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Ffffantastic Bookmarking
Guest Editorial by Alexander “Fish” Bohn

Graphic design might not work in the white cube, but it flourishes on a white background. A new mutated strain of design blog has evolved: The Randomly Curated Other People’s Images White Background Site, or RCOPIWS. Sites like Manystuff, Monoscope, Your Daily Awesome, and VVORK (among countless others) offer designers and design aficionados a constant flood of typographic morsels, interesting photos, arresting new art, and the like. One such site sets itself apart, notably, from the other RCOPIWSes: the collaborative image-bookmarking site ffffound.comallegedly, but unconfirmed, initiated by online fiend Yugo Nakamura.

I started using ffffound last week, and it’s quite a fascinating place, really. The idea is that you bookmark images. Yup, that’s pretty much it. Like flickr, your account on ffffound consists primarily of a series of images, presented in chronological order with regards to their post date. Unlike flickr, which is geared towards sharing personal photographs, ffffound users share images they find anywhere on the web.

The layout ffffound employs looks simple, but the bookmarking technique is eyebrow-raisingly sophisticated: The site furnishes you with a bookmarklet which will highlight all of the images on a page with a blue border. You click the one you want, and it is then replaced by an amusing graphic that says “FFFFOUND!” in amphetaminic chalkboardesqe handwriting.

Ffffound Process

Ffffound Process

Steps 1 (click the bookmarklet) and 2 (click the image you want) for bookmarking to ffffound.

Ffffounds’ bookmarklet only highlights images that are within a predetermined range of scales; this prevents you from accedentally posting 5-pixel-square site navigation images. The whole bookmarking process is remarkably unobtrusive, because you aren’t whisked back to ffffound, and you can keep using the site you are on.

All of the stuff you post ends up on your page. Each image has three other images associated with it, randomly, chosen from the images you (and anyone else who has posted that image, as identified by a hash of the URL) has already posted. This results in a constant churn of new visual shit, both for users of the site and for casual browsers. At the time of writing, ffffound is awash with designy stuff: type samples, color studies, abstract form, diagrammatic architectural illustrations, crazy visualizations, posters, photographs of old equipment… I have not witnessed such a collaborative confluence of design-oriented material in one place.

A sampling of images found on ffffound.

At first brush, ffffound’s paradigm looks to be based on your typical “Web 2.0” socially-networked navelgazery, because ffffound users have “favorite users” and “followers”. There are a lot of key differences however… You can’t tag anything, you can’t comment on anything, or write testimonials about people. You don’t even control the social network; you gather “fans”, or become one yourself, based on who bookmarks images that someone else bookmarked before you.

Furthermore, there is no RESTful API, no XML, no JSON, no pingbacks… Aside from pretty vanilla RSS syndication, ffffound offers none of the oft-vaunted programmatic interfaces that characterize “Web 2.0” sites. It’s reassuring to note, however, that the lack of these things is not an impediment to the site. It is closed and one can only join by an invitation from existing users (who can only invite three people), and therefore self-curating — I would imagine that the quality of the images in general (which right now is pretty fucking high, at least if you’re a type-nerd, designer-face like me) would degrade rapidly if anyone could join. That’s not a very democratic statement, I know; but design plus democracy equals drop shadows and other X-TREME photoshop filters, and the lack of ‘democracy’ in the case of ffffound is in line with its stealth anti-Web 2.0 ethos.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a bit of blogging and tagging myself. Really, being able to tag and comment and manage and share and reorganize your thingies, alongside other peoples’ thingies, in all sorts of ways in a coherent and intuitive fashion, et cetera, is why flickr and its ilk are at once both excellent resources and useful tools. But your flickr account is YOUR SHIT, specifically, implicitly, as indicated by its integrated creative commons licensing and general nomenclature (e.g., images you upload are specifically labeled “your photos”). Ffffound, on the other hand, is implicitly SOMEONE ELSE’S SHIT, which is a verrrry sensitive issue, even with all the happy-go-lucky “sharing” rhetoric that characterizes “Web 2.0” discussions. Ffffound goes out of its way to remind you of this: All images are headlined with the title of the page from which they are “quoted” (as ffffound has it), with links back to their sources. Ffffound’s lack of other typical user controls allows it to maintain that crucial distinction: By removing your voice, ffffound does exactly what it claims to do, which is grant you the capacity to bookmark images.

