Fotologs on the World Wide Web

 The World Wide Web is not one specific service, but a medium through which different services can be offered to different groups of people.   For example, in  A Latin American Demographic Map of Internet Activities, we showed how different types of internet activities are related to demographics.  Over the relatively short life of the World Wide Web, there have been a number of new ideas that managed to gain traction.  A more recent development has been the introduction of fotologs, which are websites in which people post photographs for others to look at.

We will now refer to some survey data from the recently released MARS study.  This is a survey of 21,054 adults in the United States conducted during the first quarter of 2004.  Within this study, there were 13,136 respondents who claimed to have used the Internet in the past 30 days.  With these Internet users, 13.6% say that they share personal photos on the World Wide Web with others.  This may mean that they run their own personal websites, or they may be using a service such as

The first thing to note is that posting photos is actually not easy work.  Photos are taken on a digital camera, they are transferred from camera to computer, they are edited, they have to be annotated and then they have to be uploaded.  In the follow chart, we show that the incidences by the average time spent in the past 7 days.  The occasional Internet user is less likely to engage in sharing photos.

In the next chart, we show the incidences by gender and age.  Female are slightly more likely to share photos, but the incidences by age runs all over the place.

(Source: MARS 2004)

The situation about the incidences by age is a lot easier to understand if we look at the next chart.  Here, we have the incidences based upon those people who have children in their households.  To quote from Susan Sontag's On Photography:

Recently, photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing  --- which means that, like very mass art form, photography is not practiced by most people as an art.  It is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.

Memorializing the achievements of individuals considering as members of families (as well as of other groups) is the earliest popular use of photography.  For at least a century, the wedding photograph has been as much a part of the ceremony as the prescribed verbal formulas.  Cameras go with family life.  According to a sociological study done in France, most households have a camera, but a household with children is twice as likely to have at least one camera as a household in which there are no children.  Not to take pictures of one's children, particularly when they are small, is a sign of parental indifference, just as not turning up for one's graduation picture is a gesture of adolescent rebellion.

(Source: MARS 2004)

If fotolog appreciation differs by social attitudes, then there may be some worldwide differences.  Anecdotally, the fotologs are a peculiarly popular phenomenon among Brazilians.  According to this Wired article titled Fotolog: Where Art Meets T&A:

The increasingly popular Fotolog website is becoming a battleground where high and low culture clash. is a relatively new weblog-cum-photo-gallery that allows anyone to post digital photos in chronological order. Thanks to the ability to link to, and comment on, others' work, the site is rapidly building a large community of enthusiast snappers.  But like many new online societies, members with radically different ideas are waging a battle for its "soul."

On one side are high-minded amateur photographers, who publish serious photography, which sometimes verges toward reportage or art. On the other are scores of teenage Brazilian girls posting saucy webcam portraits.  "There are some fabulous Brazilian photographers, some of the best in the community," said Adam Seifer, one of the site's co-founders. "But there are also a lot of kids with webcams taking photos of themselves."

The battle between the Brazilian camgirls and the would-be Weegees was first noticed by Jake Dobkin, a contributor to Gothamist, a New York group weblog.

According to Dobkin, the high/low culture war is fueled by the way the site works.  On one side of Fotolog's front page is a column of photos from six of the most recently updated galleries, and on the opposite side, the six most popular photos on the entire site.  In the last few weeks, the most popular photos typically have been the serious-minded kind. But the other column has been dominated by cheesecake from Brazil, according to Dobkin.

Dobkin is unsure whether the Brazilians' dominance is because they simply outnumber serious photographers or because they post more often.  "Who will win this Titanic struggle for control of the soul of" Dobkin writes. "Only time will tell, but there are some indications: Despite the fact that is based in Chelsea, there are more than 2,000 Fotolog sites in Brazil, and only 448 in New York."

(posted by Roland Soong on 4/28/2004)

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