How to take a Web head shot.

Culture and technology.
July 15 2008 7:15 AM

I Look Stupid

How to take a Web head shot.

(Continued from Page 1)

The more you think about Web head shots, the more loaded a social artifact they become. Scholars have begun to examine "impression management" online. One study posits that people with attractive friends on their Facebook "wall" benefit from a halo effect and are themselves perceived to be more attractive. Researchers have also done interesting things with yearbook photos (the original Web head shot). This study found that whether a woman smiles in her photo (PDF) can predict "favorable outcomes in marriage and personal well-being up to 30 years later." Sort of cool to know, but how does it apply to me? (And could it possibly be true?)

Naturally, the Internet has taken photo research into its own narcissistic hands with a creepy/fascinating site called Facestat. It's an inspired update of the venerable Hot or Not, and approaches its mission—to get people to rate photos—from a quasi-scientific angle:

Upload a photo, and choose some questions such as "How old do you think I am?" or "Do I seem trustworthy?" Within a couple hours, you will have detailed statistics about how people feel about the picture you provide. It's like market research for the individual. And it's free!

It's market research for the individual! Not some shallow exercise for the insecure!


The site's most addictive feature is its request that face-judgers use a single word to describe each photo. This leads to all sorts of creativity and randomness. My own photo was tagged with the following adjectives: "ewwwww," "sailor," "bored," "BritishCute" (I assume that's a good thing), "insane," "boring," "lol," "forehead," "Gentleman," "contrasting," and "LeeHarveyOswald!!!!!!" The crowd did display some wisdom by guessing my age and political orientation correctly.

To date, Facestat has collected 16,818,344 judgments on 126,090 faces. The people behind the site, a group of programmers called Dolores Labs, have played with the data in fun ways. They noted which pairs of tags tend to appear togetherathletic and driven, gay and cowboy, old and sour, young and uninterested. They've also built a graphical explorer, with which you can follow the webs of adjectives for an entire afternoon. The promise of accurate "market research" hasn't been totally fulfilled. Looking around the site, I've found the crowd-sourced judgments to be fickle. For every person who thinks you're "not bad," there's another that thinks you're phony—or worse.

So it seems that you, Internet person, are left with two options: Just pick a photo and go for it, or go the arty/ironic route. It's not as if you can stay hidden forever. Eventually someone will upload you to Flickr or tag you in a wedding pic wearing an unflattering, unchosen color. My own half-solution: I took a photo and ran it through something called the Face Transformer that created a manga version of myself. It's me, but it's not really me. That's kind of how it feels to be online.



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.