Now that Instagram has become the mutant offspring of a tyre fire and an overflowing septic tank filled with nothing but thousands of short screeching videos I’m not even remotely interested well its time to move on. After a bit of thought for me that’s meant deciding to using Twitter as my main sharing medium without bothering with Instagram at all anymore.
But this isn’t about Twitter or Instagram but instead a relatively new player in the photography sharing scene that’s trying a different approach and might just make sharing photos with the world more fun again – Glass.
What Is Glass?
Glass is not an Instagram competitor but rather paints itself as the photo sharing and feedback app that many photographers remember Instagram once being and would honestly prefer it being so again. There’s no ads, no magically sorted feed, no mad rush to find what weird “hustle culture” short cut will get you mad follower numbers today so you can become some sort of weird influencer type.
Wait, you might ask, how do they expect to make money that way? Simple answer? They don’t. Glass is not a free service, there’s an annual subscription fee currently set at $29.99 USD. Considering the average amount of money a photographer drops on other items in a year this seems like an extremely tiny amount and they even provide a 14 day free period before your card is charged.
So there’s the bold premise – they want to build, virtually from scratch, an all new photo sharing and feedback community site and charge for it in a world where literally dozens of free and freemium competitors already exist.
Why Go Glass Now?
Partly because of the afore mentioned Instagram mutant offspring but mostly because Glass has made a very significant change in accessibility to their service. When Glass launched a year ago the premise immediately grabbed my attention and I was intrigued but there was one small problem. It was an iOS only app. No android offering, no web offering. I’m not an Apple user but I wasn’t going to froth at the mouth about this choice as they had outlined some pretty good business reasons as to why they were starting this way.
But still the idea still intrigued me so I kept tabs on their progress. In April they announced a web version had arrived which was great but… still linked to requiring an Apple account. Oh well, so it goes. Then ever so quietly in July they mentioned they were decoupling the accounts from Apple, so you could use an standard email and password setup instead if you wished. I signed up for notification and sure enough August 10th they launched their Glass Anywhere offering which I jumped on and created my own account.
Flame War Avoidance Disclaimer
I want to be very, very clear here that it is extremely early days into the Glass not only being web accessible but opening up to non Apple accounts. In addition the entire service is barely more than a year old, starting from near scratch and they appear to have a very steady pace at moving forward with sensibly adding new features.
I also do not have any iOS devices so I have no way to compare my web only experience with their original mobile device oriented one.
Viewed through these lenses any criticisms I might list below are very much in the expectation that the service will adapt and get better in the fullness of time, its merely a list of things that I’ve encountered so far in using the service.
What’s In A Name?
Choosing a common noun for a product name is always a double edged sword. On the one hand Glass is pretty clever given the photography references but on the other hand it sadly and very painfully makes searching for anything related to the product almost ironically like chewing on broken glass.
Try finding blog items or YouTube videos about Glass and it quickly becomes a mess of unrelated items and frustration. This is especially true if using Google which now has an irritating habit of removing “common” words from your search query that it feels you don’t really need despite you know putting them in the damn query. For example say if I want to search for any recommended Lightroom exports settings to use with Glass it will helpfully strip “glass” from the query leaving you with just pages of results on generic export recommendations. Thanks, that’s very helpful Google.
There’s not a lot Glass can do to “fix” this but its something you as a potential new user should be aware of and prepare to have some frustrations with.
The sign up process for Glass is extremely slick and pretty which I assume is just the same interface the app provides but with a large background. Once you’ve done all that and dropped into the web interface proper however there’s a little bit of a shock as to the visual difference of quality.
Its not terrible by any means, the general layout is clean and minimalist but nothing has quite the same level of polish with the odd formal table style layout and overly prominent scrollbars being perhaps a little off putting, especially if you are used to ultra polished services from competing mega corps.
This may just be some oddness from how an app first service is being translated for a much, much bigger screen space. I have no doubt this will be improved over time.
Profile Pic Pain
This was an unexpected issue. Like pretty much any other service you can upload a profile pic to use in your account. Unlike most other services you can’t rescale the photo you choose and while you can move the image around to choose a “slice” of it to use that slice is a portrait aspect rectangle, not a square like you may be used to elsewhere. Depending on your preferred profile pic this may take some rethinking of how you want things to look.
Nor does it provide any preferred dimensions and I couldn’t easily find any suggested ones due to the afore mentioned issues with searching terms with Glass in them. A quick peek at the HTML used to render the image showed that it defaulted to 812px high by 609px wide which is what I’m using now and it seems to be working OK so far. All in all this is a minor nit-pick and will probably be cleaned up in the future.
