Taking pictures of dogs in public has been nothing but a casual activity for years; however, when humanity’s fascination with our canine companions merged with the reach of social media, the Facebook group Dogspotting was born.
Dogspotting is the act of ‘spotting’ dogs in public, taking a picture, and posting it online for other members to score it. Historically, there has been some debate over the rigidity of the points system. Today, there is an official rubric for scoring, but members can still spontaneously award non-official points.
John Savoia coined the term “Dogspotting” in 2006 on the Something Awful Forums, an online space for sharing hobbies and activities, usually with a comedic twist. Savoia then went on to create the Dogspotting Facebook Group in 2008. It continued as a small community of roughly twenty friends sharing pictures, until several Australian college students found it in June of 2014. Soon after, the social influence of Dogspotting increased exponentially and its membership exploded. Currently there are 350,000 members with about 7,000 joining each week.
Nobody is more surprised by the surge in Dogspotting’s popularity than the founder John Savoia himself. Savoia credits the embrace of social media and technology for enabling what began as a simple idea to become a global phenomenon.
“The original vision for dogspotting was to gamify the act of seeing dogs,” Savoia said. “Simple as that. No community, no concept of cuteness, just a 20-year-old who had played too many RPGs as a kid and wanted to make numbers [add] up. It’s obviously changed in very fundamental ways since then, going from hash marks on a piece of paper in my wallet to a multimedia-based community across the globe.”
Dogspotting has since adjusted to its larger membership base, and aims to continue organically supplementing what was originally a simple idea. The Facebook group has recently expanded its activities through different avenues, including a merchandise store, raising donations for animal rescue shelters, and the release of the Dogspotting app, which allows members to post pictures and receive scores on their mobile devices.
Savoia hopes that Dogspotting will continue to grow. The administrators intend to use the app to raise donations, but Savoia makes no concrete predictions about the logistics of this idea or the cause toward which funds would be sent.
“The future is not aimless, but more nebulous in a good way for me,” Savoia said. “There are goals and specifics, but generally speaking I want Dogspotting to go it’s own path, with myself and the other admins as guiding forces.”
The community appears to have a thriving sense of identity. Though members enjoy other dog-centric groups and popular memes, they take unique pride in Dogspotting’s original and structured content. Dogspotting President Jeff Wallen suggested that the group contributes to the creation of memes, but that what makes it unique from other online groups and forums is its sense of community.
“[Members] make friends in comments, the more active users recognize one another,” Wallen said. “It is a very interactive place. Our members are loyal Spotters. It’s more than just belonging to a Facebook group. It’s being part of something bigger, something special.”
Coco Thorpe, an administrator of Dogspotting, claimed that some members have over 100 friends in Dogspotting, and many of these connections are international. Although she is proud of social media contributing to a global sense of community, she also addressed the importance of the unique nature of dogs in bringing people together.
“It never fails to amaze me, what a love humanity has for dogs,” Thorpe said. “Seeing pictures of dogs from all around the world has fostered communication and friendships between people of many countries. I also have heard more times than I can count that this group is an antidote to depression for many people, and gets them through hard and sad times.”
Many members come to Dogspotting for the positive environment. Dogs foster sentiments of positivity, and this is echoed in the group’s activities.
“My experience […] is that dog owners bond much more quickly and socially with other dog owners,” Savoia said. “A sort of ad-hoc club, if you will. I think that’s primarily [in real life], but translates to the net just fine.”
McGill Tribune: What’s your favourite thing about dogs?
Jeff Wallen: “No person will ever love you like your dog loves you. Their loyalty and love is unconditional.”
Coco Thorpe: “My favourite thing about dogs is of course their loyalty and unconditional love; and also I really like big furry ones.”
John Savoia: “My favourite thing about dogs would honestly be the points they have accumulated for me over the past 10 years. Being that I have played dogspotting longer than anyone else, I am the unofficial all time points leader.”