Touted as a Flickr competitor, Toronto-based photo sharing site 500px got a $525,000 vote of confidence from investors in June and – more importantly – from 3 million monthly unique visitors this fall. They released an updated iPad app last Friday, where you can follow photographers and see their favorite photos.
500px’s free platform uses algorithms to determine photo ratings, largely based on likes, dislikes, and how old the photo is. You can browse the most popular or newest photos; view categories like fashion, nature, or underwater; or do a basic keyword search. Once you find a gorgeous snapshot, just add it to your favorites and leave some praise in the comments section.
But 500px wasn’t always a standalone site. The name refers to the 500-pixel width requirement that 500px – then a LiveJournal community – imposed on users submitting photos. 500px curated those photos and posted the best ones, until it nixed the human curation and launched a full platform in 2009.
While it may be a photo sharing community like Flickr, 500px is quite different. Flickr’s market is almost anyone who takes photos, but 500px seems to target good photographers who want to get noticed:
“We started the company to help photographers get greater exposure, reduce some of the marketing headaches, and let creatives concentrate on what they do best.”
This is reflected in 500px’s somewhat curious algorithms. To highlight the latest and greatest photos, all photo ratings are downgraded every day, so the top photos are almost constantly changing. “Likes” count for fewer points as they build up, so the first dislike (worth more points) can also downgrade a photo into semi-obscurity. According to cofounder Evgeny Tchebotarev:
That’s why the site, which is 500 times smaller than Flickr, can bring [the] same exposure to both amateur and professional photographers alike. It’s not Flickr, so dumping thousands of photos in hope of exposure will, in opposite, most likely alienate you from the community.
Still, Flickr has the benefit of easy Creative Commons licensing, while the 500px store has been in progress since February. Flickr’s pro account is also half the price of 500px’s, which costs $50 per year for unlimited uploads, a custom domain name, a portfolio with exclusive designs, and analytics.
As for quality, a quick comparison of 500px’s fresh photos this week and Flickr’s interesting photos in the last 7 days may convince you of 500px’s superiority. But half of me thinks this is just because 500px.com is more beautifully designed, with larger photos against a grayish background and sleek Helvetica Neue font, versus Flickr’s smaller white-framed photos captioned in Arial.
In the end, Flickr – with its huge user base – has only some cause for alarm. If 500px keeps targeting professionals and adding features they want, they may convince more photographers to switch to a 500px pro account. But the amateurs may stick with Flickr: as an amateur myself, I must admit that I’m somewhat intimidated by the high quality of 500px photos and probably would only browse the site, not upload my own work.
In the meantime, I’m just inspired by all the beauty on 500px – check it out yourself.