, billions and billions of dollars, which means it doesn't need to care that much about whether it makes money from its social networks or from its photo hosting.
SONDERMANIt doesn't need to go to great lengths to twist that data and to directly profit from that. Facebook and Instagram, on the other hand, are just social networks, and they exist on their own. So Facebook, Inc. is going to make money in turning good quarterly reports. It needs to leverage the actual social network and to somehow using your data, your information to make money. And so it's a much more aggressive play, I think, in many cases to monetize a social network.
NNAMDIPeter, thank you for your call. Here now is Martin in Washington, D.C. Martin, your turn.
MARTINHi there. Thank you, Kojo. I -- one of the comments, I guess, a little bit on the issue of what is ultimately the big deal. I kind of agree with what's said before. Companies like Instagram, Facebook, they provide a service for free. If you remember, you know, just even five or 10 years ago, if you wanted to share information with people, you had to build a website. You had to buy it. You had to maintain it. It took money. It took time. All those services have now been made available for free by these companies.
MARTINOn top of that, once they start sharing information through your profile, you as a customer still have a choice whether, you know, you're going to use that ad or use that information, for example, the example that was given earlier about if I hear that, you know, five of my friends have been to Starbucks, well, you know, for starters, I probably already know that, but even so, I don't see the big issue with that. I can still then decide I go to Starbucks too or I don't go to Starbucks.
MARTINSo if these companies that are, so far, been providing a service to me for free are making some money either out of ads or because of information, as long as that information is not -- is private and confidential like medical or financial information which, you know, people shouldn't put on social media anyway, as long as they just make ads based on my preferences of where I shop or where I have coffee, because customers still have a choice, I ultimately don't see the big deal. Now, I'm wondering if the panel could comment on that.
NNAMDIAnd allow me to add, Martin, this email we got from Donna in Fairfax, "So many kids under 18 are on Instagram now. When I talk to my 12-year-old that Instagram had changed its policy so that any photos you posted was their property and could be used for commercial purposes such as an ad campaign, her response was, cool. Kids don't understand the implications of their photos being owned by others." What do you say, Jeff?
SONDERMANThis idea that customers have a choice which is to either use the network or leave is a really interesting one, but it's only true in this sense. So each customer has a choice -- Jay has a choice, Kojo, you have a choice -- whether to use Instagram, whether to use Facebook. You can quit, delete all your data or not. But customers collectively, as a whole, don't have a choice and don't really have bargaining power in these situations.
SONDERMANSo it's very difficult, for instance, when Instagram wants to release new terms of service for the entire body of their user base to stand up and say no. There was a significant pushback in this case. But there's no organized mechanism to do that. So if 1 percent of the user base quits in righteous protest, that's probably not enough to dissuade the network from continuing to do what it wanted to do anyway.
SONDERMANSo it's true we all have the power to decide whether we use it. But when something on the scale of Facebook becomes so predominant to where if you want to keep up with your friends and family effectively in one place every day, you're going to have to do that on Facebook. You're not going to convince them all to go join some new foreign social network, so there's a lot of peer pressure and a lot of social pressure into belonging to these things that might outweigh your personal belief about wanting to belong or not.
NNAMDIAnd, Declan, Donna did have a specific question in her email, "What are the policies toward users that are underage?" she asks.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your email, and in your case, Martin, thank you very much for your call. On now to David in Sandy Spring, Md. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDHello. I was a photographer for many years, and I'm wondering whether in posting a photograph that is copyright and all rights reserved, have you just given up that if you post it where some place in the fine print it says, nope, you don't have that right anymore.
WESTCOTTCopyright starts the second you press the shutter button and make a picture. That's your copyright. If you created it by snapping the shutter, that's your photo and your copyright. It doesn't go away. It doesn't matter what's written on the photo. That's yours.
WESTCOTTNow, proper steps would be to register your photos, your work with Library of Congress to register your copyright. It is a process, and it's recommended you do that within 90 days of making work. And you can do it on a continual basis. That way, you are -- you have protection and your rights to monetary damages go up significantly if you have registered your copyright with the Library of Congress.
DAVIDI found on the one instance I had to take this up that it was expensive work contesting somebody's secondary use of something I've taken, and I would just say I hate to go up against Facebook.
DAVIDBut be that as it may, thank you very much.
