Today Andy Yang, the CEO of 500px, a huge and popular photo sharing community, announced the company is expanding into China via a mirror site called 500px.me. “We… set up a joint venture with VCG in order to help expand 500px into China in a way that no other photo community has been able to make happen.” That sounds decent on the surface, but nearly every 500px user is up in arms over what the move is actually doing.

So here is the short and sweet of it via a TL;DR from Yang:

  • 500px.me is a Chinese-localized version of 500px.com established as part of a joint venture with Visual China Group—the premier content provider in China and lead investor in our company’s Series B—and will act largely as a mirror to the main 500px website with a few exceptions.
  • 500px.me will offer current 500px users exposure to a massive new audience of Chinese users (potentially over 1 billion), while allowing those living in China to engage with and become a part of our awesome community. We’re bridging the gap between China and the rest of the world in a way no other photo sharing site has yet managed to do.
  • You are still 100% in control of your own photos. Once 500px.me is fully launched, you will be able to opt out of having your photos displayed there, and deleting a photo on 500px.com will delete it on 500px.me—easy as that.
  • 500px.me is currently in beta, and we are still working out the kinks as we establish the website. Stay tuned for the full launch later this year.

Here is a screengrab of the profile of one of my friends, Toby Harriman. The site looks pretty similar to the original 500px.com, but with Chinese characters instead of the English alphabet (which begs the question why a localized Chinese site was even necessary).

 

500px Expands into China amid Controversy

 

Ok, all that is interesting, but users are expressing some major concerns:

  • There is no opt out program. You either agree to have your photos on both sites, or you have it on none. At this time, there is no way to tell 500px that you wish to opt out of just the China localized version of the site.
  • Photographers do not have access to their own photos on the mirror site. Yang says that the move means “more people to view, like, favorite, comment, and spread your beautiful photos online—a potential reach of 1.3 billion more people!” Ok, sure, except users don’t even have control over what is being displayed on the mirror site, and can’t access the account to manage it. There is no way to log in, and nothing from Yang explaining when to expect that “feature.”
  • Photographers feel they were never told their photos would exist on a different site. Though the site is still a 500px brand, it’s not 500px.com. This is a distinction that bothers a great many users, and is a move that makes them feel lied to.
  • This all happened with no warning. More than anything, the general sentiment is that photographers feel blindsided by this. When many made the move from Flickr to 500px, it was for a community they trusted more, and that seemingly was made more speicifcally for photographic artists. What this move says isn’t “you can trust us,” but “we are focused on money.”

If you follow any popular landscape photographer on Facebook or Twitter, odds are you have already heard the concerns and complaints. 500px’s blog is littered with negative comments (I can’t find a single one in support of this move), and it’s clear 500px has been hit with a very angry user base. I am personally not a user of 500px, but I can see the concern here. Having your images suddenly show up on a site you have no way to control is a big issue, and one 500px has very little time to fix before they lose all their support.