The de-emphasis of the user’s voice has a very interesting effect on ffffound’s content. User voice is such a cornerstone of “Web 2.0” malarkey, where many business models are variants of the idea that you, the user, shoot your mouth off so someone else can get AdSense money. As such, the action ffffound affords you is the ability to sycophantically declare that you like something, by bookmarking it. These things then get posted to your account, and if other people like them, they voice their approval in kind. You can’t really use ffffound to hate things, or otherwise. Contrastingly, I frequently use del.icio.us to hate things (note
the comment by ‘fishea’ on this link
); del.icio.us remains gorgeously minimal, but your tags and comments combine with the links you post to provide people looking at your account page with a general composite viewport into your tastes.

Ffffound, on the other hand, can only illustrate your particular sensibility in the arena of graphic awesomeness. Perhaps this is why so many of the images on ffffound are typographic: Images of type are the best way to directly say something within the confines of ffffound’s system. If I was getting a degree in “postmodern anthropology”, or somesuch, I would say that ffffound is like a “distributed digital Cabinet of Wonders”, or maybe a “data-driven Exquisite Corpse, fashioned into an endless möbius strip”… but no, I’m getting an MFA in graphic design, and at the end of the day, I’m here for the type. I would say to you that ffffound is quite an interesting gem, and I’d add that the exclusivity isn’t as off-putting as it might sound… I was happy with visiting the site before an invitation serendipitously came my way. Do have a look… at the very least, you might find some crazy color palette to rip off or otherwise inspire you. Indeed!

Alexander “Fish” Bohn is a graphic designer and nacent design writer. Hailing originally from Brooklyn, he is currently a grad student at RISD, where he is researching bullshit patterns in design practice, among other things.

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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 3981 FILED UNDER Review
PUBLISHED ON Oct.17.2007 BY Speak Up
WITH 46 COMMENTS
Comments
Tom’s comment is:

I love that Italic Poster. It gives me an idea. I could make a matching Bold Poster out of cardboard and a real heavy font...

On Oct.17.2007 at 11:41 AM
andrea’s comment is:

I

On Oct.17.2007 at 12:20 PM
andrea’s comment is:

hm. posting weirdness.
what i tried to say, is that ffffound is fantastic, due to the quality of images posted by the people who doing it at this moment. i hope to not see it turn into flickr, where the most "interesting" things are that of girls taking self portraits in mirrors and pictures of flowers with dewdrops.

On Oct.17.2007 at 12:24 PM
darrel’s comment is:

yes, I love fffffffffffffffffffound's content, if not the URL.

Someone tell me where I can obtain that lancyborg (iancyborg? Ian Cyborg?) poster. Me want!

On Oct.17.2007 at 01:52 PM
Armin’s comment is:

I have become slightly obsessed with ffffound. I really can't get enough of it. The decontextualized stream of designery imagery becomes a highly satisfying mode of intake, devoid of explanations or captions, forcing one to look at the image by itself and try to understand what it is or where it comes from; or simply appreciate it by what it is. I have been mining ffffound for Quipsologies since I first stumbled upon it a few months ago, and sometimes the single image is a passageway into new territories that I wouldn't have found otherwise.

Before Fish here e-mailed me about writing a post on ffffound I had already begun formulating some thoughts myself for a post about it, so I'm glad he saved me some time.

I gather that, like Fight Club, one does not talk about ffffound, but I magically received an invitation to ffffind images myself and just started doing so – you can find my clippings here.

On Oct.17.2007 at 02:16 PM
fish’s comment is:

@armin: agreed, it is the lack of context that makes ffffounds' offerings so compelling. While I was being somewhat flip in referencing Bi'lak's "graphic design in the white cube" essay, I must say it's quite interesting how the designy image-fragments on offer at ffffound seem to be charged by their new neutral context, rather than enervated.

the nice thing is that ffffounds' exclusivity is offset by the fact that its formula can be replicated easily, with minimal web know-how. if you have the images, and the desire to post them (as per monoscope.com and its ilk), you will probably find an audience among those who keep an eye on ffffound... just keep your background white. indeed.

On Oct.17.2007 at 05:32 PM
Armin’s comment is:

One thing that I have been surprised by is the amount of (artistic) nakedness on ffffound. Usually tasteful nakedness, but nakedness nonetheless -- forcing you to srcoll really quick if you are at work.

On Oct.17.2007 at 07:35 PM
Jon Dascola’s comment is:

Seems like an awesome site. Anyone want to be a pal and offer an invitation?

On Oct.17.2007 at 07:56 PM
fish’s comment is:

I know this breaks the first two rules of ffffound, but I'll tell you: I am tapped out of invites! On one hand, I'd like to see ffffound thrown open to all interested designers, artists, and afficianatos of the same. On the other hand, I do appreciate the fact that the closed-door policy directly reinforces the constitution of ffffound's aesthetic cocktail. It's quite a conundrum, really... hopefully the sites' mercurial architect will find a minimally invasive nerdy solution to it. I dunno, really. Yes.

On Oct.17.2007 at 08:06 PM
Giacomo’s comment is:

That is what we all needed, a place to save images, not website, while browsing.
I want one invitation!

On Oct.18.2007 at 09:50 AM
Giacomo’s comment is:

That's what we all needed, a del.icio.us for images!
Now I am praying for an invitation…

On Oct.18.2007 at 09:52 AM
Andy Malhan’s comment is:

I think we're all hoping/wishing/praying for an invite. Blah.

On Oct.19.2007 at 03:33 AM
Michal Migurski’s comment is:

The site has become a minor obsession around the office, like a blank slate to pour all of our hopes and dreams onto. =)

There's definitely a lot of artsy and not-so-artsy soft porn on the site, which is a minor drag. It's not objectionable, but it makes for weird browsing around other people. "Oh, yeah... it's the *website's* fault that I'm being recommended a photo of a topless Russian girl with some bears..."

On Oct.19.2007 at 03:33 AM
Greg J. Smith’s comment is:

Hey, I posted a monster comment yesterday and it never appeared? Regardless, I'm on the ffffound! train as well.. I love it for pure, unadulterated eye candy.. I've heard some legit claims that it can obscure authorship, but giving up control isn't always a bad thing. Mike is right about the softcore images, there are a few users who are T&A happy that are dragging the "commons" down.. A few times my GF and I have opened ffffound! to ffffind nothing but girls, girls and more girls.

Great post! :)

On Oct.19.2007 at 12:42 PM
Keenan Cummings’s comment is:

I love the idea! This brings up an interesting point: the idea the optimal usability means that the user has total control. Found is a perfect contradiction to that idea. There are a million sites (most of them overwhelmingly hideous) that allow th user to "express" themselves in every way, from the type to the animated gif backgrounds. They are great forums for people to "get the led out." But I think sometimes we over look the value of a guided or external user experience. Sometimes, the value is in the ambiguity of what will happen. I started thinking about this concept Tobias Wong's Sun Jar: a solar powered lamp in a sealed mason jar with no on or off switch. There was something about taking that aspect of control away from the owner that made it so much more than just a light in a jar. ($50 more!)

And FFFOUND brings up another interesting aspect of contemporary society: people have always loved collecting "things." We always are looking for ways to get more of them. But we are moving more and more towards these intangible, infinitely reproducible, abstract possessions: MP3's, facebook friends, cell phone contacts, del.icio.us bookmarks, digg tags, thisnext tags, even fonts... Is the the surprising solution to the dooms-day ist's warning of over production, over consumption, and over- population? Well, maybe not quite, but it is an interesting twist on how we look at the future.

On Oct.20.2007 at 12:26 PM
Keenan Cummings’s comment is:

I love the idea! This brings up an interesting point: the idea the optimal usability means that the user has total control. Found is a perfect contradiction to that idea. There are a million sites (most of them overwhelmingly hideous) that allow th user to "express" themselves in every way, from the type to the animated gif backgrounds. They are great forums for people to "get the led out." But I think sometimes we over look the value of a guided or external user experience. Sometimes, the value is in the ambiguity of what will happen. I started thinking about this concept Tobias Wong's Sun Jar: a solar powered lamp in a sealed mason jar with no on or off switch. There was something about taking that aspect of control away from the owner that made it so much more than just a light in a jar. ($50 more!)

