LTP 123: Why Bart Loves Glass

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In this solo show Bart describes the paid-for private social network for photographers, Glass, and explains why he’s fallen in love with it. There is no one perfect social media for everyone, so the very reasons Bart enjoys it so much may well be deal breakers for you, but maybe you’ll discover a community you fall in love with too.

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Show Notes (by Bart)

I think I’ve finally found the photography social media site that’s right for me in Glass. I want to share why it works for me, but I’m very aware that the very reasons I love it may be reasons others dislike it. Don’t think of this as a recommendation or even a review, just a description of an unusual social media offering, and an explanation of why I’m literally happy to pay for it!

What is Glass?

Glass is an app-first paid social media site designed to encourage photographers to share their best work. Originally there was no web interface for the social part of the service at all, and there is no free plan. You use get the best experience using the service phone and/or tablet, and you need to subscribe to it.

Details at ($4.99 monthly or $29.99 yearly).

There are apps for Android, iOS, and Windows, and there is now a web app that looks like the phone/tablet app but in your browser.

The service includes a very elegant optional public portfolio page that shows your avatar, your bio, and your photos, but it’s intentionally a one-way communication. Visitors to your portfolio page can enjoy your photos, and they can follow the link you choose to add to your profile, but they can’t post comments or anything like that. (Here’s mine: You can also share links to individual photos, like this one:

The social interactions are entirely contained within the app (including the web version for members), so they are not on the public internet, and everyone who engages with you is a paying customer.

Even here within the app the social aspects are limited to the basics:

  1. You can follow photographers, and a reverse-chronological grid of their photos and yours form your landing page
  2. You can comment on photos
  3. You can ‘appreciate’ photos
  4. You can ‘appreciate’ comments

Other than blocking or reporting users, that’s it!

Speaking of blocking users — there is a very clear and concise code of conduct (just a few paragraphs), and no tolerance of trolling or other toxic behaviours.

Beyond the social aspect there’s also a curation aspect to the service. There are regular posts by the app’s editorial team highlighting collections of images that have been posted by users, and there is a monthly theme photographers are encouraged to contribute shots to.

Finally, there’s an exploration aspect to the service.

The primary mechanism for exploration is the ‘categories’ photographers can choose to associate their images with. These are basically tags, but tags they are not free-form, there is a predefined set, and each photo can be associated with a maximum of three categories, so photographers need to put some thought into how they categorise each image. The monthly themes are actually categories, it’s just that each month one category is chosen and it gets pinned to the front of the list and highlighted in gold.

Other mechanisms for exploration are automatic categories by camera and lens. These are fantastic for exploring the possibilities your gear offers. I find it fascinating to see what other photographers do with their iPhones in general, or with the new 5x telephoto in particular.

All of these views are reverse chronological and the service makes a point of saying there are no algorithms trying to manipulate you.

The initial explore page is a global view that somehow picks out the best photos, so that strikes me as somehow algorithmic, but it does also seem to be reverse chronological. There’s also a tab with user accounts to scroll through that I’m not sure is algorithmic or reverse-chronological, but I’m finding it great for finding photographers to follow. Each photographer gets a row with their avatar and some recent photos.

Everything about the site seems to be designed to encourage low-volume high-quality and thoughtful sharing. Everything happens at a slow pace. There are a few articles each month, not many a day, and because photographers are encouraged to contribute only their best work, the volume of new images in your feed each day is low.

Why I Love It

Superficially I love the focus on quality over quantity, and the overall calm and relaxed feel to the whole experience. Photos absolutely dominate the interface, and you have the time to really enjoy them.

Reading their marketing material it’s clear the service’s owners are philosophically on the same page I am — some choice quotes:

“Built for adoration instead of addiction”

“Community, not comparison — All the social network features you’d expect with none of the dark patterns driving engagement”

“Exploration, not algorithms — You’re in control over what you see on Glass”

“Appreciation, not competition — … no public counts or data mining to power invasive advertising”

“Safety as a priority, not an afterthought — Our community has no space for hate”
“Glass is subscription-based, which means we won’t sell your data or pollute your feed with ads. We don’t answer to outside investors or advertisers, just members of our community”

It’s all About the Business Model

That last point really is the key IMO — it’s the fundamental reason this service works so well for me is.

The most obvious effect of a 100% paid model is that there are no ads, period. The obviously makes the interface nicer, but it does something much more important too — it aligns the service operators interests with the users’ interests because we are the customers!

The biggest source of toxicity on traditional social media is the business model — the users are not the customers, their attention is the product, and it’s being sold to the customers, advertisers. This sets up perverse incentives for the operators to maximise the data they collect on users, and to do everything possible to increase the amount of time each user spends on the service. Doom scrolling, outrage, tribalism, bullying, and abuse are not some kind of accident caused by misfortune or mismanagement, they are the inevitable result of any algorithm that maximises engagement. Better or worse moderation can amplify or reduce the toxicity, but it will always be there, the customers (advertisers) need eyeballs after all, and nothing keeps us humans reading and posting like fear and outrage.

When the user is the customer it’s not engagement that matters, but enjoyment. The interface designers have one goal — make it as easy as possible for the users to enjoy the photographs being shared!

A useful side-effect of the paid-for business model is that all users have skin in the game because they are paying to take part, and while trolling is some people’s idea of fun, they don’t seem prepared to pay for the pleasure! Also, if you get banned you can’t just create a new account in seconds!

Final Thoughts
I love Glass because it’s low volume, calm, and so far, every human interaction has been positive. I’ve seen no toxicity, and I can truly enjoy great photography at my own pace as and when I want without being pressured into sharing more or logging in more.

When I have some time, I just love opening glass on my iPad and truly exploring amazing photos. When I don’t have time the app leaves me alone. Perfect!

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