Why move to largeformatphotography.info (lfphoto.info) ?
by Q.-Tuan Luong for
largeformatphotography.info, Sept 2003.
In June 2002, the LF forum was moved to photo.net. As the person who
created and helped made this forum a success, I have given my
perspective on that move. In this document, I will not dwelve on
the past, but instead explain why I think that for the best long-term
chances of success, the LF Forum should continue on
It is my opinion that there is no technical advantage
in having the forum at photo.net, as it would work better on
largeformatphotography.info. On the other hand, many
regular contributors have expressed concerns about intellectual
property, commercialization, and the long term future of photo.net. A
number of them have withheld or radically reduced their participation
on the LF Forum as it was moved to photo.net. Based on the
information that I have, I can confirm those concerns. We have now a
very real possibility to operate a non-commercial
LF site. I strongly suggest that for the benefit of this community as a whole, we all
continue our discussions on largeformatphotography.info
instead of photo.net.
lfphoto.info works as well as, or better than photo.net
For most people, what really matters is to have a site that works well
for posting and reading messages. It is my belief that the Forum on
largeformatphotography.info will be a technical improvement on
photo.net, because of better functionality, long term stability,
performance, ease of search, data integrity, and support.
Functionality: lfphoto.info runs software especially designed
to closely replicate the greenspun.com/photo.net interface you are all
familiar with, and adds several improvements. These improvements
include a user-management system that protects email addresses, yet do
not require registration, user history, display of the whole thread
while replying, and several important improvements on the admin side.
They allow the lfphoto.info forum software to match or exceed
photo.net's forums functionalities.
Long term stability: lfphoto.info runs from a server donated by
a person with an important position in the internet industry, who is
committed to helping non-profits, and has a long record of
contributions to Usenet (in the non-commercial days of the internet
whose values lfphoto.info is trying to preserve). Because it uses the
very popular Php/mysql technologies the LF Forum could be moved easily
to another server if needed, including QT Luong's, which has plenty of
bandwidth to spare. Beyond the programming (now finished !) and
moderation, lfphoto.info does not require a single dollar to
operate. As a matter of fact, I have never asked for financial
contributions, and have turned down quite a few ones. All this makes
lfphoto.info the healthiest long term location for the forum.
Performance: The photo.net server is often overloaded, with
more than 1 million unique visitors per month and lots of image
activity, which is now the main focus of the site. There have been
repeated complaints about various photo.net posting problems which
didn't seem to occur in greenspun.com. People also found greenspun.com
to have better performance (when not down). lfphoto.info will have
two orders of magnitude less users and serve mostly text files, all
from a competent server with a fast and stable internet connection.
Ease of search: On photo.net, you cannot search the archives
just for LF contents, and you cannot search the valuable static
contents oflfphoto.info (which is not part of photo.net). On
lfphoto.info, you will be able to search all the LF contents
exclusively (static page and Forum). Using Google to do so will be
effective since everything relevant is just under our domain name.
More generally, lfphoto.info will be a community of LF participants
supporting a multiplicity of LF resources, the forum, the technical
reviews, the lens related information, etc. Having the forum at
lfphoto.info would offer the best possibility of improving all the LF
related resources there. For instance, new forum software could made it
possible to automatically link to a location where participants could
offer suggestions for new articles, or contribute to existing
articles, facilitate the creation of an extensive list of FAQs, etc...
Data integrity: The database of older postings of the LF Forum
at photo.net has problems (such as misattributed postings, missing
postings, and inconsistent links) and we don't know how extensive the
problems are. The database of older postings on lfphoto.info just
replicates that of greenspun.com. This database was directly copied
from lusenet with the permission and help of Philip Greenspun, the
author and owner of lusenet. It comprises more than 60000 postings.
Support: Our volunteers concentrate their efforts exclusively
on lfphoto.info. On the other hand, photo.net has not been responsive
to solving obvious problems in the LF database, like having large
positive counts in empty categories, and not being able to delete
categories that are no longer needed. Recently, the email alerts quit
working, and photo.net has not been able to fix the problems
yet. The photo.net management seems to have identified other areas as more
critical to their revenue generation. As of this writting, we have
both Tom and Bjorn onboard to fix technical problems and make improvements.
It is expected that as the Forum picks up momentum again, some others
What can be said for photo.net ?
Staying at photo.net is the conservative solution. I am aware that
there is a bit of uncertainty involved in moving to lfphoto.info.
However, based on my knowledge of the situation, I think it is well
worth taking the risk. The forum is best off at an independent site
with people who care about large format photography.
The following reasons hold no weight in my opinion:
- photo.net is here to stay. I have already outlined why I
think that the lfphoto.info has a good long term stability. In its
current set-up, it could go on forever with just a minimal amount of
volunteer admin efforts, requiring absolutely no funds. While
photo.net is most likely to be around for a long time, it is not
certain at all who the owners will be, and how they will manage
it. Changes can happen overnight. Currently photo.net is barely
profitable, so either commercialization has to be increased, or it
will have to be sold.