One of the things that most appealed to me about Glass was that it displays the EXIF metadata related to the image, which was something I was manually adding to my Instagram posts anyway because I think sometimes that information can be useful.
At present Glass pulls that EXIF straight from the uploaded image. Don’t want to show that data? Make sure the EXIF is stripped before upload. Didn’t do that? That’s where we hit a current issue – there is no way to edit or select what EXIF meta data to display. If you upload an image with EXIF you didn’t want to share you’ll need to delete it and upload a new one without the EXIF embedded.
Same applies if there is EXIF data missing from your images that you do want to share but isn’t there by default, this is most prevalent when you are using fully manual lenses and the camera does not collect lens model or aperture settings. In these case you’ll need to add these yourself in your photo editing software of choice before uploading. Not a huge deal but might require a change to your workflow.
WARNING: You do not get to see the visible EXIF metadata until the image is posted and there is no “draft” concept in Glass. As such that metadata will be instantly visible to anyone that can access your profile – by default this is only other Glass users but if your profile is set to public then it is literally anyone. As best as I can tell only the EXIF you can see in the above screenshot is exposed but this is still something you should be aware of.
The good news is there are several EXIF editing/adjustment planned items on the Glass roadmap and unsurprisingly is in high demand from the customer base. I expect this to improve over time, for now adjustments to my workflow will be needed.
One of the things that used to be great about Instagram was a wide variety of options to discover photos and photography in genres, areas and styles that you enjoyed. Through hashtags, location and what once was a pretty good text search system it used to be so good.
Glass is currently, and probably quite sensibly, at the keeping it very simple stage for discovery options but that does come with a set of semi frustrating caveats that again are mostly borne from being used to much larger, older and more polished systems.
Right now you can either discover through the “community” aka the users of the site or categories. Categories are the easiest and are a set of pre defined tags that Glass creates themselves and that users pick from (you can use multiple) when uploading a photo. Unlike hashtags in Instagram you can’t create your own or spend hours trying to figure what magic combo of them is going to get the most eyeballs on your work this week, which for me is honestly super refreshing.
Its pretty easy to quickly scroll through and have a look at things. You can not however currently search image descriptions or match against any of the metadata – e.g “show me all the shots on a Canon R5” but much of this is either planned or popular requests in the Glass feedback system.
The community aka user search is somewhat more frustrating. You can search this but it will only match against the name and username fields. It will not match against the text in the bio descriptions for the users nor do users currently have a separate specific field for location. This means if you say would like to find Australian photographers on Glass there is no way to do this, even if they put this information in their bio.
I am yet to find a decent way of finding interesting people and currently resorting to finding the names of photographers I follow elsewhere and trying to see if they have accounts on Glass as well. Annoying as this is I again fully expect this to improve over time.
Follow And Appreciate
The good news is once you have found some folks you want to follow you can do so easily and their images will appear in your default main feed in, gasp, chronological order. You know like how every user has always ever wanted the content they follow to be provided in. Its chronically sad that it takes a paid service to provide this but here we are.
Glass doesn’t have “like” buttons but it does have an appreciate button which kind of acts like well a “like” but in a somehow much less offensive fashion. There’s no counter and appreciations go direct to the photographer, nothing is visible publicly in the hope of preventing the sort of toxic competitive environments seen elsewhere. As a photographer you can even turn notifications for appreciations off altogether if you so wish.
You can also choose to leave comments on a photo if you so wish and so far I’ve not found anything in the way of any real malicious commentary but that may be down to the fact the user base is still comparably small. Should someone rub you the wrong way you can block that user entirely.
Only Glass users can perform any of these actions, even if your profile is set to public. Depending on who you are this might be a good or bad thing and its one of the things that shows that Glass is trying to do something different to Instagram, not compete against it.
See What It Could Be
It would be very easy to look at Glass as it is now and dismiss it as “not good enough” and depending on what you are after in a photo sharing community maybe it isn’t. I’m choosing to look at how far they have come in the last year and to look past current short comings and see what sort of space it could be.
For $30 USD upfront its not going to hurt me to try it out for a year and see how it improves and then do a longer term review on whether its working out for me. I’m not a professional photographer, I’m not trying to hustle business out of this service. I just want somewhere I can share my hobbyist photography and feel like that the feedback is worthwhile and right now it seems Glass is heading in the right direction. Maybe some of you might be willing to drop a few dollars and join me to see if it works for you as well.