Viewbug User Review

October 18, 2016

Viewbug describes itself as “a unique photography community that fosters collaboration and rewards creativity… a place to be creative, be inspired, and receive recognition”. They say they “host the world’s best photo contests” – and there certainly are a lot of them, at 3,500 and counting.

A few days ago I decided to upload a few photos after hearing about Viewbug for the first time on Fstoppers. Not knowing anything about photo contest sites, and being an aspiring professional photographer, I figured I’d give it a try. I wrote about my experience using Gurushots, another popular photography gaming website in this post.

It seemed like my photos were getting a very good response straightaway. A few days later I have 43 followers and 28 awards from the 34 photos I’ve uploaded. Users have to be somewhat strategic about which photos they upload, as the ‘Challenges’ (set by other Viewbuggers without prizes) and ‘Contests’ (set by outside sponsors, and include cash or gear prizes) dictate what to share and submit. You work to a theme, for example Mellow Yellow, Posed Moments, Water Reflections, A Small Fishing Lake, or whatever. There may be dozens of challenges going on at any given time, not to mention Contests.

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Straight off the bat the likes, awards and follows began to pour in. I was thrilled that my work was being seen by an audience, and not just anyone with a phone but a bona fide “photographic community”. This seemed important because I was no longer in the world of the attention-seeking Instagrammer. I then entered a couple of contests, where there are apparently real prizes such as photographic equipment. So far, so addictive.

About this time I got to wondering how the site makes its money. (And that turned into a whole bunch of research online because that’s how I roll. I’ll share that with you soon.) Anyway, it turns out the way they monetize their platform is by having different levels of membership namely you can be a Premium or a Pro member, currently $4.92 or $11.58 per month when billed annually.

When you look deeper into it, being a ‘Lite’ (free) member really is pointless, yet the costs of becoming a paid member are quite steep, with Pro membership involving parting with a sum of $89 though apparently normally it’s $139. Why is it essentially pointless? There are many caps on a free or even Premium membership such as a limit to how many photos you can upload (just 10 per week) and they also crucially restrict your level of exposure so you’ll no doubt be out of the game when it comes to winning those big prizes without the site’s algorithms boosting your exposure. You also aren’t even able to enter anything but the free photo contests, where the prizes would have to be deliberately less desirable.

Something smells a little fishy. This reeks of ego-stroking. You pay handsomely for the real prize of maximum exposure whether your work’s any good or not. People will vote for your work because it’s in front of more eyeballs. You’ve paid for that privilege. Do people not see that this detracts from the real satisfaction of seeing your work organically rise to the top because of genuine viewer engagement? To me, this is akin to Facebook’s ‘promote your post’ practice. But even worse because you’re asking those who see it to vote for you in a competition.

An online complaints board (which yes, must be taken with a pinch of salt) details one disgruntled user’s point of view concerning how Viewbug has changed since he/she began using it some time beforehand. The post is from 2013. He/she details how one used to be able to create hundreds of groups, and now it is capped to three. The value of prizes in contests has fallen. There are hundreds of thousands of entries per contest.

Others go as far as to call Viewbug a “Ponzi scheme preying on photographers”.

Others report seeing that the same photographer won 2 competitions with the same photo at the same time. Some people have taken to the thread to complain that they won a prize, but it never materialised. Others go as far as to call Viewbug a “Ponzi scheme preying on photographers”.

Who knows whether it is to be believed, but alarmingly one respondent on the above thread reported being approached by Viewbug to become a ‘Curator’. A Curator’s job it seems is to ‘fluff’ new members with compliments and other engagement, which encourages them to pay for a full membership in order to keep receiving attention. The comment dates from May 2016 and it might well be that these ‘Curators’ are fluffing me with likes and awards so that I decide to part with cash should I want to be flattered further.

On this thread from May 2016 a user states that he won a contest, only to be told by a customer service representative that he would have to “pay some money to get the prize”.

There even exists a Facebook page called “Viewbug.com SCAM” which exposes this website as a supposed scam site, and contains more stories such as winners never receiving their prizes, photos submitted to contests appearing elsewhere on the web without the owner’s consent, and being bombarded with spam email from which you can’t unsubscribe. The page calls Viewbug, “A complete scam. All they are interested in is your membership fee”.