- We are already at photo.net. We have not elected to be at
photo.net. In fact, the greenspun.com server is still running one year
after the move to photo.net, and if not for the photo.net forcing the
move on us, we would just be quietly moving to our new server without
any fuss. It is possible that another move would divide the community
further, but to begin with, the community has already been divided
with many staying away from photo.net. Moving to the new server is the
normal course of action we would have taken, and is an opportunity to
reunite the community. The more we stay at photo.net, the more
divisive the move will be. It is better to do it as soon as possible,
- We would have the opportunity to educate more new participants
at photo.net. The same effect would be easily obtained with a
direct link from photo.net. The only thing missing would be the
"unified forum view" that I think is clunky anyways. The LF site was
very visible through search engines (Google #1 for "large format
photography") and will now be even more visible, while the LF Forum is
buried in that mass-market entity photo.net. Any motivated photo.net
members who seek LF education from the community's experts will find
lfphoto.info, even if photo.net declines putting up a link to us.
While it is true that the original charter of photo.net, as envisioned
by Philip, was education, things have been changing there (and much to
- Many LF users are photo.net members. Surfing to
lfphoto.info is as easy as surfing to the LF Forum on photo.net. Most
of the people who prefer lfphoto.info (including myself and the
developers) are photo.net members. We recognize that photo.net has
value, otherwise we wouldn't be members there, but lfphoto.info is
better. Lacking a willing wealthy benefactor, it is likely impossible
to operate a community as large as photo.net in a non-commercial way,
but it is possible to do so for the LF community, so why not do it ?
Brian did a lot of work in migrating the forum. This must be
acknowledged, however if Brian had asked before proceeding to do the
migration, all this would not have happened. The LF developers (Bjorn
Nilsson, Tom Westbrook, and a few others) have spent much more effort
than Brian, since not only they migrated the forum, but also they
wrote from scratch the new Forum software. Unlike Brian who is a
photo.net employee, they have absolutely no financial interest in the
outcome, as lfphoto.info is purely non-commercial, and did all their
work in the spirit of sharing.
Issues with photo.net
A number of key contributors to the old LF Forum are conspicuous in
their absence on photo.net. It is highly likely that those
contributors will participate again on an independent Forum. Some of
them have explicitly announced their reticence to posting on photo.net
because they prefer not to give a perpetual license to some as-yet
unidentified commercial enterprise in the future.
Commercial v. non-profit. There is a difference in
ethos, which translates into several consequences.
When someone contributes to the LF page, (s)he can take pride in donating knowledge
back to the large format community, in the spirit of the generosity of the
early days of the internet.
When someone contributes to
photo.net, (s)he also increases the value of a commercial venture. Some
readers (including key contributors)
are uncomfortable with their contributions to their own community
being used to forward a commercial venture.
- The lfphoto.info is run as democratically
as possible, placing priority on the interests of its members.
As an illustration, I proposed a vote on the location of the LF Forum,
a proposition that was eventually refused by Brian Mottershead, although he was
initially favorable to it.
Only the few photo.net shareholders will have a say if the company is sold. More
concretely, recently participants appear to be favorable to worshop announcements
on the Forum, but this was not permitted by photo.net.
The charter of largeformatphotography.info is to be the site of the LF community.
A commercial site places its efforts where most of the money is. As a result,
the needs of minority sub-communities become secondary, as shown by the lack of
attention to several technical issues on the forums.
A site relying heavily on commercial sponsors inevitably loses its objectivity.
- The photo.net site is blocked by network administrators
at several large organizations.
As a grassroots group, it is easier for us
to seek contributions for the site from outside sources, as well as to get
people to volunteer their time to help.
- Copyright. On photo.net, you "grant photo.net a perpetual
non-exclusive world-wide royalty-free license to modify, publish and
reproduce that material for the purpose of operating, displaying,
distributing and promoting photo.net". It has been pointed to that as
it reads in a court of law this is virtually an unlimited license.
Another owner could exploit their licence to whatever degree desired.
doesn't claim any right beyond a revokable licence to publish on its
site, and will remove on request any of the contents you posted.
- Community focus. While the initial focus of photo.net was
education, it is now trying to be a mass site which favors quantity
over quality (as noticed by many photo.net old-timers, some of them
moderators) in order to be financially profitable. The main efforts
are directed towards areas such as the image gallery and its rating
system. photo.net's title
page nowadays reads "Photo.net home page and recent digital cameras
reviews". The LF community has little in common with the typical
photo.net reader nowadays, and is best served on its own site, one ran
by people who care about Large Format Photography.
- The future. Photo.net as a corporation is a commodity
subject to acquisition. While the current officers and management seem to be of
good will, there is no such guarantee down the line. Why should we
take the chance, knowing that if we wait it would be much more
difficult to move than now ?
- We have given photo.net a chance. One year ago, despite
dubious way photo.net had taken over the site, I initially asked the
community to move there to see how it would work. The net result is
that the forum has not improved, with many thinking it has in fact
degraded. A distinct increase in amateurish behavior can be seen, but
the main reason why the discussions have dropped in quality is that we
have lost many valuable contributors on the way.
We now have a very real possibility to have a non-commercial LF site
with a Forum software which matches or betters the photo.net LF forum. The
independent, non-commercial nature should satisfy those who have
issues with the commercial nature of photo.net. The renewed community
focus on Large Format Photography, integration with other LF resources,
and hopefully reuniting of the former community on greenspun.com,
should satisfy everyone.