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So why MLKSHK?

Back when invitations to MLKSHK’s closed beta were making their way through Twitter, many people I follow created an account, clicked around for a while, and never returned again.

Now that the site is open to the public, I think you should consider coming back. Here’s some reasons why.

An image hosting platform

With the recent flap over Twitpic’s terms of service, some have touted MLKSHK as an alternative host for pictures posted to Twitter. Andre seems interested enough that he’ll be contacting the makers of Twitter clients this week to request built-in MLKSHK functionality. The site can also host images posted to Tumblr (e.g. the images in this post).

On the one hand this seems like a fine use for MLKSHK. Andre has spent a good deal of time building the platform to be fast, stable, and ready to scale. On the other it’s not much of a reason to spend time at the site itself.

No time for Tumblr

It seemed to me that most enthusiastic early devotees of MLKSHK were people who didn’t already have a Tumblr1 account with which to share silly images they’d found on the internet.

Creating a Tumblr means choosing (or tweaking, or designing) a template. Following other people’s Tumblrs opens the door to other people’s short fiction, personal memoir,  and 1,400-word essays on the nuances of one social media platform versus another.2

So to me the first compelling answer as to why someone would use MLKSHK, is for people who lack the time or attention span for a Tumblr lifestyle. Its quick-hit, ephemeral stream of images offers more of a Twitter-like experience, allowing brief, low-commitment3 stops in between other activities.

Desktop denizens

MLKSHK is designed by and for people who spend much of their day at their computers. For the longest time the only way to get images into MLKSHK was uploading through a desktop browser (or right-clicking an image in the browser, with an installed extension).4

There is still no mobile-optimized version of the site, and with images (and animated GIFs) routinely topping 1 or 2MB in size, viewing over 3G can still be annoying at best. And the next official method for posting will be a desktop Mac app.

An image-sharing site for the computer-bound is much less likely to feature photos taken by its users (than, say Instagram) and much more likely to feature photographs of stylishly hungover movie stars of Old Hollywood and the latest variant of “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

Post-Flickr social image sharing

There’s been chatter recently about the decline of Flickr as a social site, but I believe it has less to do with the design of /photos/friends and more to do with 1) how Flickr encourages uploading large sets of images; and 2) how Flickr has fostered a photography nerd culture. With the latter comes extra emphasis on the aesthetics of an image and the technology used to capture it. 

The pressure to compete over lenses and shutter speeds is missing from MLKSHK, as is some of the personal investment of ego that comes with sole authorship. Where a single post to Flickr says “look at this photo that I took”, a post to MLKSHK says “Hey, look at THIS thing.”5

And there is a solid amount of social functionality built in to support community growth: likes, saves (i.e. reblogs), mentions, comments, and comment conversations. 

Themed shakes

MLKSHK only recently rolled out a feature central to its functionality: the ability to create (with a paid account) a low-friction, themed collection of images (or “shake”). Tumblr helped popularize this sort of flash-in-the-pan “Fuck Yeah” clusterblog. But the burnout rate on these is rapid, from launch to Recommended to a link on Reddit or mention in Entertainment Weekly to new posts every two hours to asking for reader submissions to petering out when the owner realizes there are only a finite number of photographs extant of famous authors in evening wear holding cocktails.

Creating your custom themed shake on MLKSHK doesn’t require selecting or designing a theme, and allows you to easily add contributors. Everybody piles on their favorite photos of shirtless guys eating sandwiches (or screencaps of George Plimpton’s Video Falconry), the meme burns out within a week, no major investment of energy, no harm done.

Or you could make a more timeless themed shake (Hint: mlkshk.com/batgirl? Still available at press time.) that you can enjoy with friends over time.

Unexpected delights

MLKSHK is now my go-to destination for random and unexpected delight, in the way Twitter was back in 2007 and 2008. Every day I gleefully encounter new images in genres and forms I would never have thought to seek out on my own.

It’s not as personal as Tumblr (at this point). Less “I made this”, no GPOYWhatever on a certain day of the week. It’s the feeling of personal connection on Tumblr that can get Albert 150+ reblogs/likes for his looping GIF of Adam.

But on MLKSHK I feel free to share a larger number of things I feel less invested in myself, with less worrying about what an image might say about me or my personal enthusiasms.

And some days I surprise myself, and even find myself grinning at a cat hijink GIF.  

Artisan software

My favorite takeout pizzeria in the East Bay is run by one guy, Keith. You call starting at 3 pm, and request a timeslot (e.g. 6:05 pm). Keith takes your order on the phone, bakes your pizza, and takes your money when you arrive. The place is named for his daughter, and sometimes when she’s sick there’s no pizza that night. 

My favorite burger in the East Bay is made by Roland, who slings burgers and garlic fries out of his truck, and whose only choice of beverages is water or Mexican Coke. 

One can talk about MLKSHK as a site, or one can talk about its makers, Andre and Amber. Andre engineers the back end, Amber designs the front end, and their friend Ivan connects the HTML and CSS. No biz dev guy, no slide decks, no timed releases to TechCrunch. They identify the next feature they want to add. Amber designs it, Andre codes it, Ivan hooks it up, they test it, they push it live. 

Some days they don’t get the feature out the door, and so they head home and come back the next day to try it again. Sometimes they ship early. Some days something breaks. Some days they change their minds about what they want to work on next.

Yes, they’re hoping to make it big. Or at least, big enough. Big corporate entities may need to think about “eating their own dogfood”. But companies like Andre and Amber are growing food for themselves. Creating their own preferred way to spend their days dicking around on the internet, and hoping enough other people enjoy the fruits of their labor that they can somehow make some kind of living at it.

Enjoying MLKSHK

You don’t need a MLKSHK account to follow @best_of_mlkshk (or bookmark BSTSHK). If you do have an account and it’s been a while since you visited, you can now find your Twitter friends there. Or suggested individual or themed shakes. Don’t forget to follow Amber and Andre.6

Once on the site and viewing your friend shake (i.e., your main feed), you can use the J/K keys to quickly navigate through images. (Unlike the Tumblr dashboard, the J key will also move you to the next page.)

That speed combined with the fact that duplicate saved images don’t show up in your feed makes the cost of following lots of shakes fairly low. A friendly, bright pink banner now helps mark the spot where you last left off.

A paid account (just $2/month) gets you an RSS feed and the opportunity to create your own themed shakes. Come on. TWO BUCKS.

Log back in. Check it out. Or, stay right here for a while and look at this:


1Or Posterous. Or whatever.

2Ahem.

3The addition of video to MLKSHK runs counter to this idea, and I kind of still don’t understand what it’s doing here. But the animated GIFs seem appropriate, when they don’t take a half minute to load.

4Here is where I disclaim that I sell a 99¢ iOS app that posts images to MLKSHK, and that I am banking the future of my family on my ability to convince you and millions of others to purchase it.

5Of course when assumption of authorship is not embedded within a site, creators may and will begin to cry foul (as happened over at Tumblr). Amber and Andre may be dragged into dealing with these issues before they have figured it all out for themselves.

6Or, if you’ve a mind to, me.

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    retro cereal boxes....Mr T one! OK lame jokes over.
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