NNAMDIAnd thank you for your call. 800-433-8850, what concerns do you have about the rights you assert over the photos you share on your social media? What steps do you take to make sure you maintain control over what you upload to the Web? 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. It's Tech Tuesday. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow, #TechTuesday. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's Tech Tuesday. We're talking about your life on Instagram with Declan McCullagh, chief political correspondent for CNET. Jay Westcott is a professional photographer who's worked at Politico, The Washington Post, The Examiner and tbd.com. And Jeff Sonderman is a digital media fellow at The Poynter Institute. Jeff, so many of the people who were busy Instagramming the inaugural festivities yesterday were also tweeting up a storm.
NNAMDIBut Twitter, the microblogging platform, and Instagram don't exactly, well, get along. You can't sync your list of Twitter friends on Instagram, for example. Twitter doesn't let you embed Instagram photos anymore in tweets. They only let you post a link that sends you back to Instagram. What's the back story to this spat, and where do you see it heading?
SONDERMANYeah. This is, you know, this is competition manifested. So these are two companies that, I think, in times past, thought that they were maybe symbiotic in some ways, that their existence help them piggyback off each other, but now they're both in the space where they want to be the place where, on your mobile device, you take pictures, you filter them and then you share them with a network or friend.
SONDERMANSo now that they're very much in the same space, they seem to have decided that it's not so good for them to be sharing and letting one take advantage of the other's power, and they're really going to go at it. So Twitter has introduced the ability to filter photos when you take them, which sounds very familiar to Instagram and Hipstamatic users.
SONDERMANAnd, you know, Instagram has disabled the ability for Twitter to embed Instagram photos directly in its website. So if somebody tweets an Instagram picture, you now have to open the link and go look at the photo on Instagram's website. You can't just see it in Twitter like you used to be able to. So they're kind of pushing each other at arm's length and competing pretty strongly.
NNAMDIWhere does this ultimately leave users who like and enjoy both platforms?
SONDERMANYeah. It's not great, you know, 'cause in the ideal world, you have one kind of social network of maybe your friends and your acquaintances that you want to keep up with. And you take your pictures in whatever way each of you likes to do, and you can all see them and exchange them kind of seamlessly. And that's kind of what we used to have and hopefully someday we can have again. But both companies have decided, it appears at this point, that they're more willing to make life a little bit worse for their users in order to maybe preserve their business interests a little bit more.
NNAMDIDeclan, all of you are looking at how these tools affect the basic craft of journalism in different ways. The social networks and the photo-sharing social networks have kind of embedded themselves in how media entities now cover news. What do you think the rivalries between platforms like Twitter and Instagram are going to mean for journalism?
MCCULLAGHWell, it's a difficult question because the rivalries are so intense right now. I mean, it really started last -- more -- maybe it really accelerated last fall on with the -- Twitter reverses Instagram/Facebook fallout. There's -- I mean, Google owns search to a first approximation. I mean, they're the market leader by far. And -- but Google doesn't have much of a presence in social networking compared to Facebook or even Twitter. And so they're moving into this space. Twitter is probably getting ready for an initial public offering in the next year. And so they want to find a way to make money.
MCCULLAGHAnd Facebook wants to justify its Instagram price. And so you see the stage's set for a pretty significant war between those three companies. How -- what this means to journalists -- I mean, from my own experience here at CNET out in the Bay Area, I mean, what we're doing is instead of having a presence on just one property, I mean, journalists and media organizations have to have a presence in all three. And so that means duplicating content, and it's kind of a pain.
NNAMDIAnd philosophically, do you see the interest of social networks to be more in line or more in conflict with those of news media?
MCCULLAGHThere's -- if anything, Twitter has become probably the most important media organization. They're not exactly in competition with news organizations because news organizations are producing original content. But in terms of surfacing the content, people are much more likely to use Twitter than come to the home pages of major media organizations. And so there's an aggregation effect there. And so, to that extent, they're very much in competition, well, because you might be getting your news feed effectively from Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.
NNAMDIJay, let's bring this back to how people look at the content created by photo apps and photo-sharing apps for a second. About a year ago, the photographer Nick Stern wrote a piece for CNN, declaring that Instagram photos cheat viewers, that filtering and editing functions gave amateur users the ability to produce art, not record news. What would you say?
WESTCOTTThat's been going on for years and years and years. Amateurs have recorded news with cameras. The filter effect is not so different than film choice. There's a color film, Fuji Velvia, very rich saturated colors. Well, some would argue that it would alter the scene because that green wasn't that vibrant. Really it's the film that made it that way. Filters do the same thing. It's just done on a phone in an instant. That's the difference.
NNAMDIWell, we got this email from Carrie in Gaithersburg, who says, "It bugs me when people use the focus and blurring features on Instagram to bring certain parts of their images in and out of focus in ways that make zero sense for how a camera actually operates. From a purely aesthetic perspective, too many of my Instagram friends are editing their photos with their digital tools to make them look crappy. Your iPhone has good enough camera hardware to create depth of field anyway."
WESTCOTTThe iPhone cameras now are three times better than my first digital camera in resolution. They're over 8 megapixels. My first digital camera was 2 megapixels. It's amazing what you can do with them, but there are limitations. Lens choice, you have on a regular camera. You don't on an iPhone. So the filters and cropping and focus selecting are choices that the user has to make to get the aesthetic, to get the vision that they have and bring that out.
WESTCOTTNow, the conflict comes in with journalism and -- that it -- if you're altering content, that's a breach of ethics. That's why you need, you know, trusted visual journalists that have ethical standards, that can deliver news in a viable way. Sure it can be creative and you can tweak it, you know, within certain standards.
NNAMDISo we don't see whales, or is it sharks...
NNAMDI...swimming in the streets of -- after Hurricane Sandy. Jeff, during the past few years, the photographer Ben Lowy shot everything from the cover of Time magazine's Hurricane Sandy issue to a series of rather celebrated photos from Libya all with his iPhone. He's brought a lot of attention to the Hipstamatic app you mentioned earlier that essentially captures the effect of antique or retro photos.
NNAMDIHe argues that the phone allows him to point and shoot freely and capture intimate scenes without the hassle of bulky equipment. What do you make of his argument? Are there scenes you feel would more comfortably be shot with a phone than a camera?
SONDERMANI've heard that from several photographers actually that the -- sort of the discreetness with what you can pull off a camera phone and take a picture maybe in a small intimate setting where you don't want your giant, you know, professional camera with extension lens on it. You know, when you take something like that out, as Jay could tell you, everyone in the room kind of turns and looks at the person with the giant camera.
WESTCOTTAnd then you hear the shutter going click, click, click, and they also stare at you for a minute. So if you want to avoid going through all that and getting people comfortable again in the room, sometimes it is easier to just whip out the smartphone and take a quick snapshot.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Jay?
WESTCOTTOh, in full disclosure, Ben is a good friend of mine, so I concur. The, you know, the phone, it's -- doesn't look like a big camera. It looks like a phone. It looks like the phone that they got -- other people have in their pocket, too. So it ends up being the operator of that, the person with the eye that captures the good image. So there is that.
WESTCOTTOne of the things I try to do as a photojournalist is be a fly on the wall. And having an iPhone and capturing scenes in a place where, you know, having big equipment is not necessarily practical, it's just another tool to let me be that fly in the wall.
NNAMDIJeff, you wrote recently that photo-sharing networks like Instagram are never going to be places to read headlines and get the news like other social networks, but that there are places for feeling the news. What do you mean? Do you feel me?
SONDERMANYeah. So, you know, when you think of Twitter, for people who use Twitter you probably know, you go there to talk, to post words mostly about what's happening now. So here's what I'm seeing, what I'm thinking, what I'm reading. When it comes to the photo-sharing services that are structured much the same way, it's more about what I'm seeing. And particularly because they're so dependent on this kind of expressive use of filters and blurring and light effects, those visuals become also an expression of kind of how I'm feeling, right? So it's not just, like, here is what's in front of me.
SONDERMANIt's, here is what's in front of me interpreted and shaded through filters to reflect the way I feel about it, right? So I can make this studio we're in look very dramatic and interesting, or I can shoot it in black and white, right? So I'm expressing a personal feeling to my friends to this photography. So in a lot of ways, these apps become a way to keep up with our friends and how they're feeling and what they think about the world around them if you kind of think through just what's in the frame of the photo.
NNAMDIOn to Gary in Arlington, Va. Gary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Gary.
