I’m a long-term contributor to the Photography Stack Exchange site — as well as to Unix & Linux, where I was briefly a moderator, and a couple other sites, but I really want to focus on the Photography one, because that site never really succeeded and has been pretty much dying (even before The Mess).
It’s also clear Stack Exchange isn’t going do anything to improve things. So, I’m very interested in helping build a new site which succeeds where that one fails, learning from the experience and making something better — and something open and community-directed while we’re at it.
So, let me start with the market problem — the thing in the world that could be better. There are two big background factors:
- Photography has never been more accessible and more popular. The number of photographs uploaded to social media sites every day is staggering. Everyone who has a phone has a camera, and more sophisticated cameras are within reach of most people even on a budget.
- Photography as a profession and skilled art is tanking. Neighborhood and small-town photo studios used to be everywhere, and they sure aren’t. Wedding photographers are still a thing, but in a lot of cases that’s a weekend job to fund a hobby, not a full-time profession. Photography schools are closing.
There is a lot of knowledge, skill, and expertise that’s at risk of being lost. But there’s also a huge audience hungry for that information!
Existing websites do not cover the need well. Wikipedia is fine for some technical information, but really falls down in explaining — it’s a good resource for formulas and technical references, but is not a good teaching and learning platform. And I don’t think I really need to explain in depth here how forums fail, but in short: repeated questions with questionable answers and a lot of misinformation, partisanship and brand-focused gear obsession, and lack of a good reward mechanism for constructive involvement.
There are two particular problems we had which I’d like to avoid in a new site.
First, there’s gotta be a better way to deal with “what camera should I buy” or “what lens should I get” questions. On Photo-SE, we mostly just closed these down. They’re objectively “bad” questions — opinion based, time sensitive, and invite brand flamewars — but they’re also a key funnel for new users on most camera forums. Despite “Q&A is hard — let’s go shopping”, it seems like a natural fit for a Q&A format — leading to many potential new members with a very bad initial impression and basically knocking out that funnel of incoming new users.
Second, the site skewed very, very heavily towards the technical, engineering side of photography. This is a bit weird, because you look at a typical photography school curriculum, there are some technical fundamentals everyone needs to know, and but then the details of optics and related physics would be optional course if offered at all. We struggled with a bias towards questions which could be answered with math, and I don’t think ever recovered. And to be clear, it’s not because everything else is all wishy-washy subjective feelings — there exists real knowledge about art history, composition, design, light, and technique. We just never attracted a community with that knowledge.
I think we could have something better. I’d like a real online Photography Community of Practice where new photographers can learn and grow and intermediate and expert photographers can also learn and grow through teaching and participating.