The end of walled gardens
Social media is fracturing, and the internet is opening up again. So, toy photographers, prepare yourselves.
You’ve felt it for a while now— not wanting to share your photos on Instagram anymore, but not yearning for a replacement either. Looking around, it’s pretty slim pickings anyway.
Twitter is toxic, Facebook is cringe, TikTok is noisy, Flickr is quiet, and Tumblr is ugly. Threads, the newcomer to the scene with its massive and seamless onboarding of Instagrammers, is unfortunately full of Instagrammers. The majority of them just post engagement bait nonstop.
Threads was once seen as the successor or even an antidote to Instagram and Twitter. People hoped that it might solve all the problems that plagued both those platforms. But Threads turned out to be just as terrible, if not worse, with its purely algorithmic feed full of hot takes, quote dunks, and hustle culture advice for creators.
What makes Threads notable though is that it kind of proves that social media as it once was is over. There’s no saving it.
Even with the huge advantage of having a frictionless registration process through Instagram, there aren’t a lot of authentic people using it. Outside of influencers and creators, nobody seems to be interested in Threads.
Why? We’re sick of this shit.
We’re tired of the clout-chasing social media game where 99% of the experience is just grinding. The base mechanics of them all— posting consistently, using every surface, paying the comment tax, and replying to everyone— have such pitiful rewards attached that they’re hardly worth doing anymore.
Many of us did it simply because we were locked into the platform. Everybody that we knew was on Instagram and all of our work was there.
That’s all about to change. It’s happening already.
The aforementioned Threads, while totally garbage right now, might be the catalyst that finally breaks down the walled gardens of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
How? Threads is federating.
Our plan is to make Threads part of the fediverse, an open social network of different servers operated by third parties that are connected and can communicate with each other. Each server on the fediverse operates on its own but can talk to other servers on the fediverse that run on the same protocol. We plan for Threads to use a protocol called ActivityPub to talk to other servers that support this protocol.
That might be confusing if you’ve never heard of the fediverse or ActivityPub before, but in practical terms, you’ll be able to view posts and follow people regardless of where they’re shared or registered.
The fediverse and ActivityPub are likened to email in that anyone with a Gmail account can communicate with anyone with a Yahoo Mail or private domain email account. It doesn’t matter what service you use, it only matters that they can talk to each other because they run on the same protocol.
For the next iteration of social media, nothing and nobody will be bound to any one platform the way we are currently bound to Instagram or Twitter.
You won’t need an account on several social media platforms where you have to build up an audience on each one, format for each one, post to each one, and engage on each one. ActivityPub makes that irrelevant.
Further, you can pick any ActivityPub-enabled platform that aligns more closely with what you want without having to shut out anyone who isn’t on that platform as well.
I’m already signed up on Mastodon, currently the most widely known ActivityPub platform, so I would be able to follow people who choose to be on Threads (once it is federated) without ever having to bear witness to the shitshow that goes on there daily.
People on Threads could follow me on Mastodon without having to go through the less-than-ideal onboarding they have.
And not just Threads and Mastodon.
WordPress, the CMS that powers the majority of websites, has released a plugin that allows any site running it to federate so you could also post as your WordPress website if you had one. Tumblr said it’s working on ActivityPub integration. And Flickr started asking users if they were interested in federating too.
So even if only Threads completed its planned ActivityPub integration later this year, it would be the end of the way we use social media today.
Where would that leave old social media platforms like Instagram? A lot less relevant than it is now.
That’s a scary thought for people who depend on Instagram 100% to share their work. Your posts will be stuck behind those walls while everyone else’s posts will be moving across platforms effortlessly. Instagram will be like content jail.
For toy photographers whose whole identity is on Instagram, it’s time you made a jailbreak.
And the first place to start is by having your own website along with a presence on the fediverse.
With the end of the platform era accelerated by ActivityPub and the fediverse, people are embracing free-flowing content again and are returning to the way the internet used to work: websites, email, and RSS.
We’ve been trapped in apps for the past decade— letting them collect our preferences, suppressing our posts, and changing our experience to keep us addicted— that we’ve forgotten how to use the internet without them.
Your website should be your home on the web where everything else leads. It’s your identity that you can shape any way you want without some platform deciding that for you.