GARYHey, Kojo. I love your show. I just want to make a quick point, which is that when social media sites changed privacy policies without grandfathering existing contents or whatever the prior settings were, which Facebook has done a number of times, and this Instagram thing was another incident of, they're trying to trick users into revealing stuff they didn't intend to reveal before. And the previous caller said, what's the big deal is someone knows I'm at Starbucks? Well, anything that gives us to your location may be interesting to a boss or a health insurance company or a political party.
GARYAnd I think we can't be so cavalier, and particularly for our children, that, you know, these sites are enabling people, who we don't know who might be wanting to track your whereabouts to track your whereabouts if you're not careful with how you use these sites or to reveal what activities you engaged in, who you associate with, who you might be interviewing with, et cetera. So I think we got to work out more carefully for our privacy and hold these companies to a higher standard.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Declan McCullagh?
MCCULLAGHI think Gary has a good point. I mean, he mentioned Facebook and privacy. If you look at the evolution of privacy and policies on Facebook over time, initially your name and photos and picture and gender were all private, and then those became public by default in 2009. And then more things, including your likes and your friends, became public later. And then your wall posts became available to the entire Internet by default.
MCCULLAGHAnd they have a bunch of lawyers that actually go through them and try to translate them into human-readable instead of, you know, lawyer-readable language. But it's -- if you use these free services, you have to keep doing this as an on-going issue.
NNAMDIJeff, you wrote last week about the development of a new mobile app designed to help journalist that would automatically embed metadata in photos to certify their accuracy. What's the story behind that project? And why do people feel that kind of a product is necessary?
SONDERMANYeah. So in the context of journalism especially when you get these photos taken by people you don't know in the public somewhere, often in a newsworthy scene, so sometimes it's on the mall for inauguration, a lot of times -- now, it's in Syria of horrible war events or its documenting something in a far away land. And when a journalist comes across this photo, they think, one, wow, that's really newsworthy, I wish we could use it some way. But, two, how the heck do I know this is true because I'm not in Syria? I'm in the D.C. bureau of my news organization.
SONDERMANAnd so this is an attempt to solve that problem. This is an app that's called InformaCam is the name of it. And it's going to be a project that will automatically embed information from your phone about your current location, the current maybe direction you're facing on the compass, maybe the temperature around you if your phone has that kind of sensor so that when that information goes back somewhere to a journalist, they can verify, OK, this person was standing in the city in Syria when they took this. And I can verify some elements about what this photo claims to show.
NNAMDISo that if you happen to be a photo editor and, as you say, you're in Washington, and you have to make a decision about something coming from Syria, you're in a position to say, yes. This...
SONDERMANRight. And the other thing this app will do that's important is transmit that photo securely so that the government of these countries can't peak into that data and use it to track you down.
NNAMDIHere is Fred in Easton, Md. Fred, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FREDHi, Kojo. How are you? It's nice to talk to you.
FREDI couldn't help but enjoy listening to them talking about the iPhone and the use of an iPhone as a -- sort of as a primary news camera. It reminds me of Cartier-Bresson in using his rangefinder and only a 35-millimeter camera. Wonderful work, I thought. And the other thing that I wanted to talk about is I'm an architectural photographer. And we've had images taken from us and used by construction companies put on their website when we were --actually, we were hired by UFC.
FREDWe shot a project, and suddenly we found that one of the subcontractors on the project was using our image. We called them up and told them they can't do that. It's a violation of copyrights. They argued, and we simply sent them a copy of a law, of the copyright law from ASMP, and they immediately paid us. So it's all I had to say.
NNAMDIWell, I know that Jay Westcott has a T-shirt manufacturer that he would like to send a copy of that law to himself, but that didn't quite work out that way. Did it, Jay?
WESTCOTTNo. It sure didn't.
NNAMDIWell, we're glad that it worked out well for you, Fred. So thank you very much for your call. And I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Declan McCullagh, thank you for joining us.
MCCULLAGHThanks, Kojo. It's been a pleasure.
NNAMDIDeclan McCullagh is chief political correspondent for CNET. Jeff Sonderman, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIJeff is a digital media fellow at The Poynter Institute. And, Jay Westcott, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
WESTCOTTGreat to see you, Kojo. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIJay is a professional photographer who has works at Politico, The Washington Post, the Examiner and TBD.com. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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