Some thoughts about the future of photostreaming

Photostreams are now just a commodity for any social service, and has improved dramatically for the last months. Facebook and Flickr recent improvements may be two obvious examples. Let’s list first some trends in 2012:

Bigger is better
That’s obvious: the experience improves with the picture size and photostreams are now able to display much bigger pictures.

Adjust to your screen size
Services like Flickr allow you to see a given picture of a stream, by clicking it, at the maximum size possible. Cool.

Endless stream
That’s also obvious, we hate clicking on “next page please”, and, freaking consumers that we are all like to see as many pictures as possible in the shortest time frame available.

Mosaic and no blank space please
Similarly, photostreams are now more and more mosaics without any blank space between pictures. That’s sound obvious nowadays, but that’s something actually recent. However, how and if you must crop pictures to display the stream is something yet not so clear:

Square crop
Square crop has become very popular, but for some, like Flickr, who are still preferring a justified streaming. Unlike some, I am not a fan of square crop, even if I do understand its usefulness, and to be more specific, for mobile device.

Present limitations
I understand my pictures must be cropped, but right now, it is far from being ideal. And browsing my Google Picasa albums with front page badly square cropped is just depressing for a photographer. Intelligent cropping tools are now starting to be available, so hopefully, this will improve soon.

Another problem with streaming is actually the search. We mainly browse mainly by either “time” or “tags”. This experience can be really frustrating, as pictures are now counted by billions, and you don’t want to see most of them for many reasons. Actually, it is becoming a real challenge to find the kind of pictures you are looking for. The trend – more and more pictures taken every year – will make the search experience on pictures more and more frustrating without some dramatic innovations.

That’s why I am sure, or at least I hope, that many new intelligent tools will be soon available. There are many ways to find what you are looking for and that’s how photostreaming may evolve: you can already give an aesthetic number to a picture. That’s very arguable, though. But I prefer from far missing some good pictures because the tool miscalculated their aesthetic value and browsing only “nice” pictures than browsing tons of uninteresting pictures for me. Yes, interestingness is really something photostreams are taking care of in a very basic way so far. Other tools are now providing a context to pictures, trying to avoid not only the tagging tasks, but providing some semantic to a picture to let people browsing it the way we want.

On top of this, there are now many ways to push your content to different channels and one person can post a picture to many streams. So services like Pictarine look to me a great way to display photostreaming by person. This dimensions does matter too. Search & display by people is really something still at its infancy for photostreaming. But let’s go a little bit further, I would love being able to look after a kind of photographer. Right now, finding new photographers that you like is a challenge, as we have all very different tastes. And photography has become so popular, there is no such thing than discovering new skilled photographers lost in armies of photographers you can’t care less about. Anyway, tha’ts something else I would discuss in another post.

Conclusion: how to handle an exponential volume of pictures?
So to make a long story short, the main challenge of photostreaming, in the future, would be to take care of “volume”. I believe that several business will be extremely successful if they will be able to improve the photostreaming experience of users. Welcome to a digital world of billions and billions of pictures… and counting.

Advertisements

Be aware: Facebook doesn’t give a s..t about photography

Whereas its photo services have improved dramatically for the last months, despite a 1 billion dollars acquisition, you should not believe, even a second, than Facebook is the photographer friend. Actually, I like their honesty: they don’t want to be cool, they want to become a utility. They don’t like photography, they like you spending your life on their website. Users don’t really matter so much (read Terms and conditions, and remember all the privacy settings issues), but what matters yet is to print money. After all, they will be publicly listed this week, so that’s something important.

This week, they also decide to acquire another mobile photo sharing company, but actually not the company itself, just its team: Lightbox. For those who don’t know them, they used to be a good alternative to Instagram. Facebook also bought Instagram not for an interest into photography, but just for their mobile social sharing skills.

Why Facebook sucks

They are going to close Lightbox’s services, that’s too bad for the users. But who cares? Well, the users care, when they spent hours and hours building a community. OK they will start again with Streamzoo, hipsters or whatever. Ok the service was free and you can download the pictures you posted in Lightbox, if you are not in a three weeks vacations without internet (Yes in Europe we do that! Remember, our debt is immense, so are our vacations, sometimes offline). But that’s not the point. What matters is building a community, a reputation and sharing with people.Facebook does not like when you do this without them, which is understandable. That’s not a reason and I despise very much the founders of Lightbox which obviously, despise their beloved users too acting this way. But you should remember that when it is free, you are not the client, you are the meat.

Instagram future

So I am mortified to see that some people still believe in a bright future of Instagram. Of course, I can’t be sure their future will be like Flickr after its acquisition by Yahoo!, but the motivations of Facebook look to me quite similar: integration, talent acquisition, who cares about the product?

Both sides of the coin

That’s business. Internet allow you everything, but that’s true for everyone. What is offered to you can be removed easily. Some ethic will eventually prevail with photo sharing & social web. For the time being, Facebook sucks and cannot care less about ethic, so I don’t like them. Just a few greedy investors and a talented founder is not enough. They missed the point. They did it on purpose, they can afford it. I don’t hope people will remember, I just hope entrepreneurs will leverage this assumed weakness to let their business grow. Flickr, do you hear me now that you seem to have lost your arrogance?

Photo sharing and digital filters: hype and soon old fashioned?

Instagram, hipstamatic, flickr, lightbox and much more… Some are more hype or cooler than other but at the end of the day, they may, can or will do the same job:

1. Shoot with your smartphone,
2. Apply a digital filter (with a 70’s look),
3. Share it in a way or another.

But frankly, it would be very primitive to believe that they are popular for another reason than just being new. Basically, their services will be soon commodities for other social websites, should it be Flickr, FB, G+ or any other. It’s fun to look at digital pictures masqueraded like analog ones, but for how long?

It looks important to make a difference between a stand alone new service and a funny, useful, or cool innovation with a limited entry-barrier. Some will say 30 millions of fans is not so limited, fair enough, but implementing their features into a social community does not look so much complicated either. I just want to mean: relax, that’s just for the hype, some investors are going to get some return from their ventures (e.g. the IPO of Facebook is coming soon), so don’t mix things up.

I won’t be surprised that within some months, or just a fewones, and maybe not so many, it will be very old fashioned to post a photography with an analog touch.

Two things are sure, however: photo sharing will stay popular, and social websites will continue to grow…

Can instagram hysteric acquisition motivate at last Yahoo! ? Will photosharing at last be fixed?

I don’t say it is not cool but I am not a great fan of Instagram (I would prefer from far a social service like Path). I don’t like its photos style – or rather that it obliges you to have Instagram’s style. Apart from the fact is well done and famous, I don’t see any rocket-science here. That said, the acquisition of the photos-stream-for-mobile-with-some-cool-digital-filters would help other obsolete and old fashioned websites (like Flickr) to modernize its UI and experience. We need more real photosharing websites, I hope that’s Yahoo! will understand at last on which treasure they are sitting, or rather sleeping…

More important, whatever photosharing website(s) will ultimately prevail, I have no doubt its integration with other services will be paramount. We are overwhelmed by social websites and experiences, even the best can now barely sustain using  so many services. You cannot just add more and more, and we need some rationalization. Will it be FB, or Google or another one? Will services like Pictarine will become compulsory to survive in a crowded world of social websites and photos sharing services?  I can’t say of course but it looks to be urgent to fix photo sharing…