Prime: How One Programmer is Hoping to Tackle “Photo Consumption Fatigue”

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Photo sharing is “in” these days. Just look around, and you’ll find that pretty much every major social network has it as a major pillar of their service. Facebook is the largest photo sharing site in the world by volume. Google+ has all but absorbed the once powerful Picasa brand.

With so many services competing for your pixels, it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with the best images from your contacts. It’s something developer Arthur Chang calls “photo consumption fatigue,” and he believes he has a solution.

Arthur Chang

Arthur Chang

Chang is a San Francisco-based software developer and photographer who has been spending his nights and weekends on a project he calls Prime (Chang works full time as a lead technical architect at beRecruited after they acquired his previous startup in 2011).

What he’s building is a service that simplifies (and beautifies) the process of browsing photos, interacting with them, and then discovering more photos you enjoy.

One of its main strengths will be its ability to filter out “bad photos” (e.g. duck faces, horribly exposed images) in order to only show you what’s worth seeing. Simply put, it’s removing noise to boost the signal.

Chang claims that in his tests, he found that Prime was able to increase daily photo consumption for its testers by a factor of 5x, simply by making the photo consumption process better. “Little things all added up to something that is proving to be really useful,” he says.

So here’s how Prime works: it’s a tool for giving you the best view of all your contacts’ photographs, no matter which platform (e.g. Flickr, Facebook, 500px) they use.

To do this, Prime has a special way of ranking photographs across platforms, using things such as view counts, comment counts, likes, a photographer’s “Klout,” and visual cues within the photos themselves. In other words, the app will be able to “see” things such as detail, golden ratios, rule of thirds, and then use those things to guess whether a photo is worth looking at.

A screenshot of a profile page in Prime

A screenshot of a profile page in Prime

In addition to fancy number crunching on individual photos, the app will also attempt to make entire gallery pages beautiful to look at. Not only do the pages use a Justify View (much like what you see on Flickr), but they also take subject matter into consideration. Prime tries to coordinate subject matter (e.g. putting all the mountain photos in the same row) and colors (e.g. making a gallery look nicely in terms of color themes) to boost the aesthetics of the interface.

For ease of use, Prime will feature keyboard shortcuts and “quick actions”. You’ll be able to favorite a photo by simple hovering your mouse over it and hitting “f,” for example. Chang says it’s like a “power user sort of tool” that he’s trying to bring to mainstream photo browsing.

A lightbox showing an individual photo and comments on it

A lightbox showing an individual photo and comments on it

Finally, the feature Chang is most excited about is photo discovery. In addition to viewing any photographer’s “best” photographs across all platforms, users will be able to access any other user’s browse page. Have a photographer whom you follow and admire? You can check out the photos he or she is being inspired by.

So far, early testers of the app are returning to it an average of three times per day. Chang is planning to open up the service to alpha testers soon as soon as he can gather more server power for the service (he’s funding it entirely on his own for now). You can sign up for early access through this landing page.

For now, Prime is hidden by a landing page with a form for people interested in being notified when the service is launched.

For now, Prime is hidden by a landing page with an exclusive membership application form

If Prime — or any service like it — takes off, photographers will likely enjoy a noticeable uptick in views as more people spend more time enjoying more photos online.

  • John V. Keogh

    I sometimes post high-key images or even underexposed images on purpose, so you won’t see them with this Prime.

  • jc

    @jovike:disqus I’ll be honest, your photos would be the ones I would be happy to not see. Sounds like the algo would be working correctly in your case.

  • Thomas Hawk

    I have been using Prime since it launched. It is by far the best photo consuming site on the internet today, despite it’s modest beginnings. The quality of what I’m shown is high. As our online photo sharing experience becomes fragmented and noisy, prime promises the potential to pull everything together in a far more compelling way than has ever been done.

    I hope that some smart VC funds this thing and that Art is able to hack on it full time. The potential here with curation and especially machine learning is huge. Photo sharing on the web is exploding. By presenting us with the highest quality cross platform stream in a visually compelling way, this should represent a superior way to consume photos on the web.

  • Thomas Hawk

    @jovike:disqus *unless* high-key images or underexposed images *are* your thing. Unlike Flickr’s explore, which is a generic static recommendation tool, Prime is dynamic, based on what the user likes. Different people will be shown different types of photos. I personally love imperfection in photography and I was blown away at the quality of some of the different types of this photography that Prime was able to find for me. It has introduced me to so many new and amazing artists working in analog mediums even that were simply hidden in the noise of what I was trying to follow. By presenting a more customized, smarter, algorithm, prime gets to know you over time and makes sure that you are seeing what you most want to see. Everyone is different and likes different types of photography. There are lots of variables, relationships, aesthetic bias, style, that can better define what photography we should consume.

    I consume massive amounts of photography on a daily basis. It’s where I find inspiration and get ideas and Prime is a wonderful tool that knows me.

  • Eric Spiegel

    I like this idea, but I’m worried about the algorithms that are based on the image’s content, such as detail, exposure, and composition. If a photo doesn’t meet Prime’s criteria for that, does that make it a bad photo? Not necessarily.

