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The need for gallerists and curators in the visual content explosion

The August issue of Wired recently crossed my desk. The theme of the issue immediately caught my eye; it was about smartphones and how they have sparked a creative explosion, a proposition I couldn’t agree with more. I’d even argue that Wired’s scope is limited. In fact, smartphones have created an explosion of content, creativity being but one consequence of this explosion, creators but one benefactor.

Simply look at the numbers to understand the correlation: 2.25 billion picture-taking devices will be sold in 2014, over half of which will be smartphones. 1.8 billion photos are being shared online daily. Nearly 1 trillion photos will be taken this year in total.

Five years ago these numbers were but a fraction of what they are now.

When my two co-founders and I incorporated the first iteration of Olapic in 2009 we envisioned this growth—but at this rate? Never.

What we did recognize, however, was an incipient world of massive content creation, sparked by the smart phone and the human need to express oneself. People were communicating more; text-based communication, already popular, became even more so. But where there was real, palpable growth was in the visual realm. Where before an expensive digital camera and a convoluted upload process were necessary to get a photo online, the smartphone now made it a more streamlined and democratic process. One need look no further than Facebook at the time to realize that photos were beginning to rival text as a mode of communication.

Then in 2010 Instagram was launched, providing the ideal platform from which to post and share photos. From a creative standpoint it was a spark; from a content standpoint an absolute Leviathan.

Today it has 200 million monthly active users who post some 60 million photos to it daily.

All of this poses an important question. What’s to be done with all this content? Well, for brands and retailers, the answer is also a monumental opportunity.

Case in point: As I was flipping through the pages of Wired, past articles penned by thinkers and creators, an important number caught my eye: 111,610,282.  As in 111,610,282 posts were tagged #food on Instagram as of June 23rd.

That’s an astronomical amount of authentic and compelling content created around a consumer good. Chefs and restaurateurs and a whole host of industry professionals can use it in a variety of ways to influence potential customers and communicate their messages to the world (as in this example).

Brands and businesses across the spectrum are beginning to understand this.

We recently wrote about how major tech companies such as Google and Yahoo/Tumblr are racing to analyze user photos for “clues” about brand affiliation.

Brands and advertisers are eager to get this data, to tell stories through the eyes of their customers instead of dictating an airbrushed version of that story to them.

The paradigm has shifted, and the smartphone has facilitated this shift.

Which brings me back to Wired magazine. I’ve heard many complaints that smartphones have not only sparked creativity but also its opposite, that we have been submerged underneath an onslaught of junk.

The emergence of mediators getting the best of this content to an audience is where another real creative revolution has been sparked. Artists themselves have benefitted, sure, but artists will figure out a way to create no matter what. Smartphones have merely facilitated greater output. It’s the creativity around this content that has truly taken off. After all, there were always paintings, on cave walls, in palaces, but not until gallerists, curators and museums popped up was there a real pop-art cultural explosion.

Already, researchers at UC Berkeley have developed a model that allows thousands of similar photos to be fused into one, transforming junk into one single jewel. It’s fascinating and creative and, if you read the article, is based on a technique artists themselves have used.

At Olapic we’ve done something similar, building a platform that allows brands and retailers to pinpoint the best user-generated photos available to them.

There are many more examples but I won’t bother to write about them here. What’s clear to me is that we’ll need these curators and veritable online gallerists more than we can possibly know in the future, to make sure the content we care about gets to us, to make sure it remains fresh and new and has value. And that’s going to take a lot of creativity.

New whitepaper! From Ripple to Wave: The Ascent of Authentic Visual Content

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