Your work can be seen without all the surrounding engagement bait and low-effort content that diminishes the viewing experience. I learned this last year as I focused more on my website and this publication. I realized I appreciated photos a whole lot more when I saw them outside of Instagram.
Another perk of having a website is that it gets you verified for free on Mastodon. You don’t pay for verification like on Instagram or Twitter, you prove it with your domain name.
People can also follow your website directly and receive updates easily via RSS, a tech that’s been around for decades and baked into most websites.
Last year, I started adding RSS feeds from websites that I used to follow on Twitter to feed readers like Flipboard and Feedly so I could get updates whenever they published new posts. I don’t miss a thing because it’s automatic and there’s no algorithm to deal with.
If the owner chooses to reveal the full content of their feed, I can read everything in Flipboard or Feedly without going to the source. Either way, there’s always a link to where the content was published if I want to interact with a comment or a like.
Here’s the expanded entry on Feedly and then the website that loads when I click the View Website button:
Notice that the RSS entry even includes a note where the content originally appeared. I can customize that too as the site owner.
This works for anything that supports RSS, not just websites: Tumblr, Flickr, and Substack too. Here’s a Tumblr feed I added to my reader and the app that opens if I click on Visit Website:
What a gift it is to be able to view posts without having to suffer Tumblr’s ugly interface.
With RSS, you really can just pick and choose who to get content from divorced from where that content is hosted. All signal, no noise.
Know what doesn’t support RSS? Instagram. Because they don’t want you to leave the app, ever.
A website with RSS and a presence on an ActivityPub-enabled platform are the way to go in 2024. Instagram and other anti-internet platforms that keep you hostage are dying.
I’m fully committed to the idea that everyone should have their own website if they value their work. So I designed an easy-to-use photography portfolio template that I’m giving away for free along with guidance on how to set it up and host it for zero cost.
You can check it out here: https://photos.fourbrickstall.com
While the website I’ve come up with won’t federate on its own because it’s not on a platform that supports ActivityPub, it’s still a good start. Besides, it’s free. You’ll have an RSS feed and can share links to your work in the fediverse.
If you’re interested in having your own website, you can find the instructions on my Discord in the Free Website section.
I’ll be there offering free support for everyone for the first few weeks while it’s in beta. After I’ve gotten feedback from people, I’ll release a more comprehensive guide on my blog and YouTube but without support.
Whether or not you want a website, the one thing you should do as a toy photographer in 2024 is to find a way out of the Instagram prison if you care about your work.
Thanks for reading Take Better Toy Photos! Subscribe for free to receive new posts (or add my RSS to your favorite feed reader).
Last month, we kicked off the tertulia where we break down photos in a group. We selected five photos from mods and other Flickr members.
I chose to break down a photo by Shannon Sproule:
We have here an astronaut in what appears to be an abandoned music hall. My feeling when seeing this is intrigue. What happened here? Where are we? When are we? And I look around the photo to investigate.
That alone is such a powerful thing. My interest is piqued and I've stopped to probe.
I love this high-angle: it's an unusual choice for many LEGO photographers because it's really hard to resist taking a minifig eye-level shot whenever there's a minifig involved. A portrait is almost always in order.
The high-angle choice is narrative-- it helps us see everything-- but also visceral-- I feel tense. And both of these things add to sense of mystery.
The objects themselves are mysterious-- these analog instruments aren't what I would expect to see in a photo with an astronaut in it. I'd expect some futuristic-looking stuff.
Both the piano and sofa are facing the astronaut so my eyes keep going back to it. The three objects create a powerful triangle as well.
Other graphics to note are these long shadows from the window frame. It's another reason for the effectiveness of the high-angle but also, more lines lead back to the astronaut from the brightest area in the photo. That's a fantastic way to redirect!
I love the details that Shannon included in the flooring that add even more mystery-- the missing tiles, that one slightly raised tile beside the astronaut. The disruption in the pattern creates more uneasiness.
Shannon made a lot of smart creative decisions to create this photo and that's why I love it so much. I learned a lot from this photo.
We’ll be doing more of these tertulias but next time, we’ll space them out so that each mod shares one photo every Tuesday instead of having them all posted together on one day. That’ll give each of us more time to comment on the photo breakdowns as well.
If hanging out with photo enthusiasts and appreciating photos at this level is something you’re interested in, join us! Flickr is our home for all the reasons I pointed out in the bottom half of my last essay: