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December 04, 2007

FFFFOUND! Feeds Art Addiction

Posted in: Art/Design,Technology

FFFFOUND! should be classified as controlled substance — the rush or sheer uncut eye candy it delivers can’t be safe. I mean, sure, there are plenty of social image bookmarking sites, but none has nearly the addictive quality of Yugo Nakamura’s invite-only baby. Since I found it back in September, I’ve been there. Hourly. Four reasons:

  • Quality – ffffound is a steady stream of supremely eye popping stuff (political, goofy, sublime). It rewards time spent like few others.
  • Simplicity – the fabulously unencumbered browsing interface allows images pop and suck you in. Voting is a simple click, contributing an image is two. (Copyright may decide the latter is too easy, but let’s hope safe harbor helps.)
  • Language independence – there are no tags, no comments, no categories, no text profiles, not even timestamps. Anyone who uses ffffound has only one communication channel: images. That forces the question: what do these images tell me about the person who bookmarked them? Only later do you realize you’ve been sharing images for weeks with folks you don’t even share a language with. Testimony to the communicative power of art.
  • Emergence – clusters of related images happen with surprising frequency (my recent love affair with whales for example). That’s fascinating considering there’s really no site feature that affords this (no tagging, no linking). Images ebb and flow naturally, inviting users to see patterns, call them out, and contribute to them. (I’d love to see the developers capitalize on this with a lightweight “related to” function.)

But all ain’t well in the land of visual inspiration. With any community content site, you’re going to get pollution and I’ve noticed an ever-so-slight drop in quality over the past month. Can the laser focus on beautiful images be maintained through the addition of so many new users, each with their own notion of what beauty means?

And speaking of the meaning of beauty, there are certainly many types of beauty in the human form. But when you look at the bodies that make it to the top of ffffound, they are often of the half naked female variety. Of course, there are many ways to interpret that result (largely heterosexual male user base, image availability, pop culture programming, etc.) but not everyone’s pleased with it. To form, the debate is happening in ffffound, in images: point / counterpoint. Personally, I like my communities open and uncensored but it would be nice to see more diversity in gender, ethnicity, and body type. Let’s hope a broadening user base brings balance, not dilution.

Ultimately, ffffound is a case study in design restraint. It strips away many of the expected web 2.0 trappings (tags, discussions, rounded corner coitus) and emerges with a streamlined community that’s pretty hard to ignore (or so says my crack addicted optic nerve). The challenge, then, is to grow it without losing the beautiful simplicity and content that make it so special.

Visit me on FFFFOUND! and check out creator Yugo Nakamura. I’ve got a few invites. Drop a comment if you’d like one.

Update: Invites gone!

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