Since the inception of Facebook’s photo viewer, an influential tool that’s become the go-to for documentation of everything from social events to product launches, users have been stuck at a pretty lousy 72 DPI and 720 pixels. Those digits mean an image size that’s low enough to make even high-quality pictures look bad, adding grain, and distorted colors. The limitations were even annoying enough for artist Jonald James to start a Facebook group in protest, Artists Against Facebook’s Image Compression Process. Yet though difficulties remain, new Facebook updates point to a way forward for art and artists online.
The message of James’s group is that Facebook isn’t just for presenting shitty party pics, but also presents a tool that artists depend on for marketing and sales. “Let’s face it,” their About statement reads, “Facebook’s photo management really sucks.” Shouldn’t pictures on the world’s biggest social network actually look good, particularly when so many Facebook users depend on them for a livelihood?
“An incredible amount of interested can be generated in a digitalized form of word of mouth, as friends share links to your work,” founder James writes in an email, “Most importantly this form of self-advertising is free and accessible to emerging artists, who may not have the means of otherwise promoting themselves.” But what about when this same venue starts damaging the works of those self-starting artists?
“When an image converts poorly to the web, the poor quality of the image reflects badly on the artist,” James continues. “This becomes all the more frustrating when the control is out of the artist’s hands.” Photoshop resizing processes are viable fixes to Facebook’s image foibles, but even fixes are inconsistent. The problem brings to mind the ever-present difficulties of the artist in an era when works are bought by jpg: how can one be sure of a work’s correct color when every computer monitor has its own color profile, its own backlighting? Quality control becomes a sisyphean task.
Starting this month, though, Facebook has upped the ante for its photo viewer. Users can now upload pictures up to 2048 pixels. The update will be rolled out over the course of October, but changes are already visible in the presence of “Download as High-Res” buttons on the bottom right of Facebook’s photo viewers. Striking examples can be found in National Geographic’s “Top-Rated Your Shot Photos (September)” album. Add to the higher size options to view photos on a black lightbox background, and new pop-up album viewers, and you have a new way to experience images online.
So what does this mean for artists? Bigger sizes means higher quality pictures and a better marketing to customers. Compare Facebook’s new 2048 pixels to Etsy’s standard 400 pixels at 72 DPI. The updates make Facebook more competitive in the realm of image viewing, taking on the likes of Photobucket, Flickr, and more professional photo hosting services. Providing a friendlier environment for art is a goal that more websites should take on, from providing hosting space to creating an environment in which images look better, are free to be clearer independent of the digital clutter around them. Flickr’s embeddable slideshows come to mind as fellow fighters for the image, as well as image enlargement widgets that allow website viewers to pop up an image above the site they’re visiting, providing a blank slate context to visual content and new tools to view art online.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
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