  • Thomas Hawk

    Eric, the algorithm is customized based on you. As Prime learns what you like it shows you more of that and less of other things. If you super like perfectly exposed photos it will show you more of that. If you prefer more artistic out of focus haphazard type photography it shows you more of that. Neither are necessarily a “good” photo or a “bad” photo. There is just personal taste, preference and bias. Prime is customized to the viewer. Everybody’s version of prime will be an entirely different experience.

  • Eric Spiegel

    Its good to know that it learns from your tastes. I like that aspect. I’ve signed up and willing to try it out.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    I like this idea. Will it have a setting to automatically ignore any photos that have VSCO applied to them?

  • Melo

    So the solution to ‘photo consumption fatigue’ is another photo service/site?

    (….Scratching head).

  • Arthur Chang

    It’s always evolving for sure. It’s not perfect just yet, but we know exactly how the user can make it perfect for themselves =) The algorithms are not deciding what you should like, rather it takes all sorts of signals from what you like, who you follow, and all that to present the photos to you in a way where you’re constantly able to curate and have a lot of control of what you see in the future.

  • Arthur Chang

    Haha definitely a possible feature in the future =) I can probably just start with filtering out anything with specific hashtags (like #vsco) for ya ;)

  • Arthur Chang

    If it works like we plan, it will be the one place for you to consume photos from all your networks, also decreases on discouragement by filtering out what you don’t and wouldn’t want to see.

  • Eric Spiegel

    Sounds great. I’m looking forward to a better solution than Flickr’s Explore and contact system.

  • Arthur Chang

    @jovike:disqus Yeah these are just screenshots on what the algorithms have learned from my own tastes. Knowing photography is so subjective, and that people like control and already do at least one layer of curation themselves (by following people they like), we can already have a head start on what you’ll want to see. I bet your prime feed would look completely different than mine for sure!

  • Alan Sailer

    It’s an interesting idea. And it would help you find more of the photographs that you like.

    However, it does seem like it would tend to create an echo chamber, where you would never be challenged by a good photograph that you might not (initially) like.

    Some of my favorite artists are painters and photographers whose work I didn’t immediately like.

    However, over time, with repeated exposure, I began to understand their view of the world and grew to love it.

    Maybe the Prime concept needs an anti-Prime feature :-)


  • Arthur Chang

    That’s definitely an interesting thought Alan. I don’t think Prime is specifically tied to an immediate like action. The methods that good photos are shown are still evolving, which is why it’s hard to understand, though I’m 100% certain I’m going to be publishing exactly how it works, so that people aren’t afraid of missing out or having this need for anti-prime like features for sure. Being transparent about what’s happening also lends to awesome feedback from photographers.

    I always hate it when this is the “secret sauce” of explore and interesting photos, instead I want it to be known and available. I guess the only downside is “gaming” the system, though the only people you’d be gaming are your followers, who will eventually catch on and mute you on Prime, or unfollow you completely.

    BTW “muting” is a feature too =) If you’re sick of seeing someone’s latest brunch food, you can mute them until they’re back to posting what you originally liked ;)

  • Attila Volgyi

    It sounds to be a good idea, but my concern is copyright. I hope some copyright management features get added to it too – hopefully something more advanced than what Google Image search displays “image may be copyrighted” independent if it is clearly visible or even embeded into the picture or not…

  • Thomas Hawk

    Attila, the site works through the APIs of various photo sites and links back. I believe the extension of your photographs is determined by you in how you share them on the original site. Getting to the original image and copyright information is pretty straightforward.

  • Thomas Hawk

    easily hiding photos is one of my favorite features of prime. This is also an important signal about what you like or don’t like.

  • Thomas Hawk

    why go to six sites when you can just go to one and get them all?

  • Emily Chan

    Whatever it is, people having more friends get more ‘likes’ and ‘favorites’ in Flickr and 500px. Even though good photos and photographers are getting recognized, most of the time photos become ‘Popular’ and ‘Explored’ because of high number of friends.

  • Kurt Budliger

    How about the posting side of things? Will we still post the original content elsewhere or will we be able to post directly to Prime? I’m intrigued, sounds like Pandora for photos…

  • ramanauskas

    ‘…using things such as […] a photographer’s “Klout,”’

    Oh hell no.

  • James P

    worrying… “In other words, the app will be able to “see” things such as detail, golden ratios, rule of thirds, and then use those things to guess whether a photo is worth looking at” really though, this is the remit for what we should really be looking at!? Who’s to say just because it is ‘the perfect picture, it isn’t worth looking at. I fear that one day the sole purpose of a camera, to document, to learn from and to educate, will be lost by the desired ‘pretty colourful woww ooh how many facebook likes will this one get’ Give me a Capa, Adams or Lange work any day of the week. filter that…please.

  • Seth

    You sound way too much like a marketing blurb to be for real, dude. How much are you getting paid to hawk this thing in blog comments??

  • Thomas Hawk

    Nothing Seth. Just a passionate user who has been using this product for several months now and would like to see it continued to be built out.

  • Robert Jewett

    Dear sweet goodness, please have it filter out cats. PLLLLLEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeese!!!!!

  • Mark Penrice

    But… do we WANT to increase the photo consumption rate?

    What if we end up exhausting the world’s photograph reserves without even realising it?