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?

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Open Photo: a good idea but may be just a missed opportunity

Photo sharing is hype, we know it. Open source is cool. So a match between both should be fantastic. Open Photo would like to be this great player, able to put together some freedom to what has been so far a proprietary thing.

I like very much the idea to split where you are storing your pictures from the presentation itself, where you publish them, and done through an open source code, that’s just great. But actually many people are already doing it sometimes, not in an open source way. For instance, I am using Google to store my pictures, and I publish them through many channels (FB, Flickr, Tumblr, Google+, …).I don’t publish one picture through many channels because I must, but because I like. Don’t mix up “to store” with “to share”. You don’t do the same things with these different photo sharing websites. There are overlaps, fair enough, but I need all of them. So to make a long story short, you can store images on photo sharing websites, but you are not obliged to and, personally, I don’t recommend doing so!

My first point: the very unique idea of Open Photo seems to make not proprietary all tags & comments of your pictures and to let you store them where you want. If my understanding is correct, I don’t find the story not so much appealing.

Conversely,  tools like Pictarine can be much more helpful, acting like a “Pictures hub”, storing nothing but curating your published images.

I think there is a confusion somewhere, and we should get back to the basics of “Digital Asset Management“, something not as hype and recent than photo sharing. You must make a difference between:

  1. How I am taking digital pictures
  2. How I am doing the post-processing
  3. How I am managing the versionning of each picture
  4. Where and how I am storing them
  5. Indeed, I will publish them through many channels and with different formats, so publishing channels processes are the next thing to take care of
  6. Last and not least, how I am managing the social experience with my pictures

I have the feelings that Open Photo is going to be “one more photo sharing experience”. Of course they will pretend the opposite! But frankly with have already rather too many photo sharing options than too few. And I know the Open Photo’s team knows it. On a side note, flaming Smugmug and Flickr, like the are doing, looks weird to me. They have their defaults, limitations and weaknesses but, I mean, they are quite good at doing what they are supposed to do! And they are actually quite unique. Photobucket and the other Instagram are not evil per se, they are proposing a social experience of their own. Yes, photo sharing is broken and must be fixed, but that’s more because of its immaturity, not because of its lack of open-sourceness.

Open source is more for improving interoperability and standards, as every vendor try to lock-in its customers, and open source must act against this evil. But again, open source is for technology, not for end users experience – even if some open source teams will often try to pretend the contrary.

So yes, you should not store your pictures with the same provider than where you are publishing them. And you certainly don’t need Open Photo to do it. But do you really need to own the comments and tags of your pictures? That’s arguable.

Maybe Open photo could be a kind of competitor of Pictarine, they are both dealing with curation limits of photo sharing services, even with a very different philosophy, or maybe even work closer if not together, but so far Open Photo looks more like again reinventing the wheel, like too many open source projects, instead of focusing at real innovation, like some do, with so much success. As far as I know, one should remember open source is mainly if not only attractive for geeks, developpers and techies. End users, the mainstream, don’t care or/and don’t understand what it means to be LGPL / Apache licenced and don’t want to belong to the great Github community! I don’t think Apple can be known as an open source company – no kidding! – but they are very much liked by end-users. So do many Flickr and Smugmug users, even if they can criticize these services.

So, what do we need?

I need one and only one tool which will let me storing my pictures “anywhere” (I could switch from Dropbox to let’s say Google drive! – or the opposite if you think Google is evil), manage the versions of my pictures, and will let me publish them every where, and which will let me enjoying and handling well the social experience I am developping with them. And I need it by picture (the asset is “one picture, several versions, many published items, its comments and tags”).

Simple, but not easy at all.

For the record, Lightroom could make it, but so far does not really. It is indeed the Swiss tool of pictures’ management, not the real “pictures hub” I need. It does not manage at all  the social experience, that’s more for Pictarine which, conversely, does not handle the assets themselves. They provide a time-display, but no per asset display like Lightroom, which is still unable to show what-the-hell you are doing with you assets. Something Pictarine is very capable of.

