A critique of Cara.app: the 'No AI' Instagram and Artstation copycat child.

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1. Introduction

Cara.app is a relatively new social media platform: a kind of fusion between an Instagram timeline with a share button, and an Artstation portfolio layout on the user's profile.

Almost every artist I know is opening a Cara.app profile right now and posting about it on every social media site. Some influencers, like industry veteran Bobby Chiu, even praise the platform and openly urge everyone to move to it.

So, on my side, the same story as with any digital art phenomenon: lots of PMs, emails, asking me what I think about it, hence my motivation to write a bit more about it on the blog. I opened a profile about it on https://cara.app/deevad. I read the available documentation, and here is my analysis and critique with all the elements I had.

As usual, I may revise my opinion and will update the post if new sources that I missed appear in the comments.

2. Key selling points:

  • No AI: It is forbidden to post AI art on it, they also put a built-in AI image detector when you upload.
  • Made by artist for artist: The initiative is led by artist photographer Zhang Jingna (aka Zemotion).
  • Familiar UI: the Instagram part is actually a pure copy of Instagram, the Artstation part is actually a pure copy of Artstation.
  • Chronological post: no triage of algorithms, for now.
  • No advertising: No direct one plugged in timeline, at least, as far as I saw.
  • Identifiable info will never be sold to 3rd parties: a promise of the privacy policy.
  • Free to use, made by volunteers and crowdfunded: See feature 11 of their list.
  • Web app: Feature 9 promotes using the site as an application, with a shortcut on the desktop; that's a good thing, because it lets you use your browser with a privacy extension.
  • Jobs Board: A portfolio platform for hiring human artists.

Edit 2024-06-06, Addenda about "web app only": The team has published a Cara app on the Apple Store. I couldn't see it because it wasn't listed on their feature page. Probably a recent addition.

3. The negative points

  • Proprietary: Someone hosts your data somewhere on it, and it is their property. They can sell it to a third party at any time.
  • Closed: as far as I know, the source code of Cara.app is not available, so you can't see what changes they make or what rules for triaging, boosting post, are under the hood.
  • Centralized: The database of data with your followers, artwork, posts, likes and all belong to a single installation, the main Cara.app. You can't export your data. You are a prisoner of the Cara ecosystem.
  • Copycat: The interface is really a 1:1 copy of Instagram and Artstation, I don't see how they can do that and not go to court at some point for copying other products so closely.
  • Human made image stock: Don't you think it's a wonderful source of pure 100% human made work to scrap, for AI companies?
  • A conditional no to AI: "in their current unethical form, and we won’t host AI-generated portfolios unless the rampant ethical and data privacy issues around datasets are resolved via regulation" (src), so it's not a "no forever."
  • Google Analytics: Well, they give Google all: who visits their site, for how long, with which browser, from which country, what they look at, what they post: in short, all of your behavior.
  • Slow: Obviously the announced 300K users on it exceed the infrastructure capacities, but it's a minor temporary problem I guess.
  • An artist echo chamber: A closed social media where artists post for... other artists? Do you have to be an artist to appreciate art?

Edit 2024-06-05, Addenda: NSFW: As some in the comments have reported, NSFW (Not Safe For Work) content is not allowed on Cara. The problem is that there is no definition given by the platform about what is NSFW or not, a problem for example concerning nude studies. Also a big problem for adult comic and illustration artists, of course.

Edit 2024-06-06, Addenda: Accessibility: The html of the text has been degraded with an empty html comment tag between each word. Probably an anti-AI scraping feature. But it doesn't look effective because a scraper could quickly adapt to such a basic rule. It affects the accessibility of the page badly and creates many problems for screen readers and automatic translators. Not to mention it doubles the size of HTML and affects bandwidth and power consumption.

4. "NO AI": a new commercial hype?

I know that by expressing such a criticism, many readers will think: "You're one of them, David!", meaning that I'm in the AI gen art camp because you know: polarized opinions and many think in black and white nowadays. So my answer: NO, I'm against AI generative art, and you can read my blog posts about it here, and later also here.

But it seems to me that we have a new breed of entrepreneurs surfing on the "NO AI" hype. I already gave this critique to Glaze, the protection against AI that has trouble proving its efficiency.

Guess what? They Introduced Cara-Glaze, a built-in implementation of Glaze in Cara. You can already read on this page "If you run out of credits on Cara, you can use Glaze on your desktop or Web Glaze".

5. The Honeymoon Phase of a Future Toxic Relationship

I think it is good to see a platform standing up against AI generative art and trying new things. Bravo. It is also refreshing right now to see all the warm comments about it and the artists praising it. Lol, I even did it. It's clearly the honey moon of the platform, where many users think it will never be toxic, and that they finally found the right place and all. But believe my old experience with social media: it is always like that in the first months.

