For shits… what if…?
Talking ideas for the stock photography business
It’s Tuesday, April 18th, 2017. I’m seated at my desk in one of the most breathtaking workspaces in the world. It’s day 1 for me at Unsplash, and I’m setting up my new laptop.
Every new person joining the Unsplash team goes through the onboarding process: We’re invited to read a few Medium posts like Unsplash’s history & the history of photography, join Slack rooms, set up your dev environment and even ship something on day 1.
As a designer, especially for someone who was already very familiar with the Unsplash platform, I came to work with a list of things I wanted to change. Kirill, who I’m sure found that quite amusing, encouraged me to write down the ideas I had while I was still fresh.
For old-timers like him and Luke, being in it for as long as they have makes it hard to revisit old concepts. The “we’ve tried it before, it didn’t work…” or “we thought about that before…” are lines that even I tell people today, a year and a half into my tenure here.
I don’t think about the big picture as often as I’d like to — and I’m reminded of it every time I meet new people who ask me what it is we’re doing at Unsplash — what the next set of projects are. While I never particularly enjoy the exercise of Q&As, I know how necessary these conversations are for keeping up with the industry and for the product to be always evolving.
📸 From a desire to feature works from photographers we liked, we created both a popular wallpaper project and one of the coolest community-driven projects to come out of Unsplash.
🍆 An SEO meeting in which we discussed suspicious traffic and kinky search queries on Unsplash sparked the idea to create Unporn.
🔍 A Twitter thread about the subjectivity of photography made us rethink the way we deliver search results.
For shits… what if…?
You’ve probably been in this situation before: You’re at a bar with some colleagues. It’s the usual small talk where you talk about work, about the on-going problems you’re trying to solve. Suddenly, someone, just for shits, mentions an impossible idea, genuinely out of curiosity, just to get us talking, thinking differently…
For shits… and this is crazy… but what if we could browse Unsplash content the way we browse Reddit? We could have different “subsplashes” (portraits, landscapes, 35mm, minimal…) that people could submit to, and maybe even have members of the community moderate/handle the content curation of a “subsplash”…
It’s a conversation that we had almost two years ago and we didn’t really circle back to it until much later. Last week, we launched a first iteration of the project.
I wonder how many ideas we could come up with if we regularly challenged the status quo.
For shits… and just for shits… what if there was a way to make watermarks on photos acceptable? Would that make the brand more recognizable? Could it help trace back to the photographer?
For shits… and we’d never do this… but what if we limited photos to a certain amount of downloads? Could it help boost the stats of other related images if the more popular ones were “out of stock” (lol pun not intended)? By forcing consumers to download the next best photo, could that help spread exposure to other photographers?
For shits… what if we could generate images on the fly based on a person’s search query? Looking at Made with Unsplash, what if we used machine learning to predict which combination of images would make the perfect scenes to create an entirely new photo?
What if we created computer-generated images for content that the library is lacking? Over 75% of IKEA’s images in their catalogs are 3D renderings… Could that help with diversifying our content library?
What if we started favouring CGI models over real people? Would that solve the need for model releases? Could that protect both the models and the consumers when Unsplash photos can be used for anything?
A lot of those ideas don’t make sense right now if we look at the current state of stock photography. But there’s definitely some value in discussing them.
As a way to get the conversations going, a few of us in the team put together a platform that allows anyone to share their ideas. With Unsplash Talks, we want to engage in discussions around photography, and the business of stock photography as a way to familiarize ourselves with our industry, and as an opportunity to assess where we stand on certain topics:
Why do most stock photos have watermarks? What do you gain? What do you lose? If we did do watermarks, what does it look like visually? Does it hurt the overall quality of the photo, of the brand? Does it get in the way of the photo? What are watermarks trying to solve? Could a watermark help lead back to Unsplash? Could it help identify the photographer?
Note: I’m not in favour of watermarking Unsplash photos — But I do appreciate how practical a watermark can be for branding purposes. This is why it’s essential for us to discuss the things we don’t care to question right now. Because these might be the very things that define us down the line.
So let’s chat, just for shits and see where the next conversations lead us. Curious to hear some of our wildest ideas? Hit us up on Twitter or join the community slack.
Let’s chat… just for shits… is a Trello board at Unsplash more appropriately called “Unsplash Talks.” It’s where anyone in the team of designers, community managers or engineers could post their “wild” ideas for the business of stock photography. If there’s enough interest in a specific topic, the group is in charge of scheduling a talk. The goal is to keep note of any takeaways from the discussions and see how future projects could benefit from their insights.