Creating community through web photographs?

Several startling websites pool resources (mainly individual’s photographs) to create new intelligence or knowledge, or serendipitous entertainment. They give the appearance of community, of working together, but do they?

The effects can be quite amazing and entertaining. For example flickr photos are the engine for this website that sets the endearing singer-songwriter song “astronaut” to public photos that have certain tags in them (play the song and each time the photos change). Or this Image Mosaic Generator website lets you upload a photograph and have it be recreated using a montage of photos taken from flickr. In both cases, the photos taken by thousands of users are recreated into something new (to provide visual accompaniment to a song, to be the source of mosaic tiles for a larger picture).

And a third protype, Microsoft’s photosynth (also a really cool site) aims ultimately to take pictures from thousands of tourists and use them to construct a 3-D model of Notre Dame, or the Grand Canyon or the Golden Gate Bridge or any other amazing features that users photograph. [A fuller explanation of the idea behind photosynth is here (which comes from a TED talk by Blaise Aguera who also talks about Sea Dragon technology.]

All these sites create new content with the photos and they indirectly create a new “joint” product out of individual efforts (photos), but I’m skeptical, other than giving people a warm and fuzzy sense that they actually lead to community.  After all, it’s not as though the flickr uses actually get to know each other from this technological amalgamation of their photos.  It’s not as though the users get practice in how to collaborate or trust one another or build common goals.

I’d welcome your thoughts.


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