I've been a big fan of 500px ever since I found them on the Internets a few years ago. Browsing through their Popular Pages has always been a big source of inspiration for my own photography. For me, they were the standard for high-quality photographs. Were?
Well, here is the thing: I've noticed lately that the number of "mediocre" images on the first few Popular pages have started to increase and 500px seemed to have detected that problem some time ago as they blogged about it in 2011.
I think the problem are a group of "vote-collectors". These are users that found other users who help them casting Votes and Favorites in return for votes and faves on their own pictures.
I therefore decided to conduct a little test. I created a new 500px user-account with a fake name and uploaded a picture of a pelican and marked it as nude plus tagged it with keywords like Birds, girl, naked, lady, nude.
At the same time, I posted that picture on my "real" 500px page, too where I have 600+ followers. I didn't mark it as nude and I've used regular keywords that fit the photograph.
With the new fake user, I started commenting and voting on pictures of users that I suspected were part of the "vote-collecting" mafia, sorry community. I very quickly noticed that most pictures I commented and voted on had the same comments from the same users all over the place.
After like 35 minutes, my nude pelican was viewed 27 times with 22 votes and 23 comments, became popular and reached a pulse of almost 90. Besides that, nobody complained about it not being an Adult Content picture so I don't think anybody who commented really looked at the picture itself.
At the same time, the picture on my real account got 6 views, 2 votes and 2 comments reaching a pulse of 52.6 and was far away from getting popular
There was a recent forum post in Early March 2013 in the 500px Support Center named "500px going downhill" in which another user brought up the exact same topic. It was an interesting discussion but got stopped after 25 comments.
The 500px agent that responded to the forum thread said:
You'll see a whole new voting, scoring and commenting system this spring. We're getting rid of the Dislike button and making commenting an important part of participating on 500px. Comment quality will be far more important than quantity.
Summer starts in 2 weeks so I guess we should see a big update, very soon.
Based on what I found with my quick test is that there seems to be just a very small group of "cheaters" that could be quite easily detected with a proper "Report This User - Cheater" button right next to a users's profile. 500px has a "Report This User" function but unless you are a computer forensic specialist, you won't be able to find it.
Here is how: You have to browse to the users profile page and in the top section you can find a tiny little arrow that you need to click to make the "Report this user" link visible with the drop-down list of why to report that user. I couldn't find a proper entry for cheating, though.
So please, 500px, give us your awesome picture gallery back with Popular photos that are in that section because they are awesome and not because they have been up-voted some cheaters. Get rid of them or let us at least help you to find them.
If anybody at 500px is listening, I collected a list of those (suspected) cheaters and I'm absolutely willing to share that with you.