Here at BUILD, we’re always yapping about social media and internet promotion. Having seen our own business grow and flourish due to a healthy online effort, we’re enormous advocates of having a strong web presence. Despite (or perhaps due to) the overwhelming amount of digital media out there, we’re always keeping an ear to the rail for what’s next.

Lately we’ve been spending quite a bit of time on what we’re calling meta sites -the web 2.0 experience devoted to user contributed images. And while the image is the first thing you see on these sites, they are typically accompanied by a significant amount of metadata (or quiet data). There’s a range of information typically included in this: the author, designer, or person that found the image; links to other websites, source blogs, opinions; and last but not least, descriptions of the image itself. While you may only see pretty pictures on these sites, all of this metadata is hard at work behind the scenes. The more an image is viewed, the more important it becomes. If a well-viewed image links back to your website or blog, the increase in traffic is noticeable. If you consistently post photos that people enjoy, what you have to say becomes very important on these meta sites. Subsequently, your images are featured more prominently, you gain “followers”, and the traffic bump becomes significant. Basically, you become popular.

All of this is incredibly effective as a means of getting your work noticed in the world. It harnesses the internet for what it does best; connecting information. It boosts traffic, helps build a brand name, and it establishes a larger audience of potential clients. Sounds like a pretty good deal.

So what do meta sites get out of it?

For one, they get your slick photos (crappy photos don’t cut it on these sites). Whether you took the photos yourself or found them on another site, good photos are valuable; they take time, effort and expertise to produce. Even finding someone else’s professional photos of the right things takes some skill. It takes a design savvy individual to know where to look, recognize beauty when they see it, and send it in the right direction.

Secondly the meta sites get your organizational ability out of the deal. You’re doing important work by linking applicable data with photos. Again, this takes time, effort and a bit of knowledge to explain why a photo is important, hot link it to the appropriate source on the web and correctly name it. While it may sound like a simple task for a single photo, consider that these sites have hundreds of thousands of photos in their collections -it would require an army of employees to properly organize, tag, link and explain them all. Meta sites are getting all that labor for free.

Thirdly, and most importantly, most meta sites are collecting your interests, preferences, behaviors, patterns and, yes… your contact info. They’re carefully watching who you follow and who follows you. If you let them, they’d be more than happy to track what you’re up to on Facebook and Twitter as well (we recommend using discretion if you do so). What do they do with this info? Who knows exactly, but as we’re seeing with the IPOs of social media companies, all of this is exceptionally lucrative data.

To some, this might seem like more digital big-brotherhood in the vein of Google and Facebook, but we see it a bit differently. With the correct expectations and proper tuning of the account settings on a handful of these meta sites, it can be a symbiotic business relationship that benefits both parties. Lately we’re noticing an increasing number of these sites dedicated to design and architecture; making the conversation around image-based meta sites more important than ever.

Today’s post is a review of what we’ve found so far on meta sites; while we’re not experts on the matter, we’ve poked around enough to gather some data form a few opinions. Call it Social Media 201 (for those of you who have completed Social Media 101 and have your website and blog speeding along). It should also be a good resource for you non-architects out there who are equally engaged in good design and inspiring photography.

Using Meta Sites

For Lookie-Lous you can just go to any of these sites and enjoy the scenery. No account or sign in necessary. For architects, designers and anyone that wants to contribute or get exposure for their own work, most of these sites require an account. You know the drill –some basic contact information, a password, a brief description of why you’re so dang special. Pay special attention to the check boxes sometimes hidden under “extended” or “advanced” settings. That’s where you can turn off all the email notifications and manage who sees what.

Evaluating Meta Sites As A Contributor

It’s essential that the meta site recognizes the value of the contributor’s information. We put quite a bit of sweat-equity into taking good photos and by the time they make it onto the internet (along with their associated meta), we’ve got some serious time into the process. They are an investment that we’re trading to the site, and we’re getting something in return. Once we’ve done our part and the info is loaded up, it’s time for the meta site to do its part. Presenting our information in an uncluttered, modern format is imperative; the interface should reflect the quality of the work being shown. Next is getting the images in front of eyeballs and allowing people to conveniently find what they’re looking for via search or filter functions. Allowing the images to be easily distributed, conveniently shared with others, and commented on are additional features that score big points with us. Links that take people back to our blog and website are imperative to the experience; they should be conveniently located and  link directly to the source. It’s also nice perk being rewarded for the quality and frequency of uploads with strategic placement on the meta site.