And FFFOUND brings up another interesting aspect of contemporary society: people have always loved collecting "things." We always are looking for ways to get more of them. But we are moving more and more towards these intangible, infinitely reproducible, abstract possessions: MP3's, facebook friends, cell phone contacts, del.icio.us bookmarks, digg tags, thisnext tags, even fonts... Is the the surprising solution to the dooms-day ist's warning of over production, over consumption, and over- population? Well, maybe not quite, but it is an interesting twist on how we look at the future.

On Oct.20.2007 at 12:44 PM
fish’s comment is:

Mr. Migurski: Hahaha, yes, I agree w/r/t the nudes -- my friend Christian summed it up by observing that "ffffounds' type to tits ratio is holding, but barely" -- but yeah I totally remember that pic with the bears; I give that one a pass because it was OMG WTF enough. We shall see what the future holds for ffffound, indeed... in the meantime I'll be enjoying the current ratio, as it were, as long as it lasts. Do continue to ladle out the hopes and dreams though, yes!

On Oct.21.2007 at 08:16 PM
fish’s comment is:

addendum: the bears in question (NSFW)

On Oct.22.2007 at 06:09 AM
peacay’s comment is:

I'll be the lone voice of dissent.

I appreciate that it's a nice wander (I'm not one of the club, but that makes no diff. for viewing) and that there's a reasonable aesthetic quality for the mostpart.

What I don't understand is how there is useful functionality without upgrading it to be like delish: tags/notes.

As I say, I've enjoyed just wandering but I've yet to be persuaded that ffffound offers any benefits beyond some random eye candy - that in itself, for me, doesn't make it compelling; it only makes it a destination where I can kill 5 or 10mins.

On Oct.22.2007 at 11:24 AM
fish’s comment is:

Mr. Peacay: depends on what the use in question is, n'est ce pas? I find ffffound plenty useful, despite the lack of typical navigation/organization facility. For example, one can peruse ffffound's front page in 'tile mode' (see the vi-inspired controls in the upper-left of all ffffound indexes) to quickly sample the design/art/illustration zeitgeist, thanks to the purview of the userbase.

Granted, this sort of use falls outside of what one might assume you'd get from an "image bookmarking service". I would imagine that fans of getting things done won't take to ffffound, due to the dearth of features on offer.

That's what ends up reinforcing the sites' status as a RCOPIWS, versus a web 2.0-style service, I think.

On Oct.23.2007 at 02:58 PM
Amanda’s comment is:

This is my FAVORITE SITE and I can find an invite anywhere!

tears taste like salt :(

On Jan.18.2008 at 12:21 AM
Shy’s comment is:

Hi.
I was bumped into "iancyborg" beautiful poster in this site.
I was wondering where can I get a copy of this poster to hang it on my wall, it's so beautiful :)

Thanks,

Shy

On Jan.27.2008 at 03:37 AM
fish’s comment is:

Shy: the fact that images on ffffound are kind of horribly decontextualized -- leading to your problem -- has been bothering me of late. So I wrote a devils'-advocate rebuttal to this article.

Since then, others have echoed this sentiment... see also the slew of comments on my rebuttal.

On Jan.29.2008 at 02:19 AM
Matt Cox’s comment is:

stumbled into ffffound ...wow - helps my eyes to sparkle and the corners of my head fill with inspiration and admiration in equal measure. Great things on a cold Scottish evening...I hope I can hunt an invitation down

On Feb.12.2008 at 03:41 PM
alexa’s comment is:

I would really love an invitationlink to ffffound.com?

I put on huge art charity events around the world and I am an artist, so it would be much appreciated!!

please send to

alexagray@mac.com

peace
Alex

www.ARTribe.org

On Feb.16.2008 at 01:18 AM
kaipjaustis’s comment is:

Hey,

I know ffffound quite for some time, it's really inspiring. I'm studying design and really wouldn't mind for an invitation. Anybody who has one, you got my e-mail. Lun

On Feb.20.2008 at 02:18 PM
aerodi’s comment is:

I stumbled upon this article while searching for an FFFOUND! invitation.
And I enjoyed it a lot!!! the downside is that I can't join. IF anyone has an invitation to spare, I would love to have it.

