Imag(in)e the stuff on Facebook

There’s a lot of stuff on Facebook. Facebook marketing director Randi Zuckerberg (Mark Zuckerberg’s sister) tweeted that 750 million images/imaginings were uploaded over the New Year’s weekend. This compares with statistics from July 2010 that showed 100 million photos per day. In comparison the 5 billionth Flickr image was uploaded in September 2010. At the rate Facebook was being used to imagine over the holdiays, it would surpass that in a week or two.

Jpeg enables, possibly even encourages this expansion. As a compression standard it allows more images per memory card, quicker uploads and sharing as well as the potential for tagging and geolocative metadata and consequently data-mining and tracing.

These jpeg-enabled image-objects are stuff in people’s lives, relations and spaces. Anna Reading has talked of how they relate to digital memory and John Urry and Shaun Moores have drawn attention to mobile media and mobilities and Miller’s discussion of Stuff explores the position of digital/virtual media objects. But there is another side to this story.

750,000,000 is a lot of image-stuff but also a lot of ‘stuffing’ (if you’ll forgive the seasonal pun). That’s a lot of people imag(in)ing and streaming those images across and through their social spaces and relationships. Perhaps one difference between Facebook and Flickr is that Facebook imag(in)ing, as part of more diffuse social media practices and content relationships, is more domestic, informal imaging than the deliberate ‘photographing’ practice of Flickr’n. If Flickr is full of photographers, perhaps Facebook is full of ‘imagers’, not talking about shutter speeds and HDR but about parties and babies. What is clear is that imag(in)ing is increasing. The expansion of Twitter into multimedia is further evidence of a demand for imaging spaces and practices. Zuckerberg does not breakdown how many users were uploading or sharing those 750m imag(in)ings but this practice is clearly a fully integrated part of ‘Facebooking’.

This could of course have happened without jpeg. If Gif or PNG or SVG had enfolded itself in alliances with browser standards, social network APIs and Nikon and Apple production practices, maybe the same practices and imag(in)ings would have appeared, but they didn’t. Locked in like VHS rather than Betamax, jpeg is the transparent standard through which we imag(in)e. The jpeg protocol needs to be seen as setting practices as well as images in motion (this is at the heart of my use of imag(in)ing as a concept).