Since February 2009, 1x.com (or Onexposure, as it was called before) seemed to be the perfect site for a committed photograph. The basic idea - not just feature everything that's uploaded but screen them and display only the best selection - is not new or unique but since the humble beginnings, 1X successfully turned it into a hype claiming to feature the "best photos on the web".
I loved this site very much until our relation ended rather abruptly before a few days, and now I'd like to add my own two cents without anger or fondness.
But first of all, an advertisement.
1) Does 1X really feature the best photos on the web?
I don't think so, simply because no site does. There's too much good photography on the web. But before we dismiss their slogan as pure marketing, let's admit that someone coming from Flickr & Co which display just about everything that's uploaded may find the 1x front page and galleries a veritable oasis for the eyes. This is also due to the puritanistic, no-nonsense and ad-free(!) design. However, if you compare their front page and galleries to some pools and groups on Flickr, or the selection channels on competing sites like 500px.com, the "1xperience" ((c) by Alex O'Brien) is less striking. Let's face it: as such, stuff on 1x is not that better than what you see elsewhere but displaying selected work only does the trick. The hype works, at least in the beginning.
Some say the site developed like a U turned upside down: there was an early phase with lots of images that were mediocre at best, then there was a peak time with many truly outstanding photographers and now there's a downward phase with many purely eye-candy shots, self-repeating motifs and boring escapism. I don't want to go into this because everyone can form his own opinion who knows the site; suffice to say, 1x is for me personally no longer the source of inspiration what it used to be. It might have been "searching for the sublime" in the beginning, but as it grew 1x seems to have forgotten what it's actually looking for.
2) Feedback and critique
There's lots of feedback channels around from photosig to devArt et cetera, but in my roamings I found 1x's Critique section the very best. One receives lots of detailed feedback from very good photographers in relatively short time. It's give and take so one has to write four critiques to gain an upload slot but this is just about fair.
And now the bad news. Most images in Critique had been rejected and the critics' approach is (almost) always "It was rejected. This means it's not good. Let's find out why". In truth, there are many excellent photographs there and the difference between dozens of "wow great shot" comments and dozens of "crop it, sharpen it, add more contrast" critiques is only where you see the image - published on front page or submitted to Critique.
And you know how it goes... if you want you can find flaws in even the most successful photographs. Doisneau's Kiss is badly composed, McCurry's Afghan girl is just a photo-shy girl without the context and it turns human misery into an eye-candy, Robert Capa's Death of a milicist was (caugh, caugh, errr...) probably staged and it's quality is awful - and so on. No photograph is ever flawless. Besides we don't photograph to please other photographers anyway.
There's also a tendency to over-analyse photographs which is strenghtened by the paranoid moderation: one can't just write "To me this is a perfect photograph which doesn't need to be improved" because such comments are deleted at lightning speed. One always has to find flaws even if there are none worth to mention.
Even worse, sometimes you can see photos on the front page which would rightfully be blown to pieces in Critique but were published anyway. For example, look at the cloning trails here. It's not the photographer's fault in the first place but of the screeners who sometimes screw up in their search for the sublime. (Why the photog didn't upload an improved version after publication is a different matter...).
Anyway, it's useful for beginners desperately looking for some real feedback but once you start to judge your own photos with a trained eye there's not much to learn there.
There's lots of diversity on 1X and members from all over the world, which is of course great; politics and other sensible subjects which could be the source of conflicts are gracefully avoided in the forum. People on 1x treat each other well in general and 1x was the beginning of many beautiful friendships but what truly matters in the end is how the site crew treats its members.
Now... photographers can be difficult people with all their vanity and big egos, including me of course, and people maintaining a site for photographers should be capable of dealing with this. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There is a paranoia over the site: any feature suggestion, no matter how benevolent in its intentions and polite in its tone, is verboten and gets deleted pretty soon by the crew. Or even worse: just dismissed as "whining over rejections". As if anything apart from "wow what a great site how happy I am to be here" would be considered dangerous for scaring away new paying members. Suggestions by members are usually neglected completely, or first neglected and later implemented without any credit to the guy who came up with it. Add a healthy amount of arrogance from the founders and trouble is guaranteed. Needless to say, the screening procedure and its decisions - the very core of the site - are taboo and any attempt to talk about it results in deleted threads, usually communicated with an arrogance that's unbelievable for any business living out from their paying membership.
Anyway... when I joined 1x in early 2009, there was a buzzing community life in the forums, with IRL meetings and lots of fun. Not anymore. But members are still free to congratulate themselves for being 1xers and of course giving thanks to the crew for everything; and oh yeah, you can even tell the others what music you are listening to right now. Ain't this fascinating?
One last but important point. Once you upload an image and it gets published, you can't delete it. Again: published images cannot be deleted. You can ask the crew to delete them of course and if they agree, they'll do it. This is a very strange practice and stands on weak legal grounds, as for a long time this wasn't even mentioned in the user's agreement (which was legally seen not a very professional contract anyway compared to other sites). As one of the founders tried to explain: "If we deleted all photos by a photographer, many hours of unpaid work by screeners and other members (giving critique and commenting photos) would be gone." Sorry but this is no legal argument for not letting a photographer execute his most basic rights over his works. Once the photos are published, one can't do much about them: they can't be organised into sets, galleries or series. It's possible to do that in the home page that comes with paying membership but frankly, while the home pages are decent and lot of efforts was put into them by the site's programmer they are not why people want to be on 1x.
Talking about copyrights: the system automatically adds a tag to images with a huge 1x logo to make using stolen photos a little less easier. Imagine, they even indicate the photographer's name - in small letters one quarter of the size of the logo, just to show who is more important. Isn't this generous? I left this for last because it's so much typical for 1x in general: such a cool idea and such badly realized.
Bottomline: is it a good site or not? In my very subjective opinon: if you look for a challenge and good learning opportunity, yes it is. If you already know how to tell a good photograph from an average one, go elsewhere and save yourself some frustration.