Does Facebook’s design change the way we take photos?

I did a structural and phenomenological analysis of Facebook’s people tagging feature.    Just today I was able to create a semi-coherent argument from the analysis.   I am curious what you all think of this:

My overall thesis for the paper is that the way that a social networking community (Facebook) is designed fundamentally changes the way that its members take photos.  Interaction designers should study and attempt to understand how social networking communities affect the way people act in the ‘real world’ and then design communities that encourage the users to act in desired, ethical ways.

I have 2 examples of Facebook changing the way that people take picture.  Both of these changes in photo habits are related to the design of the photo tagging feature.  For those of you who are not familiar with this feature, when you upload an album of photos, the photo tagging feature allows you to tag a photo with a person’s name, including your own name, and the photo then becomes associated with that person’s profile.

The tagged photos of someone have a privileged spot in the Facebook profile.   The tagged photos of a person is in the top left, and unlike most parts of the Facebook profile, it cannot be moved, minimized, or deleted (different paradigms for Facebook content modules).  Due to its location, properties, and content, this section is much more important, and more frequently visited then the photo albums.   In one study, 67% of those surveyed said that these photos were the most communicative aspect of a person’s profile.    And another 25% said these photos are 2nd most communicative behind interests & activates (Ritcher).   

The first way that Facebook’s design is changing the way people are taking photos has to do with establishing shots.  An establishing shot is a camera shot usually taken at the beginning of a sequence of photos to establish the setting or context where the rest of the photos take place (citation).    Establishing shots are common and can be seen in popular sitcoms such as Friends and Seinfeld, where the outside of the restaurant is shown in order to establish location and context.  They can also be found in personal photo albums, where the outside of a hotel or casino is photographed to set up the setting of a vacation of a weekend getaway.

In Facebook, an establishing shot without a person in it does not get tagged and thus does not end up in the photos of the person.   This can be problematic in 2 different ways.  The first reason is that a person’s travel and activities are tightly tied to their identity they are cultivating and experimenting with (reword, add more information, add citation).  Thus not having a photo that establishes a location for a whole bunch of events is problematic for someone attempting to cultivate a specific online identity.  The insides of a bar in Toldeo may look similar to the inside of a bar in New York, thus making it important to have an establishing shot.   The second way this can be a problem is if the person who is shooting photos is attempting to create a narrative, or a montage of shots that tell the story of an event.  These series of photos look fine in the person’s photo album, but when the photos of the person are tagged, there is a syntagmatic violation due to missing photos that are essential to the story line.  (Facebook deals with this by providing the link to the album, so I don’t think this argument is as strong as the first one. But do people always click on the album?) Because of these two reasons, people who would not usually include themselves in establishing shots, now do.   //Also talk a little more about Bruner and narrative and how people think about how they are going to present it while it is going on.

After this I have another example (which is a good one, but still being formalized from outline form).  I was thinking of including sample photos of each example and interviews with people who practice these things.  Then I want to provide alternative designs for a photo tagging like function that may discourage these actions and or encourage other photo taking practices.

So – That is my idea so far.  It still has to be cleaned up a little bit, but that is the overall gist.  I also have 5 pages of me breaking down Facebook photo tagging using all the methods we learned in class.  From that I came up with this.  Weird, eh.  So what do you guys think?  Is this interesting?  Good enough for a work in progress?   Or is too much of a stress to make these claims?  Do interviews make it less of a stress?   Or is this all too confusing?

Please let me know….

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7 Responses to Does Facebook’s design change the way we take photos?

  1. davidroyer says:

    oh – i just realized that at the end I may have made it sound like I want to discourage these photo taking practices, as if they are bad. I don’t think they are necessarily bad. But I just wanted to talk about how the interface design could be changed if we didn’t want them.

  2. datrushurtz says:

    Well first off, I really like where you are going with your paper. You did a great job picking a specific phenomenon (facebook tagging) and creating an interesting argument which is highly relevant to the course materials. Forming these concepts into prose should provide for a good time (if thats possible).

    I do have one question about your argument, though that hopefully will help you.

    “Because of these two reasons, people who would not usually include themselves in establishing shots, now do.”

    This claim seems a bit strong, or possibly just needs more development. I understand the argument about the need for establishing shots and understand the idea that if people don’t get in front of their establishing shots, the story line will be confusing. But I’m not sure if I understand how you can really prove completely that when people are taking pictures, they are consciously thinking of facebook and then deciding not to take these pictures or are changing their habits.

    Through the albums you’ve looked through, I take it you haven’t found many establishing shots without a person in it, similar to the ones in Seinfeld. But it could be that these pictures are still being taken, and just aren’t being put onto facebook? Another possible explanation I can think of is that facebook is used by younger people, and younger people may be more interested in taking pictures of their friends than an establishing shot, and this is just the natural habits of this age group regardless of facebook. Or you could be completely right, these pictures aren’t being taken and its because of facebook.