Should this software be open source, that would rock. Should it not be, too bad but I may use it nevertheless. That’s how open source works: it is better with them but it works without.

Why Flickr is nothing else but a sleeping beauty

For the last months, many bloggers and journalists have noticed the raise of 500px, instagram, and other photo sharing websites whereas the old and fading lady of this kind, Flickr, was just doing… nothing. Some were saying, more in a provocative way, that Flickr is dead.

First, one should understand why: that’s easy, Yahoo! has been into a major restructuring for months (if not more), and being a product into such an organization means “you can’t take any real decision”. In a way or another, it will eventually change. OK one may argue it could last and damaged a lot Flickr, fair enough, but from my personal experience, I find this scenario unlikely. The Flickr team has been waiting for too long, and the management of Yahoo! will have to take a decision, at least will make possible some evolutions of the photo sharing website at, at least, a reasonable pace.  It is not like if Flickr has less means, people or money than the others, it is just Yahoo! which is a crazy mess right now and mess does not last forever. Companies die, break or come back, but can’t be messy too long.

Now let’s come to Flickr main assets versus its directs so called competitors: its vibrant and large community. I tried other photo sharing websites, but this one is really active and the diversity is so great, one can really explore the realm of photography, from casual shooters posting their last vacations pictures to serious professional, even if they all tend not to like Flickr any more but that’s easy to understand:

Flickr main weakness is obviously displaying the pictures (obsolete and ugly for 2012), and the browsing experience (too many clicks). It is complicated to solve these issues, given the size of the community (I am an engineer so I can get it), but other did it and again, I believe Flickr can do it. Conversely, acquire such a community and make it so vibrant is not a technological impediment. Facebook prevailed upon myspace, but there are not so many Facebook and a big and vibrant community is a real asset, quite tough to acquire.

The other photo sharing websites are interesting, but none can offer what Flickr has. A place for photography, for photographers, for all of them.

Therefore, I would not bury so fast Flickr, they are not dead, they have just been sleeping. Please wake up guys! Photography needs you!

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…

Sorry, but instagram is no holy grail for photosharing

There is a common belief: smartphones will replace cameras and new photosharing websites are making the others obsolete. Since a few month, thanks to a skyrocketting growth, Instagram is the new kid on the block. I cannot disagree about some new trends and I will not say that photosharing is somewhere broken and must be fixed. But I don’t think things are so black and white. Some basic tests show that they can replace basic point & shoot ones, but certainly not more advanced bodies and lenses. Simultaneously, photosharing appears to be broken, and newbies can be very successfull. It does not mean the war is over. Instagram may be hype right now, and might be replaced by others players. I will more believe in the two following facts:

1. Cameras will be far better connected or, for some artists, you just don’t care

Some manufacturers are already or are going to improve soon dramatically the way you can process and publish your images, which is so far very old fashioned compare with smartphones. So in the (near) future, taking pictures with “real” cameras (DSLR, mirrorless, high end compacts) will mean publishing them the same way than smartphones do. Further more, some pictures need to be post processes, or some photographers want to post process them for their art, so for these people, the way cameras are working is just perfect and require no changes.

2. No holy grail so far for photosharing

There are actually more and more photosharing websites, and whereas some may or will disappear, many will stay alive and will specialize. You don’t need just one, you need many photosharing websites, depending on what you are looking for. And sorry, photography is not only for the masses. Many niches will develop, and that’s very good for art, and for the photography as a living art.

Conclusion

I am always a little bit annoyed by just hype and fashion. Life is rarely so black and white and there are no real “losers” or “winners”, even if some projects are really growing and others in dire straits. Most of the time, for such new trends and emerging technologies, it is more how you will get unique that matters, it is certainly not about raising money from Venture capitalists or being back-up by some famous people, even if it helps to get fame from bloggers or journalists.

As written by Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”.