Glass 365 Days Later

(Wintertime Rush by Christopher Parsons)

I’ve been actively using Glass for about a full year now. Glass is a photo sharing site where users must pay either a monthly or yearly fee; it costs to post but viewing is free.

I publish a photo almost every day and I regularly go through the community to view other folks’ photos and comment on them. In this short review I want to identify what’s great about the service, what’s so-so, and where there’s still room to grow. All the images in this blog post were previously posted to Glass.

Let me cut to the chase: I like the service and have resubscribed for another full year.

The Good

The iOS mobile client was great at launch and it remains terrific. It’s fast and easy to use, and beats all the other social platforms’ apps that I’ve used because it is so simple and functional. You can’t edit your images in the Glass app and I’m entirely fine with that.

(Fix, Found by Christopher Parsons)

The community is delightful from my perspective. The comments I get are all thoughtful and the requirement to pay-to-post means that there aren’t (yet) any trolls that I’ve come across. Does this mean the community is smaller? Definitely. But is it a more committed and friendly community? You bet. Give me quality over quantity any day of the week.

All subscribers have the option to have a public facing profile, which anyone can view, or ones that are restricted to just other subscribers. I find the public profiles to be pretty attractive and good at arranging photos, especially when accessing a profile on a wide-screen device (e.g. a laptop, desktop, tablet, or phone in landscape).

The platform launched as iPhone only, to start, though has been expanding since then. The iPad client is a joy to use and the developers have an Android client on their roadmap. A Windows application is available and you can use the service on the web too.

(Birthday Pose by Christopher Parsons)

Other things that I really appreciate: Glass has a terrifically responsive development team. There are about 50 community requests that have been implemented since launch; while some are just for bugs, most are for updates to the platform. Glass is also the opposite of the traditional roach-motel social media platform. You can download your photos from the site at any time; you’re paying for the service, not for surveillance. That’s great!

The So-So

So is Glass perfect then? No. It has only a small handful of developers as compared to competitors like Instagram or Vero which means that some overdue features are still in development.

(‘Til Pandemic Does Us Part by Christopher Parsons)

A core critique is there is no Android application. That’s fair! However, iOS users are more likely to spend money on apps so it made economic sense to prioritize that user base.1 Fortunately an Android application is on its way and a Windows version was recently released.

A more serious issue for existing users is an inability to ‘tag’ photos. While photos can be assigned to categories in the application (and more categories have been added over time) that means it’s hard to have the customization of bigger sites like Flickr. The result is that discovery is more challenging and it’s harder to build up a set of metadata that could be used in the future for presenting photos. Glass, currently, is meant to provide a linear feed of photos—that’s part of its charm!—but more sophisticated methods of even displaying images on users’ portfolios in the future may require the company to adopt a tagging system. Why does it matter that there is or isn’t one, today? Because for heavier users2 re-viewing and tagging all photos will be a royal pain in the butt, if that ever is something that is integrated into the platform.

(Tall and Proud by Christopher Parsons)

If you’re looking to use Glass as a formal portfolio, well, there are almost certainly better services and platforms you should rely upon. Which is to say: the platform does not let you create albums or pin certain photos to the top of your profile. I entirely get that the developers are aiming for a simple service at launch, but would also appreciate the ability to better categorize some of my photos. In particular, I would like to create things such as:

  • Best of a given year
  • Having albums that break up street versus landscape versus cityscape images
  • Being able to create albums for specific events, such as particular vacations or documentary events
  • Photos that I generally think are amongst my ‘best’ overall

This being said, albums and portfolios are in the planning stages. I look forward to seeing what is ultimately released.

(Public Praise by Christopher Parsons)

As much as I like the community as it stands today, I would really like the developers to add some small or basic things. Like threaded comments. They’re coming, at some point, after discovery features are integrated (e.g., search by location, by camera, etc.). Still, as it stands today, the lack of even 2-levels of threaded comments means that active conversations are annoying to follow.