It’s hard to know what to make of all this information. For every horror story, there are users who seem very happy to participate in what they regard as a genuine and supportive photo-sharing community with, as they see it, upfront information about the paid levels of membership, which one can choose whether to go in for or not.

There is blatant manipulation happening to favour those more valued customers who have paid for exposure.

I wouldn’t rule out entering photography competitions, but they will be recognised ones (perhaps with a small entry fee) with respected judges where there is accountability and transparency. Photography competitions which have a real world component to them trumps anonymous ones in which you are battling an algorithm and therefore have no chance of figuring out what the heck’s going on. There is blatant manipulation happening to favour those more valued customers who have paid for exposure. I’m not going to waste my time on it.

For myself, I think I will take a step back from online photo contest sites such as Viewbug and Gurushots. I know how addictive they are. I think that unless you know who the judges of a contest actually are – and you respect those individuals and value their praise – what is the point of entering a contest? And what kind of a contest is this anyway? A photography contest… or a popularity contest?

 

Comments

I stuck with this site for a number of years, briefly paying for a premium membership, and eventually got to curator level. The points system means absolutely nothing. I got a couple of free entries into competitions but get harassed constantly asking me to greet new members by liking and commenting on their work. Your article sums it up very well.

Thanks for your comment Anna and thanks for reading. Yes, one of my problems with Viewbug is that it means nothing outside of the particular URL you’re on. It carries no ‘real world’ weight, which I think should really be the test. If you take time and money to enter a competition like Wildlife Photographer of the Year, it actually means something when you are a runner up or a winner. It carries credibility.

And wow, thanks for the confirmation that experienced members do in fact get requests to court newbies. That just seems so wrong. I don’t know why more people aren’t outraged!

Hi Zoe…I became curator so fast I did not even know yet how to “use” the site properly!…And yes, I was asked to greet new members, like and reward their photos and like/award/comment on “old” members photos who stopped coming to the website…the surprising thing was, that after I sent couple negative emails to the admin site (I had couple of issues) they upgraded my membership to the Pro level…all of a sudden I could enter into ALL available contests and the Challenges I created were properly displayed on their Challenges dashboard….Did you know that some members create a Challenge and they are not even visible on their dashboard for people to enter them?…There is only one time notification (buried within hundred others) and after that it is like that Challenge doesn’t exist anymore….I had exactly 3 Challenges treated like that…in total, I had maybe 20 – 25 photos entered in those Challenges!…complete disaster and no fun at all…and such a disappointment…And THAT experience (if nothing else) made me lose interest and cure me from my “obsession” with the site….
ps What do you think of real photographers website like National Geographic? Is it worth entering there? Will I even know how my photos faired there?..?

You have confirmed exactly what another View Bug member that I correspond with frequently, and was in your position, shared with me recently. I’ve been playing along for a while as a free member just for the heck of it. It just all seems like a big waste of time to deal with View Bug anymore lately. Or I guess she confirmed what you wrote here.

I’ve been a Viewbug member since March of last year. I had no intention of being a paying member. I think when you first start out you’re at a premium level and you seem to get quite a bit of attention from the VB community. I had no idea they had people designated to pat you on the back. I let my membership lapse into a Lite or free version and the attention I was getting dropped of noticeably. I tried a premium membership for several months and it was interesting how I was getting noticed again and was hitting the top 10 percent in contests and finalist a few times although I wasn’t really any more active in participating. I figured something was up. I’m back at a Lite membership again and have been for two months. Granted I can’t get into the payed member contests, but I have started just recently the interest in me waning. It’s an outlet for me I guess and I don’t expect too much. Made a few friends along the way there and I’ve learned a thing or two…or three to help me improve. For an amateur like myself what are other options outside of the pay to play to get a little viewership? I don’t have, or do I want, Facebook.

Oh and another thing I don’t care for is the frequency the servers go down at VB

Hi Eric thanks for your comments. What you’re saying sounds very familiar from other people who’ve commented on this post. It somehow seems very disconcerting that the experienced users who give kudos to newcomers are somehow paid or otherwise incentivized to do so. But just like IG or most other social media sites which use bots and automated third-party software to give false spammy likes and comments, it’s par for the course now that the seeming admiration isn’t quite what it seems. On the whole it’s not coming from someone who is genuinely moved (although it might be of course), but there are all these other levels to it that we don’t realize. Again it just preys on the human need to be liked, valued and even singled out for special treatment. It’s very hard to resist the temptation, but once you realize about fake spammy comments and fake, meaningless likes you can choose, if you want, to step away from it and redirect your energies into more meaningful endeavors.

