A week ago, I noticed odd things about 500px that I found disturbing.
I noticed quite a few (in fact most) of the people showing tens of thousands of followers that I checked, appear to have mostly fake followers. I was perplexed how it was that someone with a mere 70 to 100 nice but not great photos could have 30,000 followers. When I click on their followers list, almost all of their followers have zero followers of their own, and they have zero photos posted. These appear to be fake user accounts.
I saw this across many 500px users with huge followings. Something is not right.
I created a fake 500px account and posted the photo shown in the thumbnail image below. It’s a stupid photo, with over saturated colors, intentionally making it stupid. I titled the photo “Fake waterfall and pond”. This stupid photo quickly made the “Popular” list!
Which is absurd and illustrates the silliness of 500px. Note also the email message I received (captured in the photo here) encourages me to submit this to the “marketplace”. There is constant encouragement to submit photos to the “marketplace”, no matter how stupid and fake the photo may be.
The “social numbers game” of achieving “Popular” is by design. Several years back the concept of “gamification” took hold. The basic idea is to create a sense of scoring based on performance – not that different than giving kids “gold stars”. Many adults find themselves caught up with “playing the game” and management research shows these systems can be effective at motivating workplace behaviors.
500px is as a gamified photo site. When users first post photos, they quickly see many “likes”, which encourages new (free trial account) users to register for a paid account. The system then rewards those who “play the game” by liking and following others, versus sharing quality photography, discussing and sharing with others, and learning from each other.
User psychology drives this activity and scoring higher in the game becomes the driving force. Excessive liking, following, and fake user accounts (happens on other social media all the time, too) soon follow.
Most photos on 500px will only be viewed immediately after posting and are rarely viewed ever again. This “front loads” the appearance that 500px will give your photos lots of views – but all those views are only in the few days after posting. And that’s it.
We end up with a rather fake experience.
Another problem I noticed is that some of the accounts themselves are questionable. For the first two accounts having tens of thousands of followers that I checked, I used Google Image search to see if any of their photos existed elsewhere. For the first two, each of the photos I checked was stolen from private, professional photographer web sites. (This was not the case with all such accounts – but I did see it in a sample of 500px accounts with unusually large followings for having so few photos posted). A conspiracy theorist might suggest someone has created fake accounts with the intent of making individuals, or even 500px itself, look larger and more important than it might be.
Under the circumstances, the 500px experience is feeling very fake when stupid photos labeled as fake quickly make it to the popular list, and when accounts with few photos appear to have tens of thousands of likely fake followers.
I posted the above description and image, above, to 500px as my last photo posting and titled it, “Why I am leaving 500px”. Within seconds, I received several likes on this “photo”.
Even though I clearly state I am leaving 500px, I immediately gained a new follower – which, all things considered, is almost certainly a fake account run by a robot, which did not even read the title of my fake photo, nor read the attached description which explains why I am leaving 500px:
I am still posting photos to Flickr, Instagram and Tumblr, of course.