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PhotoSIG was a community website for photographers, online from December, 2001 until December, 2014 that allowed members to critique one another's work in order to improve their photography skills. Critiques were highly valued, which differentiated PhotoSIG from photo sharing communities or gallery websites. It was free to join the community, although a few features required a paid membership, such as autonotifications of comments and a higher number of photo submissions.
Two membership levels existed on photoSIG, free ("Basic"), and paid ("Premium"). All members could participate in the forums, post photos, and critique others' photos. The main advantages of paid membership were a higher number of allowed photo submissions, internal email access, email notification of responses, and no advertising. Members on the site range from hobbyists to professionals of all walks of life. Early in the existence of the site, surveys revealed that the average user to have a high educational level with most of the users having achieved a Bachelor's level of education and a significant proportion having graduate degrees. This declined in the last several years of the site, possibly due to the lower expense of photo gear and lowered technical requirements.
Critiques and points
Membership on photoSIG conferred a certain number of photo uploads, depending on the membership type. When a photo was uploaded, the photographer could provide technical information about how it was taken, as well as comments about intent or the type of feedback being sought. It was understood that uploading a photo implied a request for feedback, which may be positive or negative. Posting as a "private gallery" was discouraged.
Feedback on photos took the form of critiques, ratings, and comments. Critiques were mostly intended to directly address the photo (not the subject) although content was addressed also, and critics could discuss technical and emotional aspects. Ratings could only be given in conjunction with a qualifying critique, and were selected from a simple scale from -3 to +3 with no selection for zero. The photo's cumulative rating was calculated by adding all the ratings it had received, and the photo rating was added to the user's points. Comments were like critiques which carried no rating and did not need to be limited to directly addressing the photo.
In addition, users could provide feedback on critiques, by indicating that they were helpful, unhelpful, or acknowledging them with no opinion. Helpful critique ratings conferred one point to the user who gave the critique, or three points if the critique was among the first three given a particular photo.
Forums and articles
Forums and articles were a very important part of the PhotoSIG website and its community. There were about 56,000 discussions and about 580 articles. These discussions and articles dealt with various questions, problems and suggestions of the website's members and visitors.
The topics brought up in discussions ranged from photographic equipment questions, problems and techniques used in photography to issues members had found on the website. Anyone was allowed to enter a discussion and give their own opinions on certain photographic equipment, styles and techniques.
The articles were written by members of the PhotoSIG community. These could be very specific, talking about one piece of equipment (e.g., a review) or they could range over a variety of things to help improve one's final photograph. Once the articles were published on the website, other members were allowed to comment on them, asking questions or suggesting different options.
History and personnel
photoSIG was created by Willis Boyce, who had a full-time job in the financial industry and who worked on the website in his spare time. Boyce created the first version of photoSIG ("v1") during a two-week vacation in 2001. It was initially programmed in PHP and was hosted on a server in his apartment. Membership was free and the site changed frequently as its policies and mechanics were shaped by feedback from the members during the first year. It opened to the public on Dec. 7, 2001.
The second version ("v2") of photoSIG was a complete rewrite in Java. Several policies regarding points, critiques, and membership were changed with the rewrite. The site was abstracted from the software, which made it possible to launch ArtSIG around the same time and based on the same software. Artsig varied only in that all art media was open for posting, and the mechanics of the system were identical. The software was also made available to anyone who wished to license it for their own website.
Boyce later created SIG Networks Corporation, which owns both the photoSIG and artSIG.com websites.
Membership grew steadily and eventually the site was moved to multiple servers in a data center. As of August 2007, there were about 283,000 members (although many of them are no longer active) and over 2 million photos. Sheena Willkie, a Surrey, British Columbia photographer and photography instructor, used to administrate the member areas of the site until May, 2014 when the site had been offline for seven weeks. A number of volunteer administrators assisted.
Robert Wallis, an Indianapolis educator, had assumed the duties of administering the site with the help of a volunteer as of May, 2014. The site had continuing issues with recurring outages, and has been offline since December 17, 2014 with no foreseeable return.
The site had a continuing history of server instability and frequent multi-day service outages were the norm. The site was never updated after April 2003, and continued to lose ground as more photography communities came on-line. The site owner, Willis Boyce, had other business interests and had less and less involvement with the site as time went by. Features and functionality were not updated, causing many users to become alienated over time due to the lack of change to the site structure.
The site went off-line on December 17, 2014 without warning. The site remains in limbo and can be considered to be a dead site. Photosig was a highly successful photography site for its time, and was unique in giving value to photo critiques that addressed serious content and suggestions for technical and aesthetic improvement.