Yuri Lee of Lookbook.nu has responded to my post on October 26, 2010, Why I’m Not on Weardrobe, Chictopia, Lookbook, or Hypeed. Her response appeared as a comment on the original post, but per her request and like my treatment of Hypeed’s response, I wanted to run it as a post to ensure my readers don’t miss it.
Yuri, thank you for your thoughtful response. In response to your reaction, I only have one comment to make, and that is that age 16 is not arbitrary; at least in the U.S., it is the age of consent, and at 18 in most countries, you are no longer legally considered a minor. You are considered an adult. That was my reasoning behind suggesting that participants be at least age 16. Consent. And the fact that at least you are through puberty, can work to buy your own clothes, and drive a car.
I am a founder of the online fashion community at http://lookbook.nu. I started the site with my boyfriend Jason less than 2 and a half years ago, and have watched our community grow from just a handful of users to where we’re at now. Obviously, the site is very dear to me and so this subject is very personal to me.
I first want to applaud you for this articulately written piece, and I’d like to say that I completely respect the reasons for which you choose not to be a participant of our community.
The fact that you took the time to learn so much about our site and what we do also deserves respect. I know that you are motivated not by malice, but a sincere intent to protect your own interests and the interests of bloggers like yourself. I also acknowledge that this world is full of companies seeking to profit at the expense of others, sometimes even at the expense of their own customers/users. Because of this, watchful journalism is always something that’s needed and appreciated.
That said, I believe that many of the things said in this article about LOOKBOOK.nu are neither accurate nor fair. So I would like to voice a response on behalf of the team behind LOOKBOOK.nu (there’s just 3 of us), and attempt to correct what I see is being grossly misconstrued.
I will respond only to the portions of this article that referenced LOOKBOOK.nu, as I cannot speak for the practices and motivations of other sites.
1. On the alleged promotion of a “single beauty ideal”
The allegation LOOKBOOK.nu exists to perpetuate a singular vision of beauty is appalling to me and could not be further from the true purpose behind our community.
LOOKBOOK.nu is and was created as a blank slate. It is intentionally minimalist in design and simple in function so that the content that is posted by our members and hyped by the community speaks for itself.
Not only is there a diverse spectrum of different people that get noticed and become popular on the site, there is a similar spectrum of people who do not become very popular on our site, and it is likely that slender Caucasian women are included. It would be hasty to automatically jump to the conclusion that race or shape or size is the deciding factor(s).
The fact is, every member on LB starts out with the same chance to be seen, and every member has the freedom to hype whichever looks they find inspiring. I don’t know about other sites, but on LOOKBOOK.nu, the members–and only the members–select and curate the front page. There are no behind-the-scenes editors picking and choosing what to hide or show on the front page based on personal biases towards certain styles, figures, or race. That is against the very essence of what LB stands for. We don’t make the statements, we allow the community to.
On the contrary, I believe that our gallery is actually the largest and most dynamic source of fashion inspiration you can find, much more so than traditional media outlets (i.e. editors telling you what is trendy and what you should buy this season). The success we have seen so far is due largely to the sheer diversity of our community, the rawness of its content, and the fact that our front page is actually determined in real-time by tens of thousands of active users, not just the tastes of one person.
I would respond to those who argue there is not much diversity on the site that they should look closer. No where else can you find talented and creative young men and women from such different walks of life coming together, connecting and inspiring each other. On any given day, someone from Germany might get to know a fellow fashion lover from SIngapore. These types of connections are being cultivated among our community members around the clock, and that is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
In the end its all about inspiration, and LB as a platform is blind to everything else. If someone out there in some part of the world likes your look and finds it inspiring in some way, you will earn more exposure on the site as a result of their hype. Our hype system is not always perfect, but to us it is the best and only fair way to determine what deserves to occupy the limited real estate on our front page.
We get thousands of submissions a day from people all over the world, and to show looks “randomly, through a lottery or drawing” as you have suggested, would not be fair to the members who have been an active member of the community for a long time and have established a following on the site. It would be a shame if they were drowned out or buried by the multitude of newer members who are not as committed to the community.
2. On the alleged exclusion of non-Caucasian, skinny females and the lack of a “spirit of inclusiveness”
The notion that LOOKBOOK.nu as a community somehow excludes certain types of people is simply false. Any one and everyone can join the site and become a member, share their looks and follow people they like. So if on a given day the top look is a girl from Brazil, the Phillipines, the US, or Sweden — which are all among our top 10 countries, we have no control. We do everything we can to keep the community diverse and open minded, and we take swift action against users that behave otherwise.
The bottom line: we do not control who visits or joins our site, and we do not control what gets hyped and what doesn’t.