What we have here is a structure built on exactly the same rules at its core that guarantee a future enshitification: proprietary, closed and centralized.

Sooner or later, Cara.app will change, the terms of service will be updated, it could be sold or monetized in a way you don't like: ads will pop up, pay-to-win systems will boost posts from companies or rich artists, and all the data and your behavior will be sold to hundreds of companies for marketing analysis. You can change the recipe for a cake ten times, but if it contains a spoonful of excrement, it will always be a shit cake.

Don't be fooled: this is the birth of another commercial platform, and you are the product on it. It is free right now to attract the most users to it, and the crowdfunding/patronage of this platform only helps them build their proprietary empire. It's like giving money to your neighbor who wants to build a swimming pool on their property because they promise you'll be able to swim in it.

I'm curious how they're going to maintain the platform, because hosting hundreds of thousands of users costs daily a lot of money.

6. A powerfull FOMO effect

Anyway, I opened my profile on it: https://cara.app/deevad

But I don't want to give you the impression that I just opened an account with the pure idea of studying Cara.app from the inside with the sole purpose of writing this article.

No, I'm also very vulnerable to the FOMO effect (the Fear Of Missing Out) when such hype happens. I even secretly wished that creating this new profile on this platform would make my audience grow like crazy... and I hate myself for having this kind of feeling. But it was too hard to resist: so I opened it and was happy when I did. Damn FOMO effect!

Well, now I'm going to pretend that I did it to reserve the Deevad/David Revoy namespace and protect myself against impersonation, or that I did it in order to close my Artstation profile later. aaah... rationalization. That's why I totally understand all the artists who are opening a profile right now for their own "rational" reasons (wink/wink).

7. Famous artists will be more famous on it

Unfortunately, after my initial excitement for Cara wore off (pretty quickly, it must be the age), I immediately recovered my brain and knew that the mirage of "instant fame" will never be a thing on it. At least not for me.

Everyone knows what will happen and what is already happening on it: the big influencers with huge audience like on Artstation, Instagram, Twitter are calling their audience to move to Cara.app and will kick start a large base audience faster than others. And a sidebar mechanism on each user's homepage already rewards the most liked and replied posts by listing them.

It will make the most visible even more visible. The already famous even more famous. So, prepare to hear influencers praising Cara as our savior in the coming weeks.

But for me, I know it will be the same circus as in any other proprietary social media, the replica of the same famous profiles, the same source of power, the same flawed rules and my prediction: the same future enshitification.

But all without AI, right?
'Yay' I guess?

8. You critic David! But what do you suggest?

Okay, I am sorry to break your Cara.app dream, artists. But I'm not criticizing just to say it's bad and that's all. There is a long list of things the Cara team could do if they really wanted to create a revolutionary platform that empowers its users, and I invite them to use my list:

  • Interoperability: Wouldn't it be great if everyone could follow your Cara.app from many other social networks? It is technically possible: make it use the activity.pub protocol and make it part of the Fediverse.
  • Managed by a non-profit org: Create a foundation, an org, a non-corporate/business structure to govern and protect it.
  • Open Source & Transparency: Show the integral code of the platform to the public: this way we can know that no cryptic rules of your algorythm are here to boost certain users and deboost others.
  • Instanced: Imagine being able to host your own Cara.app? For your club, your profile or your friends. You would protect them from any corporate decisions. A network of Cara.app islands connected.
  • Migration of personal data possible: Imagine if your followers, posts, etc... could move with you if you decided to join another instance of Cara?

Well, social medias with all this list already exist and I already benefit from all these guarantees [1]: with my Mastodon account on the Fediverse.

If artists would like to have an alternative to Instagram on the Fediverse with a familiar interface, they can join or create their own Pixelfed instance. They could also join a specialized instance for artists like Mastodon.art [2].

[1]: Edit 2024-06-04, Erratum: "all these guarantees" except that you can't move all your posts from one account to another on Mastodon. You can move instances with all your followers and keep the account you follow in your new location, but you start with a blank canvas for your timeline and previous posts.

[2]: Edit 2024-06-04, Addenda: This recommendation was controversial in the comment section, for their strict federation policies. I updated the link to their About page so you can read more about this policy. Use the 'search' tool on the list of instances to find more.

9. Conclusion

So I'm not sure: Why are artists promoting Cara.app?
Do we all collectively need the same cycle of honeymoon then toxic relationship over and over?
Couldn't we just move away from proprietary social media once and for all?

It sounds to me like the collective intelligence of the digital art community still hasn't learned the lesson of "no proprietary, closed and centralized"...