Photographers have flocked to 500px in the last few months, using the site to showcase their best work and have social interaction with other photographers around the world. Unlike Flickr’s dated relatively-small-images approach to photo sharing, 500px offers large images displayed in a visually pleasing way that makes it easy to follow the work of a group of contacts or a single photographer (View my photos on 500px). My take is that Flickr is crippled by a lack of good leadership and culture that wants to innovate so that the service can remain relevant and gain wider use. While I’m guardedly optimistic about the future of 500px, a recent set of communication with the employees at 500px leads me to wonder if it might have a similar problem.
The current process of uploading work to 500px is quite manual. A user must process images, save them locally, go to the 500px website, go to the upload page, browse for the files, then finish entering categories and confirming metadata. Most serious hobbyist or pro photographers (including myself) are using a program such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to manage their collection. When I want to upload to Flickr, Facebook, Picasa/Google+, or SmugMug, I don’t go through these manual steps. Instead I use a publish service from within Lightroom. I drop the appropriate files onto the publish collection, press one button, and they’re uploaded. This process takes a fraction of the time needed to go through the steps needed to upload manually.
It would seem that a Lightroom publish service plugin would be an important bit of software in helping 500px gain adoption among serious photographers. I know that I would put more work on the site if it wasn’t such a clunky process. When the site started gaining traction a few months ago, the 500px staff told me they’d be looking into a Lightroom plugin, and I pointed them towards Jeffrey Friedl since he’s produced great Lightroom plugins for Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug, Picasa, and other services.
I was seriously disappointed to see Mr. Friedl post yesterday about his saga of developing and now abandoning efforts to produce a Lightroom plugin for 500px. After reading through his story, I’m concerned not by the lack of software but by the apparent cluelessness and customer relations failure of the 500px staff.
Flickr got big and is now failing due to product leadership that won’t work with the community in moving things forward. 500px isn’t yet big. Alienating serious photographers with poor customer relations is a plan for failure. I’m apprehensive about spending much time or effort on a site where the product leadership is unwilling or uninterested in working with customers to make the customer experience better.