NowPublic and Who’s Doing Whom a Favour?

If you’re a regular Flickr user with Creative Commons-licensed photos, you’ve probably received a request from NowPublic to use one of your photos. I think this is a great application of the crowd-sourcing model, and they’ve got it 90% correct. I sent a feature request to NowPublic on the subject, and thought I’d share it here:

I’ve received a couple of recent requests to integrate Flickr photos into news stories. I’m happy to receive and approve them. However, your current setup obliges me to create a NowPublic account and subsequently log in every time I want to approve a photo (I’m not comfortable uniformly approving all future requests). That’s a pain point I could do without.

Philosophically, I think the question is ‘who’s doing whom a favour?’ The login implies that NP is doing me a favour by publishing my photo. I feel the opposite, that I’m doing NP a favour by permitting you to use my photo. If we work from my assumption, then it behooves NP to make the act of approval as effortless as possible.

Do you think I got this right? Or am I just whinging, and should be grateful for being asked to share my photos? And should that be ‘whom’ or ‘who’? I never committed the associated grammar rule to memory.

I’ve recognized that, personally, I feel quite differently about my photos on Flickr than I do about, say, this blog. While I strive to improve my work on this site, I feel much more ambivalent about my Flickr photos.

Flickr is really just a handy place to put and reference my photos. While I used to obsess about the visitor stats for this site, I almost never check the number of views that my photos have. It’s strictly a question of personal taste, but it’s probably that apathy that’s motivating this feature request.

20 comments

  1. I’ve got a few of my photos on the site as well and I’ve got some mixed feelings.

    Frankly, though, my issue is stats related. I have a lot of fun going out and taking pictures and I’m constantly striving to be a better photographer.

    I licensed my photos under the Creative Commons because if they are of possible use to someone else, great. As someone who occasionally needs a photo for a blog post himself, I’m happy to oblige someone else.

    That said, I do enjoy seeing the stats on Flickr that reflect that people are looking at my work. Rather than hosting the photo on NowPublic, I wish they would just reference the Flickr photo.

    In some ways, it’s a minor complaint. I certainly understand why they wouldn’t want to depend on a third party service to host their photographs (not even sure if Flickr allows this to happen on NowPublic’s scale anyhow).

    Anyhow, I hadn’t logged into the site until just recently, so I’m not entirely sure that it is necessary. I think that all you have to do is click through and ok the photo for distribution.

    Cheers,
    Randy

  2. Randy: You make a good point on the hosting vs. referencing. If a photo get popular on NowPublic, it doesn’t tweak your ‘stack’ of most popular photos back on flickr.

    From the approval page for the latest request I received from NP:

    “You can choose to accept or decline this request below. If you would like to share the photographs shown here, please sign in or create an account and then click the button below.”

    Maybe that’s a relatively new change?

  3. Darren, I had the same beef. I just didn’t take the time to contact them about it. I love that my photos are being seen by more people, but I was the one that did the legwork to get the shot. The least they could do is make it super simple to approve it’s use.

  4. You’ve got it exactly right, Darren.

    As far as who is doing who a favour, the photographer is always doing them a favour. In some situations there’s mutual benefit. That’s coolness.

  5. Honours English Grammar Dominatrix checking in…

    The answer is, “Who is doing whom a favour”.

    Reason: “Who” is doing a favour “to whom” <– indirect object. Direct / indirect objects in a sentence take the accusative / dative case: Whom.

    I had to take Latin in school from age eleven, and the language of instruction for all my classes was French. As an Anglophone, I learned this kind of grammar as fast as possible as a matter of survival.

  6. I was asked to share one of my Flickr photos with NP too, and I did create an account. Since I am not asked by NP to share my photos frequently, I rarely see this as an annoyance. But I think it’d be better if they had a faster, seamless mechanism 🙂

  7. I think you’re being awfully forgiving, I’m a lot more hard line about it.

    Their site’s signup form and their emails haven’t convinced me I’d benefit in any meaningful way from sharing my photos with them, beyond the exposure of perhaps a few hundred extra eyeballs. While on the other hand, the photos they use clearly help make their service better. The value proposition is a one-way street.