Our Review of 5 Meta Sites:

 Pinterest

This is the mothership of meta sites.  It has an astronomical number of users and a diverse demographic. The images range from hot modern architecture to your grandmother’s doilies, and everything in between.

+ The format is visually pleasing (even though the site doesn’t cater exclusively to design)
+ It’s always full of fresh, exciting images
+ The quality of the photos is excellent
+ The format for compiling portfolios is clean, simple and easy to navigate
+ Traffic directly from the site to websites/blogs is excellent
+ Content is organized by categories so you can (sort of) weed out the crap
- There’s no category for “modern architecture”, just “architecture” (shame)
- There’s a lot of ridiculous crap on the site, like doilies
- There’s been some controversy about Pinterest changing meta-data for profit

 Fancy

It’s an extremely sexy meta site, but it’s also becoming more exclusive by the moment. We were originally attracted to Fancy for its exquisite photos and savvy eye for design. Since then, we’ve become disenchanted by the endless streams of cars we can’t afford to drive, food too bespoke to eat, and models that wouldn’t give us the time of day. Which isn’t to say that we don’t enjoy looking at the pretty pictures, we’re just done trying to make a contribution to Fancy.

+ Consistently gorgeous images
+ The contributors are extremely design savvy
- Getting an image posted on the site’s stream is nearly impossible – for us we’ve found that the odds of getting bit by a shark are slightly more favorable
- They give out those worthless badges, like “Congratulations, you added 50 things to art and have been promoted to Gallery Curator”.
- Most of the photos are of things we can’t relate to (Lamborghinis, Foie Gras Sliders, Irina Shayk)
- It’s a little too heavy on the glamour and not enough on the both-feet-on-the-groundness
- The site makes us feel poor and ugly

Materialicious

We love this super clean site full of modernist goodies. There’s a nice range of modern architecture and design as well as newly launched products that you’ve probably never seen before. Once you’ve proven yourself as a contributor they’re very good about giving your work exposure and the traffic they harness is impressive.

+ It has a design conscious interface
+ The content is always fresh and valuable
+ The contributor upload is simple and straight-forward
+ Even the advertising is well designed into the site
+ The photos are all pro all the time
- It can take a day or so for a new entry to appear on the site

 Houzz

Houzz is a great example of the wave of meta-sites focused not just on architecture and interiors, but specifically on residential projects (or houzzez). We like that viewers are drawn to the site precisely because they’re interested in a new home or a remodel and can easily select “modern” to filter out all the faux-nonsense.

+ Different filters for style and spaces can be cross-referenced for searching precision
+ The photos are pro for the most part (a few turds sneaking through now and again)
+ The upload interface and portfolio storage is straight-forward and easy to use
+ There’s plenty of room for descriptions and tags (high metadata potential)
- The site has WAY too much fuddy-duddy faux-traditional design for our design sensibilities (it makes our eyes hurt)
- It’s harder to be featured than it should be
- The interface isn’t as sexy as it could be (they need to turn that dial up a bit)

Design Shuffle

We’re relatively new to DesignShuffle but so far so good. New portfolio additions appear immediately on the home page and the folks at DS have been great about making personal contact with us to optimize our exposure on the site. The site can be a bit overwhelming as far as  furnishings go, but it makes sleek, clean modernism stand out all the more.

+ Great response time between posting and getting exposure
+ The people behind DS seem honored for the contributions
+ There’s lots of room for including metadata along with each photo
+ Nice big high-res photos
- The interface is a little busy
- It’s heavy on the interiors and light on the architecture
- Not all the photos are pro

There’s five that we’ve been fiddling around on lately, and four that we’re sticking with. There’s  a barrage of others out there, so let us know what your experiences have been:  good or bad.

Cheers from TeamBUILD.