I was at a party the other day when I had an interesting experience with my iPhone. I tend to be a bit of a wallflower (read: antisocial) so usually when I’m in a large social setting like a party or a conference I tend to stand in the corner reading the New York Times on my phone. This time around I was playing with the new Facebook application and noticed a camera icon in the upper right corner of the “Home” screen and, curious, took a photo with it. It seems that anyone with this application can take a photo with the phone and, over the cell network, upload it almost immediately to Facebook.
There were a few things that happened after I realized that. First is that all of a sudden, having discovered a new feature on my phone, I became a much more social person. I had to run around and show this to as many people as possible — including my co-grantee Dharmishta who was busy actually talking to people. Second, I started to upload photos. There are a few consequences of being able to upload photos to Facebook immediately, and I should probably explain the social and political implications of that to those of you who have never experienced the utter horror of being tagged in a compromising image. Let me also say that I am 21 and go to UCLA, so this is likely specific to my demographic.
Usually when people upload photos to Facebook they don’t do it blindly. People tend to think about the images they put out there for the world to see, especially when other people are in them. So if you’re at a party and happen to take a picture of your friend hooking up with someone, taking a shot, or doing something else you either don’t put it up or ask beforehand. If it manages to actually make it on Facebook you’re really not supposed to tag anyone in it. The danger in being able to upload photos straight onto the internet is that there’s no real filter, and everything is immediately broadcast to everyone you know via the mini feed. I actually ended up deleting an image or two later that night.
But there is a huge positive to this feature also. Because people tend to think a lot about the photos they upload — and there is usually a USB cord, waiting, sifting and resizing involved — often people end up never bothering to put up the images they take. For instance, I was in London and Italy over a month ago and still have no Facebook albums to prove it because my camera is such a hassle. With this feature, it is dramatically simpler to develop quite the collection of images on Facebook with no camera and no effort. I think in the near future we’re likely to see an increase in the number of people broadening their Facebook albums and contributing to this unique aspect of social media.
Aside from Facebook, I think this feature has huge implications for journalists and bloggers. On some level I was live photo-blogging (plogging?) from that party, complete with comments on some of the images. If we could create an application, which wouldn’t be hard, to upload iPhone pictures automatically to a blog or to the front page of a newspaper website the possibilities are endless. All of a sudden it would be easy to relay images of breaking news to a massive online audience without having to import, edit and post images — which can take a while. People could live blog with images without having to worry about bringing a camera and a computer and finding a wireless connection. It’s clearly not perfect (2 megapixels and usually blurry) but I think it’s a very good and intriguing start.