Over the last few hours, you probably got a number of emails inviting you to all kinds of groups on 500px. Wait! Groups? …on 500px? Yes, they just launched this brand new feature on their popular photo sharing platform to spice it up some more. But is this new feature worth it, and should you spend your time exploring it? In this article, I will give you my initial thoughts.
What’s the current state?
The new groups feature is currently in the beta phase. You will be able to join groups and create discussions in those groups. But creating new groups is not enabled for the public yet. That is probably a good thing because people usually go crazy on these launches. So, I guess the 500px team decided to let things cool down just a little bit to see how things go and avoid server overload before they allow the masses to create their own groups.
How do groups work?
Well, there are no big surprises as to the functionality of groups. Eventually, you will be able to create new groups, join groups, start new discussions (similar to forum threads), and add comments to existing discussions.
What separates them from similar features on other platforms is the ability to rate any discussion and comment up or down. So you can vote to promote or demote any particular item. Of course, you can only vote once per item.
Other than that, the interface is pretty straight forward. On the home screen, you get to see a list of all groups (sorted by popularity or by the time of the most recent discussions). You get to join groups and you see their basic properties.
Once you enter a group, you see the list of discussions. You can open any of them to see the original post and contribute by adding a comment. Replying to comments is possible, and you can vote comments up or down.
In order to post your own new discussions or comment on any group, you need to join the group. At the moment joining a group is done by a simple mouse click. There is no approval process, and all groups seem to be public. It remains to be seen if 500px will also introduce private groups where the moderator can decide who can and who cannot join.
Are 500px groups useful?
My personal impression is that the groups concept on 500px is no different than those on any other platform. But they are a lot less sophisticated (e.g. lack of private groups and moderation). Of courses, these are features that may be added over time. Let’s not forget that this is only the beta phase.
The discussions (topics) in a group are heavily centered around photos. You can attach up to 10 of your photos to any discussion you start, and these photos will cover a lot of real-estate on the screen. You can also add a title and a description, but the way the user interface is set up seems to imply that these are not the first priority.
The effect of this is that people primarily use the feature as an additional way to share their photos and get more exposure. This is a typical behavior that you see when features like this are launched: People are anxious to push as many of their photos, not caring whether that adds any value.
But it makes me wonder where 500px is going with this. Is this really just another way for shoving your photos into the faces of others? Or is it rather a first step to making 500px more of a social photo network with meaningful discussions.
Also, the lack of any unique selling point was a bit disappointing for me. If I where 500px, I would not have been content with implementing yet another incarnation of groups. I would have tried to give it my own twist. It remains to be seen whether we will see any new features in the future that really make 500px discussion groups stand out.
This leads me to the question: What could be a unique selling point of 500px groups? 500px has gained a reputation for presenting excellent photography. The level of quality is really high in general so that many photographers visit the site to get inspiration and new ideas from the top photographers.
500px could leverage this fact and tailor groups more towards the exchange of knowledge and inspiration. Let discussions revolve around photos, but give the members tools for really discussing them, for giving feedback beyond the usual “Great shot!” comments. For example, users may benefit from tools for marking and commenting on specific areas of the image to discuss selected features and give targeted critique or ask for specific feedback.
Also, the groups concept could include specific user roles to foster a sort of mentorship where experienced photographers mentor beginners using the discussions. This could benefit both sides: The mentors you gain exposure and recognition while the students would gain new insights.
Ok, a man can dream, and these are my very personal ideas, disregarding any questions of feasibility. But had I received an invitation from 500px with these features on the list, I would have jumped on it immediately.
500px groups are only a few hours old and it is only natural that there are still bugs in the system in a beta release. But some of them are really annoying. For example, sorting discussions does not really work (at least on Chrome). As a consequence, new discussions plunge down to the very bottom of the pile straight away without any way of bringing them back up. “Most Recent” simply does not work.
Some of the links are still broken too. But chances are that issues like these will be fixed very quickly.
To summarize, launching groups is a good step into the direction of making the site more social and that is a logical path to take for a platform like 500px. After all, you need to evolve to stay relevant.
But at least the initial concept of groups seems to be not very exciting and does not have any unique selling point. If I were to choose between 500px and other sites, groups would not be the feature that would draw me to 500px. Unless the company launches some additional features soon, this appears to be a missed chance to push the site forward and raise its attractiveness.
But it’s still early days, and 500px may take up some suggestions from users. So, make yourself heard.
What do you think?
Now it’s your turn. What do you think of 500px groups? What are the features you would like to see? Simply leave a comment below and vote in our poll at the top of this page.