    Interviews will definately help you out with your claims, though, and maybe from that you can find out are these establishing shots being taken and just not being uploaded into facebook, or because of facebook, these pictures just aren’t being taken.

    Also, I’m curious as to what other aspects of photography have changed because of facebook and tagging and that will be mentioned in the paper? Are people more careful of things they do in pictures knowing it could appear on the internet? Or does this make them even more silly? Do people go out of their way to take pictures with certain people just so they can be seen with them on the internet? For example, maybe I go to a bar and take pictures with the 20 hottest girls I can find just so everyone thinks I’m a pimp. Another idea, do more people bring their cameras to events/places because facebook gives them the opportunity to upload these photos?

    Those are just a few more ideas for things to possibly address in your paper. Hope that helps.

  3. Tyler Pace says:

    What if the nature of an establishing shot changes on Facebook?

    A traditional establishing shot deals with some sort of scenery, background or locale to help the viewer understand where stuff is happening. However, Facebook is a social networking platform and the “scenery” of sorts is your network of friends. Perhaps an establishing shot on Facebook is one that identifies which friends you are hanging out with and not necessarily where you’re hanging out.

  4. davidroyer says:

    @Andy, your questions have helped me alot already.

    “But I’m not sure if I understand how you can really prove completely that when people are taking pictures, they are consciously thinking of facebook and then deciding not to take these pictures or are changing their habits.”

    Jerome Bruner talks about experience as always a part of a narrative, which means while we are going through an experience, we are always thinking about how we will later narrate the experience to others. If this is true, a dedicated F photo-uploading facebook member is thinking about narrating their experience on facebook, even while the experience is going on. As for proving completely, I am not sure I can.

    “Another possible explanation I can think of is that facebook is used by younger people, and younger people may be more interested in taking pictures of their friends than an establishing shot, and this is just the natural habits of this age group regardless of facebook.”

    I think you are right. These photo tendencies can be attributed to tons of complex, interconnected reasons. But is one of these reasons the design of Facebook? I am not saying it is THE reason, but just one of many influencing factors. I will have to make this clear in my paper.

    The other example I am using is the way that some people tag objects (or animals) as people. The sytnagm of photos of someone is what makes this interesting/funny (dave, dave, dave, crazy onkey photo, dave) , and it allows people to display and cultivate creativity. I can think of other paradigms of photo tagging (perhaps with more security) that would not allow for these creative uses.

    I like your ideas of how FB might encourage people to take cameras to more places. I totally think that is true. Perhaps I will try to work that baby in to my paper.

    @Tyler
    I think that could def. be the case. I was just using films definition of establishing shot. I am going to take a second to digest this and think about how the design of facebook might influence this change. Though the emphasis on friends is a good start.

  5. jimmypierce says:

    @tyler & dave
    The idea of the establishing shot being different in facebook than in cinema is interesting. Have started to notice any “cultural logic” of facebook photos, album construction and tagging? any new language of photosharing emerging?

    ill have to check out bruner… for my paper one the questions i’ve become interested in his how identity relates to narrative and database (is it one or the other?!), the two media forms the Manovich sets in opposition.

    and of course, the whole idea of how facebook changes the way people take pictures, and act, is fascinating. tying the facebook interface to larger cultural logic of taking and editing photos could really be powerful. so nice job..i think this is a great topic.

    btw, i stumbled on this and thought of your paper. it allows you to construct narratives from flickr photos. im sure there’s a lot better examples of this out there.
    http://www.pimpampum.net/bubblr/

  6. yenning says:

    Dave, you change your paper topic!

    Here is an interesting discussion going on. And what Andy, Tyler and Jimmy said are great points. I only use Facebook for less than one year and can not give you any outstanding points of view. But for this statement :”the person who is shooting photos is attempting to create a narrative, or a montage of shots that tell the story of an event”, I think it is possible.

    Since more people post their pictures on their personal websites or albums, it seems they are writing a story by using images. They keep a diary which aims to socialize and share their daily life. I found people take a shot of signboard of the restaurant they went to, the food they ate, people they meet on street…etc. They put these photos in an order of what things happened. I believe that new media did change people’s behavior. This phenomenon is not only on Facebook, but on other platforms.

    Here is an example. A person use a set of pix to tell a story about the process his friend proposed to his girlfriend. http://www.flickr.com/photos/alanlin/sets/72157601461795113/

  7. What a thread! A great, thought-provoking, but openly half-baked post inviting comments. And then there is a flood of outstanding comments, which clearly have advanced David’s thinking and, for that matter, my own! And I love how links are a part of the content of people’s responses–Yenning link is spot-on!

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