3. On the use of the word “karma”
The usage of the word karma need not be taken so literally or seriously. We simply use the word karma because it is something members use to reward the people they find inspiring. You earn karma by contributing something to the site that someone else finds valuable. Semantics need not be a source of controversy.
4. On negative comments and user control over their comments
We obviously do not encourage nasty comments, and actually have a very strict policy when it comes to trolls or offensive people that leave personal insults or negative feedback that is not constructive. Most of them find themselves flagged and banned by the community and its moderators, either immediately or eventually. But they will always be around, sadly there is not much you can do about that!
We actually started out as an invite only community for the very reason of ensuring that LOOKBOOK.nu started out on a strong foundation of positivity, open-mindedness and diversity, and it is today still a community that has no tolerance whatsoever for rude or inappropriate comments.
Also, all users already do indeed have complete control over their comments.
5. On the fact that we make money from ads
LOOKBOOK.nu is not a nonprofit organization and we have never claimed to be. We have costs and we need to cover them. Like you wrote yourself, running a website isn’t free. At our level of traffic, our server hosting fees and the many associated costs with running a site full time are not at all insignificant. Advertising revenue keeps the site free for everyone to use and above all — it keeps the site fast and not crashing every 10 minutes. It is also the way that my bf and I make a living.
We also have never tried to hide the fact that we want to make some profit in return for the many long hours of sweat we pour into the site day in and day out as a bootstrapped startup. In running this company my bf and I are living our dream, but that doesn’t mean that we are in any way shape or form doing it at the expense of our members whom we value and have lots of deep relationships with.
We are grateful for the success that our site has and we know that we owe it to our community and we have their interests in mind at all times.
6. On the notion that we want our users to abandon their blog and use LB exclusively
We have never tried to encourage any of our members to give up their blogs. Again, while I can’t speak for any other sites mentioned, we’ve never deluded ourselves into thinking that we could replace any of our members’ blogs, nor would we ever want to.
LOOKBOOK.nu is a collective gallery of original street style photography. It’s not a blog, but many of our users find that they complement their blogs very well. As you’ve touched on, the members who are active and successful on LB are beneficiaries of hundreds or thousands of new blog readers and followers every time they post a look.
Additionally, in no way is any member giving up ownership of their content by using our service. All content posted by our members belongs to our members. We do have a permission to use content for our own purposes, but we have never done this in a way that harms our users or profits at their expense. I went over this in detail in the comments section here: http://heartifb.com/2010/04/30/read-the-fine-print-chictopia-and-payless-dont-need-to-ask-to-profit-from-blogger-images/
Our community is nothing without our members, and we know that in order to succeed, we need to do right by our members, not take advantage of them. LOOKBOOK.nu is just one part of the ecosystem, and that’s why we do our best to drive a lot of traffic to the blogs of our contributors. We do a pretty good job as well, as Independent Fashion Bloggers’ own Jennine has noted here: http://heartifb.com/2009/04/13/top-5-traffic-yielding-social-networks-for-fashion-blogs/
The bottom line: LB has always had a symbiotic relationship with our members’ blogs, not a parasitic one. We try to elevate our top members and hook them up with new opportunities, not detract from their success.
7. On the widgets we provide our users to promote their LB accounts
The widgets we provide our users allow them to drive traffic to their own looks or profiles. They are completely optional, but most of our members choose to use these widgets because having a following on LB is always beneficial to a members’ blog following as well.
Similarly, on the front page of LB, we feature a Facebook widget for our Facebook page in a prominent position as well. This is because our following on Facebook helps us stay connected with our audience and having an active presence on Facebook makes LB more successful. We see ourselves similarly as a tool for bloggers. An active presence on LB is surely not necessary to be a successful blogger, but it definitely does not hurt.
8. On the age limit of membership on our site.
You need to be 13 in order to hold an account on LOOKBOOK.nu. This is stated explicitly in our TOS. When we get wind of younger users, someone on our community team will eventually gently let them know that they cannot have an active account until they are of age.
In response to the suggestion that we should raise our age limit to 16 years old, (1) I’m not even sure if that is legal and (2) that seems like an awfully arbitrary age to exclude. There are 13 year olds like Tavi who are wise beyond their years and have a very mature understanding of themselves and their personal style, and I am sure that there are 40 year olds who are not and don’t. I don’t believe it is our place to determine at what age a person can start developing their own fashion identity. To exclude 13-15 people who wish to participate in the community, within our terms of service and community guidelines, would be similar to the very sort of discriminatory exclusion that this article stands against, would it not?
I hope that this establishes more clearly our intentions and values. I am happy to discuss any of the issues above in further detail, and I can be reached via email at yuri [at] lookbook.nu.
Vahni — I do ask that you re-post this response as a separate post so your readers can know how seriously we take the well-being of our members and our community.
Many thanks and best wishes.