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Sunday, January 26, 2014

It's Called "Show and TELL!"-- Meaningless Photos in Philatelic Groups

I get much enjoyment of our stamp collecting hobby from interacting with other collectors and seeing/hearing about their collecting interests and adventures. As a result, I belong to many online forums and groups for stamp collectors. There are literally hundreds of them out there... something to fit almost every collecting interest, as well as "general" groups for people who are simply "interested in stamps," in the broadest sense of the world.

Although I mostly collect Scandinavia, I have also had
a small collection of Australia, for many years, because
my godmother was Australian
At the risk of sounding "curmudgeonly," I am somewhat baffled-- and a little annoyed-- by the common practice by many people of posting dozens and even hundreds of photos of (seemingly random) stamps with never a word of descriptive text about the stamp. Basically, we are "treated" to what amounts a seemingly endless parade of "meaningless" images. This practice seems particularly prevalent in groups on social media sites like Facebook and Google+.

"WHY bother?" I ask myself.

Back when I was in school, we had something called "show and tell." This was when you had to bring something to school, get up in front of the class to show it off and talk a bit about what it was and what it did, and why you were interested in it. I expect many people experienced "show and tell," when they were in school.

All these years later, online stamp groups largely work as a "show and tell" for (by now adult) stamp collectors.

So why do I consider these "blank" images posted to stamp groups "meaningless" and even annoying?

Well, here's just a random picture of a stamp. OK. Fine. What am I supposed to do with that? Are you expecting me to go find a catalog and look up what it is? WHY did you post it? Do you particularly LIKE it? Do you HAVE it in your collection? Or are you LOOKING for it? Are you wanting to TRADE it? Are you asking others to help you IDENTIFY it?

The "Posthorn" definitive series from Norway is widely regarded as the
world's longest continually running stamp series. Introduced in 1872,
the basic design remains in use today.
It's really not rocket science to write a small comment about an image-- like the captions under the images on this page.

Obviously, people who post hundreds of images to stamp group surely must have some kind of "objective." Presumably, they are "showing" their stamps with the hope people will look at them. But if you don't care enough to provide at least a tiny bit of information about the stamp, why should I "care enough" to look at them, let alone "like" or "comment" on them?

Now, you might be wondering what "the big deal" is here, and why I am even bothering to comment on this particular trend. Why not just "ignore them and let it go?"

I guess the "big deal" for me is that I (and quite a few other people) am interested in the social aspect of online stamp groups... and when someone posts one "meaningless photo" after another, the actual stamp discussions pretty much get pushed out of the way... and I find myself spending a lot of (not particularly enjoyable) time sifting through mountains of photos of common definitives from "Upper Slobodnia" or "Philamondobondistan" I don't care about. I might care if you gave me a reason to... but you don't.

Is it really "a problem?"

Iceland became the 3rd country I started collecting
after learning about volcanoes and geothermal
geography in school.
You might well wonder just how much of an "issue" a few collectors posting "blank" pictures can be. For curiosity's sake, I perused some of the online profiles of the posters... and at least a couple of them had posted more than 50,000 (yes, fifty thousand!) images each. That's more pictures of stamps than there are in many collections.

Really makes me want to shake these folks and say "How about a little QUALITATIVE editing?"

Don't get me wrong-- I honor the fact that different people approach stamp collecting from different perspectives... and I also honor the idea that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to collect stamps. That said, there is the broader issue (outSIDE your stamp collection) of a little awareness of others and how your actions impact those around you. If your actions-- however innocent they may be-- result in your monoplozing a philatelic group's space, you may be taking away from others' enjoyment of the group, even though your root intentions may be the exact opposite!

The other issue that comes to my mind concerns the general future of stamp collecting. Will an endless "encyclopedia" of stamp images with no explanation attached inspire potential new collectors to join our hobby.... or just confuse them? I lean towards the latter, thinking they'll just see some of ALL those pictures and think "pretty cool, but I feel so lost. This is very complicated and I'm afraid I'll never figure it out." Or worse still, they'll think philately is some kind of "private club" where if you don't know what something is, you "don't belong." And then they'll move on.

What do YOU think? If you are reading these words, you're obviously a stamp collector online. Do you belong to stamp collecting groups? Do you notice people doing this sort of "empty image posting?" How do YOU feel about it? Leave a comment!


Keijo said...

Hear, hear... I fully agree with your point. A photo can tell more than a thousand words, but ONLY if you know what/how to look at it.

Ian - Norvic said...

I agree that pictures of stamps with no caption or explanation are fairly meaningless.

Another point about them is that unless you use the site they are on, you are unlikely to see them by chance - and there might actually be something there that you do want to see! The reason you won't find them by chance is that without a caption (or alt tag) Google and other search engines won't find them.

Put up an image with a caption - on a blog, on a forum, facebook, and some image hosting sites - and googlebots will explore and find the associated text. No text (hidden or otherwise) - no find, no reveal.

This is a point I have stressed repeatedly on a forum which also has an inbuilt google search facility. Even with that, the image by itself can't be found.

Unknown said...

I noticed the same thing on Google Plus. It's almost reason enough for me to give up on that. Why don't you post a condensed version of this post on Google Plus and see what kind of reaction you get from the offenders?