Finally, Glass is really what you make of it. If you’re a photographer who wants to just add photos and never engage with the community then I’d imagine it’s not as good as a platform such as Instagram or Vero. Both of the latter apps have larger user bases and you’re more likely to get the equivalent of a like; I don’t know how large Glass’ user-base is but it’s not huge despite being much larger than at launch. However, if you’re active in the community then I think that you can get more positive, or helpful, feedback than on other platforms. At least for me, as a very enthusiastic amateur photographer, the engagement I get on Glass is remarkably more meaningful than on any other platform on which I’ve shared my photographs.

The Bad

Honestly, the worst part about Glass is still discoverability.3 You can see a semi-random set of photographers using the service which isn’t bad…except that some of them may not have posted anything to the platform for months or even a year. I have no idea why this is the case.

(Stephanie by Christopher Parsons)

The only other way to discover other photographers is to regularly dig through the different photography categories, and ‘appreciate’4 photos you see and follow the photographers who appeal to your tastes. This isn’t terrible, but it’s the ‘best’ way of discovering photos and really isn’t great. While the company ‘highlightsphotographers on the Glass website and through its Twitter feed, the equivalent curation still doesn’t exist in the application itself. That’s non-ideal.

The developers have promised that additional discovery functions will be rolling out. They intend enable search by camera type or location, but thus far nothing’s been released. They’ve been good at slowly and deliberately releasing features, and new features have always been thoughtful when implemented, so I’m hopeful that when discoverability is updated it’ll be pretty good. Until then, however, it’s frankly pretty bad.

(Lonely Traveller by Christopher Parsons)

If I were to find a second thing that’s missing, to date, it would be that there’s no way of embedding Glass images in other CMSes. The platform does support RSS, which I appreciate, but I want the platform to offer full-on embeds so I can easily cross post images to other web spaces (like this blog!). Embeds could, also, have some language/links that ultimately let viewers sign up for the service as a way of growing the subscriber base.

The third thing that I wish Glass would enable a way of assessing if a photo has already been uploaded. At this point I’ve uploaded over 300 photos and I want to ensure that I don’t accidentally upload a duplicate. This is definitely a problem associated with those who use the service more heavily, but will become a more prominent issue as users ‘live’ on the platform for more and more years.


So, at the end of a year, what do I think of Glass?

First, I think that it truly is a photography community for photographers. It isn’t trying to be a broader social network that lets you share what music you’re listening to, or TV shows and movies you’re watching, or books you’ve finished, or temporary stories or images. There is totally a space for a network like that but it’s not Glass and I’m fine with it being a simpler and more direct kind of platform.

(Night Light by Christopher Parsons)

Second, it is a platform with active developers and a friendly community. Both of those things are pretty great. And the developers have a clear and opinionated sense of taste: they’re creating a beautiful application and associated service. There’s real value in the aesthetic for me.

Third, it’s not quite the place to showcase your work, today, if you are trying to semi-professionally market your photography. There are no albums or other ways of highlighting or collecting your images. Glass is much closer to the original version of Instagram in just presenting a feed of historical images instead of a contemporary service like Flickr or even Instagram. And…that’s actually a pretty great thing! That said, the roadmap includes commitments to enabling better highlighting/collecting of images. This will be increasingly important as more people upload more photographs to the service.

(Supervisory Assistance by Christopher Parsons)

Fourth, it’s still relatively cheap as compared to other paid offerings. It is less than half the cost of a Flickr Pro account, as just one example. And there are no ads for subscribers or for individuals who are browsing public profiles and associated portfolios.

(Distressed by Christopher Parsons)

So, in conclusion, I’d strongly suggest trying out Glass if you’re a committed and enthusiastic amateur. It’s not the same as Instagram or Instagram clones. That’s both part of the point and part of the magic of the platform that the Glass team is creating and incubating.

  1. Yes, you might be willing to pay money, dear reader, but you’re statistically deviant. In a good way! ↩︎
  2. Such as myself… ↩︎
  3. The developers are, also, very well aware of this issue. ↩︎
  4. Glass does not have ‘likes’ per se, but lets users click an ‘appreciation’ button. Appreciations are only ever sent to the photographer and are not accumulated numerically to be presented to either the public or the photographer who uploaded the photograph. ↩︎
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