Photo Sharing Gone Wild

Illustration: Mark Von Ulrich
Sometimes it seems we are united by one common bond: the desire to humiliate ourselves in public. And if the producers of The Apprentice or American Idol won't return your calls, well, you can always post your pictures to a moblog (mobile blog) or swap them in a chat room. These new ways of sharing photos make "traditional" sites such as Ofoto look like Granny's picture album.

A Thong in My Art

Moblogs are weblogs that typically feature grainy, low-res photos taken with cell phone cameras. People e-mail the images from their phones to a site like Fotolog, Plogger, or TextAmerica, where their pix can be immediately seen and ridiculed (or praised) by complete strangers. Besides offering instant, if limited, celebrity, moblogs provide a unique form of spontaneous photojournalism. They can also be downright weird.

Take TextAmerica, the oldest moblog site and my personal favorite. Scanning TA's 100,000 moblogs is like viewing stills from a home movie shot by John Waters; it's mundane yet strangely addictive.

You can find blogs on virtually any topic at TA. In a disco mood, I typed "booty" into the site's search box. Up popped "Baby's Got Back!"--a moblog devoted entirely to shots of people's keisters. The page greets you with: "We want your booty shots...Please keep them relatively clean." (One assumes they're just talking about the photos, but it's good advice, nonetheless.) TA prohibits full nudity, so this blog is mostly a thong thing.

Rummaging through the trove of ephemera that is TextAmerica inspired me to create my own moblog. The process was both free and easy: From my PC, I picked a name for my blog, settled on a layout and background for it, and provided an e-mail address. When I submitted a JPEG file using a Samsung VM-A680 phone, the image showed up on my blog only a few minutes later. And while I resisted the temptation to capture my tush (the world isn't ready for that), I did snap some candid shots of squirrels, fire hydrants, and terrified pedestrians as I rode my bike to work.

Slicker Flickr

Moblogs aren't the only way to embarrass yourself online. For example, Flickr.com is a chat-centered photo-sharing service. Click the site's FlickrLive button to open a Flash-based chat window in your browser; upload images from your PC and drag them into a chat room for all to see, or send pix directly to your Flickr pals.

Following a clever interactive demo, the site logged me in to a chat where people were swapping pix of their cats. I have a recurring nightmare about being trapped in a chat room where people talk about their cats, so I logged out and entered another chat. Here, a heated match of rock-paper-scissors was under way: One player would post a picture of a hand in scissors mode, another would follow with a shot of a fist ("rock"), and so on.

I surmised that Flickr users must be young, artistic, and chronically idle. But the emphasis is more on community than celebrity; sharing photos is just another way of saying "I'm strange. Are you strange? Let's be strange together."

Both TextAmerica and Flickr make picture sharing fun and très hip. But this is one digital revolution I may have to miss. I'm too old for chat, and I'd rather watch than be watched (or have my body parts rated by strangers). I guess I'm just not cut out for celebrity, even the Web kind--no ifs, ands, or...you get the picture.

Next Up: A Mighty Mouse

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--Yardena Arar

Contributing Editor Dan Tynan only shakes his booty in private.

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