Dave Kai Piper considers the pros and cons of an online presence for creatives, and talks to Russ Freeman of PurplePort about managing a digital community.
Behind the site: Interview with founder Russ Freeman
After using PurplePort for a month or so, and as the site just breaks the 22,000 active-members marker, I spoke to owner and CEO Russ Freeman about how it came to be, and what it takes to build and manage such an online community. Among other things, I wanted to find out why PurplePort works in the way it does, and what makes it different from other networking sites from the owner’s viewpoint.
Amateur Photographer: How would you describe the website and what were the initial intentions for the site from its founding members?
Russ Freeman: PurplePort is a social networking and collaboration tool for models, photographers and related creatives. When designing the service we hijacked and adapted lots of designs and ideas from a variety of websites including Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. We spent a few months going through our competitors’ sites and applying the good ideas they had and combining them with ideas from elsewhere.
We wanted to design a service that would help you network and get noticed – simple things, such as allowing all images uploaded to be seen in one long list; seeing the recently joined members; making it easy to search by location rather than by regions; making our groups approachable by policing them well; and encouraging people to join in by sending helpful notifications. We even have a Your Account Health page, where you can get tips.
Three years in and we have lots of concepts we haven’t implemented yet and lots of designs for features that will help people connect, get together and create beautiful photos. PurplePort is definitely an ongoing project in this respect.
AP: Today PurplePort has more than 22,000 active members. What is the split between photographers, models and other creatives? What is the creative vibe of the site and what are new members going to enjoy most in the site?
RF: Around 35% of the members are models, 57% are photographers and everyone else makes up the remainder. This seems to be the same across all similar services.
I don’t think there is any one overall creative vibe. People join looking to achieve their own goals, whether that’s a fashion model looking for paid work or a student make-up artist wishing to collaborate with other creatives. Everyone appears to find his or her own thing.
If I were a new member, I’d certainly enjoy the massive amount of activity on the site. This is a service with so much going on. I still find it amazing to see so many inspiring photos and creative people, and so much willingness to share and collaborate. I’ve loved that right from the beginning and I still love it now.
AP: What does the future look like for the site and what are the plans for continuing to grow the forums that are quite active? As with all internet sites and forums, they can be subject to trolling behaviour – what measures do you have in place to control this?
RF: To be honest, we don’t need to do anything major or specific with the groups as they just continue to grow all on their own. This applies equally to the activity in official PurplePort-created groups as well as the member-created groups. On PurplePort we have 230 groups of which only 30 are official site-created groups. You can leave or join groups as you wish.
We have very strict policies for what gets posted in the groups. This varies from content that simply does not belong on PurplePort as well as content posted in the wrong groups. Our members are encouraged to report anything posted that they think isn’t suitable or can report members to us who they think are behaving unprofessionally. We obviously take our members’ safety very seriously. Everyone needs to feel they are in a safe and supportive environment to collaborate.
As for the future of the site, we’re just loving seeing it grow and seeing our members using the site with all its current features. As time goes on, with more members, more sharing and even more features, we are giving members new ways to share work and collaborate. It’s a very exciting stage.
AP: It seems like the site has a very wide range of styles and ability levels, so how do you cater for them all?
RF: We do nothing – the system takes care of itself. Sometimes people of differing levels or skills do butt heads and we step in to help resolve the issue. However, that’s quite rare. PurplePort is a site that caters to members of all skill levels, and we encourage our members to support one another, be it through the groups we created for sharing a shoot, constructive image critique, or the features we’ve built in where members can specify they are willing to mentor others or looking to be mentored. We want everyone who joins to be able to grow and improve, and enjoy creating wonderful images.
AP: As a site that handles thousands of images, can you track the information about the photos? What are some of the more fun facts about the seeing the back end data? Can you track to see which cameras are the best or most used? Can you tell who the best models are or track current trends in photography styles?
RF: Ha! You want me to say something like, ‘The best images are shot using Nikon’. No, we don’t track that kind of information. We have it, but we don’t do anything with it, although perhaps we should.
Tracking styles is hugely subjective, as I’m sure you know. What I think is fashion you might see as bland; what I think is art you might see as nonsense.
Our members can browse photos on the keywords they have been tagged with and collect images into lists to look at again at a later date for inspiration. We also have gadgets such as ‘random’ and the ‘most popular images’ list that looks at the number of member-loves an image has received over time and then displays them in an ever-changing gallery.
We also run a daily competition where members can upload photos on a theme and vote for a winner, which seems to be a hugely popular and well-used feature. We also have our famous Front Page Image (FPI) system that displays a range of great work selected to be featured on the front page of the website from our team of volunteers, the PurplePort Community Team.
This was originally set up with the purpose of advertising the great work available on the site to potential new members when they first arrive at PurplePort.com. Although this is still the primary function of the system, it has become somewhat of an online sensation, with members regularly sharing and seeking out their latest FPIs.
AP: You have a system similar to Facebook where people can like and comment on images. It would be fantastic to see some of the more popular images on the site and the people responsible for creating them.
RF: Popularity, whether it’s through people loving an image, adding it to collections, commenting on the image, or how many views an image gets, is no measure of whether the image is a good one. Again, it’s so intensely subjective.
However, we do have the systems I mentioned before, such as the most popular image and FPI gadgets and a ‘Yesterday love’ page that shows the most commented and most-loved images, and most-viewed profiles. Finally, a great way to see popular images is by following #PurplePort on Twitter.
Try out Purpleport for yourself at purpleport.com