    The great irony is that I really wouldn’t mind sharing the photos anyway. But I never have, and won’t, because I’m simply not creating Yet Another Login for a service I don’t intend to use.

    It seems blindingly obvious to me that their photo permission rate would increase drastically if they lowered this barrier and allowed non-users to approve photos. So I’ve tried to think of reasons why this hasn’t happened in the past year or two they’ve been contacting Flickr users. I came up with two possibilities:

    1) Misguided attempt at user lock-in.

    2) Veracity. Without an account, how else could you be sure the person authorizing usage is the photographer?

    I’d hope it’s the latter. But as the photographer, it’s still not my problem.

  8. I’m sure the reason for not linking to your photo on Flickr is that then they don’t have any control over it; you could close your account, delete the photo or (if you’ll pardon the phrase) go all goatse on their ass.

    As for the who/whom issue: a simple method I was told for figuring out proper usage was to substitute he/him and see what sounds right (as we have a much better sense of their usage).

    He’s doing he a favour
    Him’s doing he a favour
    Him’s doing him a favour
    He’s doing him a favour

  9. Correct me if I’m wrong – but if the photos are creative commons licensed does NowPublic need your ‘permission’ to use them? Could they not just use them and provide the proper attribution and license on their site?

    In my view, the fact that NowPublic is going the extra ‘unnecessary’ step of getting permission via an activated NP account, seems like a blatant ploy by them to use Flickr photos/photographers as a means to pad their ‘registered’ userbase.

  10. JP: You’re quite right about the CC-licensing. Mind you, I use a non-commercial license, so I’m not sure how NP sees itself relating to that. They’re not profiting off my photo in any kind of obvious way, but that might be an alternative explanation for this extra step?

    Or, as you say, it might just be a user recruitment strategy.

  11. It does feel like a tactic to inflate account numbers, which are pretty much useless except to appease VC, but I’ve always been happy to go through the trouble and help someone make their article a bit nicer with a photo I’ve taken. Mostly because the person making the request is decent about it and I have to like the article.

    My point is that a bit of work is alright if there’s incentive, but I do agree that the registration step feels bogus.

  12. Let me just chime in with some agreement, but the biggest thing to me is that on top of the consistent asking for permission, your pictures are not even featured in the story as much as an aside.

    I say that if you are taking the time to use them, actually use them in the post. Make the feature so that when the user automatically grants permission, a small box within the story appears inside the post. Then if there are multiple photos, cycle through them with some sweet ajax slideshow or something, citing proper credit of the photo in text under the picture.

    Sure, not the place to promote this idea, but I know they’re out there listening…

  13. Hi folks,

    I’m a content team member from NowPublic.com who has done more than my fair share of requesting flickr pics.

    Now I’m not on the development team or management or anything, but hopefully I can clear up a few things.

    We just had a big discussion yesterday (partially prompted by this post as well as emails from other concerned flickr users) about this very subject.

    The short answer is: we’re working on it, and you should be able to approve permanent use of your photos soon.

    The ability to do it without needing an NP account should roll out shortly after that (one is an easier fix than the other). I’m not on the dev team so I’m not %100 sure on timing.

    It was never a grab for users. At the time, it was the easiest way for us to request pics from flickr users and put them into our database. It also allows us to connect your flickr account with your nowpublic one, much like we have settings for twitter, blogs, etc.

    We do recognize that it may look like that and are working to change the process. I personally get so much spam and see so many ‘fake’ stories, etc. that being as open and transparent as possible is very important for us.

    Flickr hosting vs. local hosting: This can’t change, at least until some major issues are worked out.

    As someone said, if it linked back to flickr and someone’s account was closed, or the story and related pic became #1 on the site and someone changed it to goatse…there are technical and practical reasons that pictures will stay in the NowPublic database, at least for now.

    Other discussed changes are the addition of a link back to your flickr page where the picture is hosted, as well as your main flickr account.

    I’ve got to get back to work so I’m sorry if I missed anything, but if I did, email me or post on the site (you might need to sign up…sorry!). We have a very active volunteer and user community, many of them are discussing these very issues in our forums.

