Is a picture of words worth more than words?

I’ve been noticing lately that a lot of people are posting a picture of words in their Facebook status instead of just writing it in their status. This is a relatively new phenomenon, and is different from the so-called “lolcat” photos, in which words were accompanying photos or illustrations, instead of standing alone.

Left, text is accompanied by an image; on right, text is just text but in an image file

Certainly pictures of words occupy more space than regular text; which is perhaps why more people are using these methods. Now that people have hundreds of Facebook Friends, it may take more than a two-line status update to win the attention of others. In other words, using a picture of words may reflect a desire for more attention or an increased competition for attention.

On the other hand, this may also be a result of Facebook’s algorithm. The nice thing about having a picture of text is that it becomes shareable. Text status updates cannot be shared– only “liked” or commented on. So if you are repeating what someone else said, it’s harder to keep the attribution to the original writer. Photos, on the other hand, can be shared with anyone– even people outside of one’s network– so the original writer can still be attributed, even when it has moved several thousands “steps” or degrees away from that person.

Sharing text messages that are in picture format is especially useful when you are trying to make a political statement that you want to disseminate. Here’s a catchy one that takes advantage of how Facebook presents information in its newsfeed:

Although using pictures to portray text is a relatively new phenomena in Facebook, it actually has origins in “older” media. If you think of newspapers and magazines, the use of typography to emphasize important quotes or phrases was a widespread process. Changing the size and font of a word, phrase, or sentence, is not only an editorial judgment about the content, but also a creative judgment about design.

We are seeing more and more of this “magazine-type” design on the web that incorporates typography as a graphic design element. Not that this is a new thing, but it is easier to do now even without graphic design or html skills, thanks to WYSIWYG editors and other easy graphics tools.  I think we’ll see more and more opportunities for microtransactions to buy fonts and typographic design elements on social media sites too. In Korea, for example, they sell celebrity handwriting as fonts for blogs. Would Bieber fans want to “write” on the Web with his handwriting? Why not?

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