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Photo Battle Blog – The Next Level (More Photographers)

A few people have asked (here, here, and in email and IM) about submitting photos for or joining the Photo Battle Blog.

I'd like to accommodate the requests, and if possible, I will - just not at the current site. In fact, given the relative success of the project, I'd like to propose a little project. Read on for more…

The current site is good for what it is. I wanted a "365 Project" with a bit of an edge that would prevent me from posting a string of crappy pictures when I got a little bored. It does that via competition. The site's not even two weeks old yet, but the idea seems to have resonated with the people who vote as well as other photographers who want a similar thing.

The Current Site
First, let me talk about my goals with the current site. I wanted to present both pictures in a reasonably large size. They're 400 pixels wide, but they can be expanded to 800 pixels by clicking. I wanted both images to be presented side by side so they'd both be visible without scrolling. Their position is random so one does not get the dominant "left" or "right" position (depending on culture, personal taste, even mouse handedness perhaps) and skew voting.

The current site has no themes - I'm free to post a picture of an un-retouched black and white landscape while Steve posts a picture of a highly adjusted color shot of a peacock if he wants. The site itself is as plain as can be - one entry per day, a grey color scheme, and little else to distract people from answering the simple question: which photo do you prefer? Comments are allowed, but I'm undecided on the value they offer.

All of that works pretty well, I think, for a site cobbled together for a little hobby and a way to push me to taking photos when I otherwise might not have a specific reason to do so. It's been fun, as I said, and it "works" as well as a site that took as little time as it took to build could be expected to work.

It's also completely unreasonable to believe that the current site could support more than two photographers, really. If you keep it at two photos per day, scheduling which photographer battles on which day becomes a headache. If you show more than two photos per day, you must scale the photos down to an even smaller size and the original intent of the site is muddied. The simple plugin would have to be rewritten, and frankly, it'd just be bad engineering. The current site works, but it wasn't ever built with the intentions of being built up to something more.


The Future
So here's a semi-stream of thought on a "platform" of sorts that would support four, five, or six photographers via a similarly "competitive" site. I'd very much like to put this plan into action, and I'm hoping that four or five others of you out there would be willing to do this with me.

On the issue of voting, I think what may be best is to find some way to present the images to the user in a way that doesn't guarantee any one photo a dominant spot. A 3x2 grid may work for six photographers if the photos are shuffled randomly. A user could click each photo to view, via Lightbox or some other JavaScript image viewer, the full-size (800 pixels wide again?) image. After viewing each image, the user would "vote" by dragging the images to a row or column of boxes in order of preference. It'd be a very easy way to vote and would do away with popup menus or text boxes.

In a six-photo vote, the most preferred photo would get six points, the least one, and the others 5, 4, 3, and 2. The "vote gradient" that would introduce would be interesting in and of itself, and I think it'd be a bit more of an engaging experience for the visitor/voter as well.

The current site is a 365 project (or, this year, 366), but the "new" site wouldn't have to be. The schedule could be "every M-F" or "every other day" or even one contest per week (though to be honest, 52 photos per year isn't exactly asking much). The current site also has no rules, but it might be fun to consider doing something like the PhotoFriday theme the following Wednesday or something.

It's really still a very simple concept, and it's still very much in the air, which segues nicely into…

Your Involvement
Bluntly, I'm not going to be able to do this myself. More precisely, I'm not willing to. I'm looking for some people to help with this, and ideally those people would be the same ones who would participate in the end. So, if you're one of the interested parties, and you have something to offer, I'd like to talk to you.

Below, in the "Setup" section, I'll talk more about the "needs" such a site has. Basically, it's what you'd expect: I'll want some help deciding on the final feature set and design of the site. I can do a good bit of the work, but not all of it. One to three other "helpers" would be appreciated.

If you're one of those people, let me know. I'd love to start organizing something soon.

If you're a photographer interested in doing battle, so to speak, but you don't have the time or skills to spare in helping out in creating the site, I will just say that not helping won't exclude you. It just won't definitely include you, either.

I've got some general, quick notes on the setup of the site based on my experiences with the current site as well as, well, just my general knowledge and hunch about what might work.

I'm not a graphic designer. Ideally, one of the photographers who is interested in this project could put together a design. I'm fairly good at taking a static image and making the separate images, HTML, CSS, etc. from it, though, and could help with that side of things.

Obviously, given the purpose of such a site, a clean design would likely suffice. By "clean" I mean simple in a way that nearly strips away everything but the photos and the task at hand, but which makes some other features (like commenting) possible. "Austerity" would be a guiding principle.

I'm familiar with WordPress, but if ExpressionEngine is suitable, that may work as well. Frankly, I don't really care if we use WordPress, EE, or build something entirely on our own. My hunch is that basing this on a blogging package may save the time and trouble of doing things like writing code for comments, authoring of posts, and so on. Both WP and EE (and virtually every other blogging package) supports plugins, and I imagine the voting would be handled via a plugin.

Again, I'm not opposed to writing something from the ground up with someone else, but I think the wheel's already been invented. We just have to chrome it.

I'd be willing to host the domain name on a grid server account with MediaTemple. It'll cost me all of, oh, $15/month or so. and should provide more than enough performance to host a WordPress or ExpressionEngine instance (or some other package), with or without caching.

Duh. I could have called this one "commitment" as well, because any of the photographers who sign up for the project I'd like to keep on for the duration - a year or six months or whatever we can all agree to.

As a Platform
It strikes me that if we're going to do this work - to build plugins and themes for doing this "multi-photographer battle blog" - that we may in fact have a sort of "product" on our hands.

I envision the possibility of some day either offering a few themes (or one theme that's easily customized/hacked) and a plugin or two so that someone else can quickly get their own "photo battle blog" up and running.

Whether the "product" would be a commercial one or simply "donationware" I don't know. This could perhaps be the start of a little side gig for those who want to get involved in creating it, or something that could pay for some of our photography equipment. Or maybe it'll just be a good way for us to spread some good free software so that other people can set up a battle and have at it.

So Now What?
If you're interested in getting involved - either as a photographer to do "battle" or someone to help design and implement it, get in touch with me. Email or AIM (or MSN/Yahoo/Jabber) would work fine, and if the project gains a little momentum and interest, I'll create a mailing list for us all to chat or something.

In other words, now that you've asked to participate, I'm giving you the chance. Time to step up!

3 Responses to "Photo Battle Blog – The Next Level (More Photographers)"

  1. What I would like with the current site is the ability to know, after voting, who took which picture.

  2. [quote comment="45993"]What I would like with the current site is the ability to know, after voting, who took which picture.[/quote]

    Well, you could hover your name over the image for now and look at the image's path, but I'll look into doing what you've suggested.

  3. Duh, sorry, I didn't notice. That's enough as far as I'm concerned. I'll try and not look before I vote to avoid being influenced.