In today’s world, most anything can be rated, ranked, and liked. flickr (founded in 2004), tumblr (2007), and Instagram (2010) exemplify this Web 2.0 penchant for sharing and evaluation of images among users. Yet, these sites were not the first to support these practices among photographers. For instance, photoSIG.com has been operating since December 2001 and has long supported photographic critiques among its contributors (Xu & Bailey, 2012).
In this chapter, I focus on the evaluation of photographic works at photo.net, another early site begun in 1993. It started as a few discussion boards on a personal web site and now describes itself as “a site for serious photographers to connect with other photographers, explore photo galleries, discuss photography, share and critique photos, and learn about photography” (Photo.net, 2012). Indeed, the discussions at photo.net about the practices, meanings, and abuses of digital evaluation anticipate discussions about all manner of contemporary digital evaluation. Hence, I claim that photo.net is a seminal site of practice and discourse about digital evaluation. In the following pages I describe photo.net’s origins and how the community grappled with the issues of numeric ratings (what range should be used?), anonymity (are blinded reviews better?), manipulation (how to prevent people from “mate-rating” friends and “revenge-rating” enemies?), genres (why are nudes so much more popular?), and critique etiquette (is it okay to tweak another’s image in Photoshop?). I relate these issues to a few, more recent, examples of online evaluation beyond photography. Most importantly, I offer six characteristics of evaluation learned from photo.net that continue to be broadly relevant in the age of digital evaluation including that it’s hard to quantify the qualitative and when people do so quantitative mechanisms often beget their own manipulation.