Viewbug truly do have no concern for their members. I had an account for 6 months. I do boudoir and pin up photography. My photos have some tasteful nudity (which is allowed). I had a photo shoot on a beach in Aruba and one of my photos was very popular, it had 1500 view had many rankings in photo trifecas. Viewbug even gave it the summer selection award. Then one day it just disappeared off the site. When I contacted them about it numerous times, they ignored me or just gave back generic they were looking into it notes back. I eventually gave up and stayed off the site a couple months. (I am a paying pro member as well). Last week I went on and they had a female form contest. I submitted some black and whites. They were in no way explicit. You could see a breast in 3 of them thats all. Within two hours they disappeared. I had them marked as adult. So I contacted them, they insulted my creative works by telling me nudity for the sake of nudity was not allowed. I took screen shots of other peoples work which showed open vagina, and masturbation and asked how my picture with just a breast was more offensive than those. They appear to pull pictures based on complaints without looking at actual picture. They refused to even look at what I sent, but cancelled my account on me. My pictures have been used by artists to paint and are sold as prints. They are in no way pornographic and I am disgusted by how viewbug has different standards for different members. One of the pictures they pulled of mine was in week 3 of being top 10 trifecta, if given awards one week how is it offensive the next week? Do yourself a favor and don’t support viewbug as they are unprofessional and a joke in the photography world.

Stopping playing the numbers game is very difficult when we’re make to feel like it actually means something if we have such-and-such many views, likes, commenters or followers. Numbers somehow mean something to us as humans because they might in other situations determine worth or quality. Not so on any platform which is open to spam and abuse like Instagram, and even less so on platforms that were actually designed from the inside to pump out fake engagement so the metrics go up.

Very few platforms in the online world exist for anything except making money. We will still find meaningful connection but it’s unlikely to be with a website. It’s a risky game seeking validation in those arenas where we don’t and can’t understand what’s really going on under the hood. There are no answers there. To try to understand how or why something has happened on a gaming/social media platform such a Viewbug is to set yourself up for frustration, anger and ultimately disappointment as you won’t find any rhyme or reason. Much less, resolution.

Instead, choose to step away from empty numbers games and a lack of transparency. We all need validation but you can find it by working with people who value what you do, or by making sure you’re not at the mercy of confusing, ever-changing platforms which are completely unaccountable.

Wow, that’s a real con! I can hardly believe how much of a trap Viewbug is… but somehow, I do.

It’s just a game. They barely conceal the fact. Just like a lot of social media it uses tricks to get you hooked. Their goal is to have users addicted to the site, unable to live without it, spending hours on the platform because that way users will think nothing of spending a small amount of money on whatever meaningless privileges they are offering. It seems to harmless at first, but practically everything that’s addictive seems this way at first, doesn’t it?

I don’t know anything about real photography contests because my work isn’t at that standard yet so I’ve never given any thought to them per se, but I do remember reading that real competitions are ones you will pay to enter. There will be actual judges (real people!) who you can vet and verify and judge for yourself whether you value their work or not.

Linda Nelson Bohrer

National Geographic Your Shot is also a popularity contest. There are even off site groups who boost each other’s photos to gain likes and notice. The editors also have favorite photographers. National Geographic has sponsored assignments which amateur photographers enter and when they do their photos can be used for free to sell Johnny Walker, Microsoft and to promote Shell propaganda about climate change. And when National Geographic uses your photos in their blogs, they can be stolen very easily.

Hey there, Zoe! I think your right on the money with your observations. I’ve been a free member of ViewBug for quite a while and just started on GuruShots. Last night, I entered a photo that seemed to take off like wildfire. 3-out-of-4 views was garnering a vote. Overnight voting seemed extremely promising, but just as of toady, it seems as the the votes and view have come to an absolute standstill. That seemed quite odd to me. I tried to up my exposure by voting on several other photos, but to no available, as the voting and views have come to an absolute halt. I find it quite hard to believe that a photo that was performing that well would all of a sudden lose voting and viewing appeal.