20 January 2009

Strength in (digital) numbers

People have been banding together around causes they passionately believe in for a long time, right?

Massive change has never been affected at the scale and speed at which it can be today, though. The availability and democratization of web applications has made it easier to rally around a conviction, efficiently prove a point and prompt a kind of domino word-of-mouth effect than before. One example that has been bouncing all over the place has been the heartwarming story of David Armano trying to help a family in need. I first found out about it through Faris:

David wanted to try raising $5,000. Well, in under 24 hours, donations were up to over $12,000. Wow. See what I mean? He blogged about this sweeping gesture of generosity here.

Here's another:

This one's personally relevant. For those who may not know, JPG is a photography magazine. It has a tightly knit online network of almost 200,000 people who submit and share their photos on JPGMag.com. The people on there favor a democratic view of photography over a pretentious one – there's peer commenting, voting and sharing of constructive criticism. This community extends into the magazine in a cool crowd source-y way, too: members’ photographs are chosen and published in its six annual issues.

Anyway, now the bad news happens. I got an email on January 2nd from JPG with the sad news that they'd be shutting their doors – ceasing production of the paper magazine and taking down the web site. As with many arts-based things today, they had been facing some money troubles for a while. JPG thought that they had tried everything, like seeking out potential investors and buyers. What they didn’t realize at the time was that their biggest strength lay in what sourced their content in the first place: the people.

[photo from striatic]

Almost immediately upon hearing the news, those who saw a family in JPG rallied together to fight its death. Among countless blog, Twitter and Flickr posts, SaveJPG.com was born, soliciting personal stories about people’s relationship with the magazine.

And now the good news! In a few days, a single post got over 700 comments (one of my favorites had the line "JPG is my big school of photography"), including how much people would be willing to pay annually just to keep the community alive. This outpouring of support was noticed almost as quickly as it started: JPG sent a follow up email a few days later with this line in it:
Because of you, we have multiple credible buyers interested in giving JPG a home.
So, while those hundreds (thousands?) of JPG members & fans didn’t directly bring back the magazine, their (very) fast and powerful collective influence probably perked the ears of potential investors who might otherwise have overlooked a tiny arts publication before it was too late. Warm fuzzies.

Polaroid scavenger hunt 4 - Johanna

One final thing: last night I read the most glorious words: Smile! Polaroid is saved. I don't know if the THOUUUUUSANDS of people all over the world posting online, making web sites and signing petitions did anything to influence the Austrian photographer (who decided to pay for production of film for Polaroid cameras), but I sure am thrilled he decided to do it. I don't know if this is quite related to what I've been talking about, because this change didn't happen overnight, like the David Armano and JPG miracles (hell, this took nearly a year). But the scale – the fighting on our part – was the same. So, half related (and fully happy).
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