Oleg Gutsol understands the importance of community. His online community, 500px, is a platform for photographers and is focused on the best world’s photography. The 500px goal is to discover, unite and promote great photographers worldwide and provide the best user experience and the best tools to the community of creative people.
The long-term goal for 500px is a lofty one: change the way photographers work. In the short-term they have a slightly more attainable goal of creating mobile applications and professional software integration.
MO: Tell us about the user-experience for 500px. What can photographers except from being involved with the site?
Oleg: Everybody is welcome to join 500px and start uploading and sharing their photos with the world. We have designed a systems to automatically discover and promote the best photos our users upload to the site. Alternatively, if you are just looking for inspiration — start browsing our Popular or Editors’ Choice feeds — there are many stunning photographs that you will find there.
MO: You stated that photography is a very different activity today than it was even 10 years ago. Can you delve further into how the changes in photography have made a community like 500px necessary?
Oleg: Photography 10 years ago was indeed quite different from what it is today. Digital cameras were just coming into existence, you had to work with film, the process was quite long before you could see your photos. On one hand that really disciplined the photographer to think before every shutter click, on the other — it limited the creativity and the ability to catch that right moment. Now there are hundreds of millions of DSLR camera sold each year around the world, storage is virtually unlimited and the barrier to entry into photography is almost non-existent. I think everybody can be a photographer and it is much easier to start now than just even 10 years ago.
MO: You mentioned that filtering the increasing noise in the content we generate is difficult. How do you filter it?
Oleg: With more and more people being connected online humanity collectively generates so much information that any given person would just be overwhelmed with it. That’s why we see the rise of personalization tools and services online. Photography is no different — with millions of cameras and mobile phones with cameras, we share so many pictures online that finding good photos is a challenge. We created a set of algorithm to analyze the photos and determine what is really good.
MO: What in your background led you to creating 500px?
Oleg: I was always fascinated by computers and the internet, I was writing programs since the age of 9. I also got into photography around 2002 and was looking for a place to share my work, to get better, to get inspired. We tried different platforms looking for such a space and the closes we found was LiveJournal, but it was still not the ideal community we envisioned. So we decided to build our own.
MO: What is the revenue model for 500px? How do you make money?
Oleg: It’s a freemium model. Most of the functionality on 500px website is free, but if you would like to use some of the professional services — like creating your own portfolios, use designer themes and track your visitors with Google Analytics — these features are available for $50 per year.
MO: A website startup always faces the challenge of gaining that critical mass. How many users do you have? How did you grow to this level?
Oleg: I can no longer provide statistics on the number of users we have, but I can say that our user base is growing even faster than before. I think a lot of this can be attributed to the word of mouth — our users love to share their work and the great works of others on the site, this draws non members to signup and participate.