Thanks and "hello" from Mexico City. aerodi@hotmail.com

On Feb.27.2008 at 07:07 AM
melbgeo’s comment is:

I love this site, sweet concept, please, could someone send me an invite?? melbgeo at hotmail dot com
thanks so much!

On Feb.29.2008 at 04:53 AM
cobardeanonimo’s comment is:

hi, have you got any invitation left?

thanks

On Mar.06.2008 at 12:53 PM
Fish’s comment is:

http://vi.sualize.us

Is like ffffound but open, no invites needed. It's great, I use it to save the images I like browsing fffound! ;)

On Apr.08.2008 at 08:44 AM
Kursat’s comment is:

has anyone got a ffffound.com invite left for me?

antibiotic [at] gmail.com

On Jul.09.2008 at 07:15 PM
pesky’s comment is:

god this is beautiful stuff...it's days like this that i just retreat into staring at random pictures as clients call to cancel projects...ah well...i'm fucked.I hate designers but I love design...

On Jul.09.2008 at 11:06 PM
mojopinn’s comment is:

i need an invitation too=(
please send to lightbulbsun2@gmail.com

thanks..

On Jul.10.2008 at 01:15 PM
Blake’s comment is:

Like me other people above me i have been trying to find and invitation. I'm sorry to say i have not ffffound a ffffound invitation.

So if some would could send an invite my way I would be very grateful.

bell.blake@gmail.com

On Aug.08.2008 at 05:42 PM
Sean’s comment is:

I m desperately looking for a invitation for ffffound! Can anyone send me one?

Thanks in advance!

wonderxboy@gmail.com

On Aug.23.2008 at 02:38 PM
Sean’s comment is:

I m desperately looking for a invitation for ffffound! Can anyone send me one?

Thanks in advance!

wonderxboy@gmail.com

On Aug.23.2008 at 02:42 PM
Stephen M’s comment is:

The Inspiration Room™ has invites for anyone wanting to participate on ffffound. I just sent an email to

beinspired@theinspirationroom.com

http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/2008/ffffound-a-social-image-collection/

On Sep.11.2008 at 07:12 AM
Jon’s comment is:

check out http://centerology.com its looks like ffffound, but it currently has open registration!

On Sep.25.2008 at 05:41 AM
Christine’s comment is:

i really want a ffffound invite as well... it is sooooo hard to get it o_o

catch.a.heffalump@gmail.com

thanks a lot.

On Nov.03.2008 at 11:07 AM
campbell’s comment is:

i love ffffound however it is invite only, meaning i cant use all the features on the site.

i now have a file on my computer consisting of an infinite amount of pictures off the site which is slowly sucking up our hard drive..
could you please please pretty please invite me c:

i would be in debt to you for life.

timetomove@hotmail.com
:]

On Dec.17.2008 at 12:06 AM
S M ARIFUL ISLAM’s comment is:

I m desperately looking for a invitation for ffffound! Can anyone send me one?

Thanks in advance!

smarifulislam@yahoo.com

On Jan.24.2009 at 04:16 AM
Nora’s comment is:

Me too, please :)

n_aimen@yahoo.com

On Jan.26.2009 at 02:16 PM
Charles ODonovan’s comment is:

I have been obsessed with ffffound.com for quite a while now. I am looking for an invite so I can help add some quality images I have found. If anyone wants to help a fellow ffffound fan out, please send me an invite!!!

chuckod [at] gmail [dot] com

On Feb.07.2009 at 08:18 PM
feng’s comment is:

i m looking for an invitation too.
will thx alot

c_w_feng@hotmail.com

On Feb.16.2009 at 04:35 AM
Megan’s comment is:

i'd like an invite as well

i'm going to bookmark this page and hope that i have an invite for the future

On Feb.18.2009 at 12:35 AM
Bre’s comment is:

i've been looking desperately for an invite, need it for my project! if any of you above got an invite pls help me!

mojohojo@gmail.com

On Feb.18.2009 at 06:30 AM