    Thanks,

    Rob

  14. Hi Darren and everyone,

    This is Michael Tippett of NowPublic. I appreciate all the conversation here. It’s always useful for us to see what is good or not so good about the site. (We actually just rolled out a re-design that has incorporated many of the suggestions we’ve had in the past but some of the suggestions provided here have not been implemented.)
    There are some interesting points raised in this discussion. Here’s how I see things…
    There seems to be some confusion about our motivation to require contributors to set up accounts. The reason we do this is primarily to preserve the photo owner’s control over the picture. If there was no log-in, then anyone (or no one) would be able to manage this material. We want to ensure that if someone changes their mind or wants to change the details attached to the photo, that they are able to do so in an authenticated environment.
    As far as the mechanics go, we will continue to try and make the process of signing up easier. Right now we are re-thinking the whole idea of a news ‘story’ and the way that Flickr photos fit into that will no doubt change. If you’re interested in getting a sneak peak into our development environment I’d love to walk you through some our concepts and get your feedback. Fire me an email at mtippett(at)nowpublic(dot)com.
    Darren began this conversation by asking the question of ‘who benefits from this arrangement?’ My answer to that is: both parties. There is no question that NowPublic benefits from having content on the site but there is also benefit to our contributors. We have had members who have sent us stories and photos and ended up in the national media. For example, Megan Cole was the poster child of citizen journalism in the Globe and Mail recently. We also got the work of UNCULTURED, one of our most active members into the Globe (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/Page/document/v5/content/subscribe?user_URL=http://www.theglobeandmail.com%2Fservlet%2Fstory%2FLAC.20071221.COGEE21%2FTPStory%2F&ord=100157513&brand=theglobeandmail&force_login=true ). The way we see it, it is in fact a two way street. If you want to see others who feel this way I’d encourage you to do a search for NowPublic on Flickr.
    So thanks for your feedback. We’ll keep on doing what we can to lead the citizen journalism movement and we appreciate the support.

    Best,
    Michael, NowPublic, co-founder

  15. I feel that the requirement to sign-in to NowPublic makes perfect sense from the angle of authenticated, on-going control of images (as mentioned above in a previous post).

    From the “benefit” perspective, I can see this weighing heavily on one side or the other or balancing out, depending on the popularity of the article versus the popularity of the image or photographer. I would imagine that a more popular photographer would be slightly more selective with the approval to use their images; and a popular author would most likely be the one who selects the best images to go along with the higher quality articles they write. Not to say that we’re an illiterate country, but a picture does seem to be worth at least a few hundred words these days; a good picture even more.

    One of the things I’d -really- like to see would be increased configurability of the attribution – possibly a link back to the source (such as the image on Flickr or any other source). If a photographer is using Flickr as their primary image repository for public viewing, there should be a way for the photographer to set-up their attribution line, or a link-back at least to their profile. I do see the need for NowPublic to contain what it links back to, however, a general pointer in our direction (say, to our Flickr ‘people’ [profile] link, rather than our ‘photos’ [photostream] link) might be nice.

    One of the problems/concerns/questions I’ve had of late is: okay, I’ve been invited to submit a few specific images from Flickr for news stories. I’m hooked and want to associate more of my Flickr images with other stories…how do I do that? You think it’s a pain to create a single NowPublic account to authorize unlimited future requests…imagine the additional workflow required to submit each of your images, copying and pasting all the appropriate title and description information, not to mention the actual image itself…for each image you care to submit. If the facility is (obviously!) already built-in to NowPublic in some respect, it really should be fully implemented so that a photographer can frequently and easily submit their work without a lot of work. I do see the value of having the content be on NowPublic, and not some remote (Flickr) source, however, I don’t want to have to submit each of my images all over again for yet another site.

  16. As a former guest editor on Now Public, I will tell you why they wanted you to register for an account with them. Two-fold, actually.

    For all of you who have done so, you are shown as a member of the site, therefore, you played a valid part in their membership count when they sold out to Examiner.com for 25 million dollars.

    The second part is that you have helped them create a huge database of photos on their servers, with them having the rights to said photos.

    It is and always will be a NowPublic, win win situation, just as their ploy to use all of us guest editors on the site so that they would not have to pay people. When a guest editor disagreed, they were either booted off the site, or did as I did and quit.

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