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?

Snap My Life: just one more photo sharing experience?

When you want to store and share your pictures, well you really have many options. But social projects are hype if not in a bubble state. I like to review the existing, old or new photo sharing websites.

So I had a look at Snap My Life. I jumped quickly to their “10 reasons to love them“, and created a profile. Well so far I don’t some real innovation. Their “ambassadors program” looks more interesting for them than for the photographers – I don’t really see the point joining the program. The explore is a kind of 500px but without the quality of images of 500px. Their search is not dramatically giving a new or great photo experience. The site is not exactly very famous and I can’t see any positive trend. Of course they are proposing something unique – basically a mix of photo sharing / data storing on the cloud / music sharing, but I don’t really see the added value of their global offer. There is some geolocation and mobile apps, but that’s look more to comply with some buzzwords’ tyranny rather than a real great experience for the user.

If you want to share only mobile pictures, instagram looks much better. If you want to store your files, Dropbox and others Google drive really rock, and if you like photography, 500px is great. For the social photo experience, Flickr is to me still a king.

I don’t want to blame them but basically, you have now so many photo sharing websites, that it looks more than a challenge to enter this market unless with some real breakthrough, or by fixing something really broken. Otherwise, you will be just one more in the game.

 

Open Source and photo sharing

I am a big fan of open source and of photo sharing. Both together can bring something quite unique on the table but you should ask yourself whether every open source projects works really or not as an open source initiative – useless to write as a useful project by itself.

Most of the time, however one should carefully understand the limitations of an open source project, and the motivations of its main mentors and contributors.

For instance, I like the idea to have some open source code available for catalogue, or sharing pictures, or both. Whereas it is now a commodity (E.g. Picasa – oops I mean Google + photos! – is free), it is far from being often an open source code commodity. And you need the code if you want to build something. That’s not important for end users, but that’s critical for developer working at a new photosharing site for instance.

Therefore, the licensing of the code, something very technical if not boring that you should really look at, however, should be very permissive to let users build easily on top (E.g. of some permissive licences: LGPL, BSD, Apache). GPL will not allow you to monetize your work efficiently, and in many cases, it could be a show stopper for your project.

Whereas I am not so much a fan of Openphoto, I like very much their Apache licensing. Conversely, I like the Pixi.me, free image hosting and photo sharing, based on an open source photo gallery which is, unfortunately, licensed through a GPL. Both projects seems to be commercially-driven, I am fine with that, but I just want to mention their are not community driven (those used to be working with open source project will understand the nuance between both).

Actually, I would split projects in different kind, that’s not specific to open source, but just to clarify things. So I would like to list the services related to the photo workflow:

  1. Post-processing (E.g. Photoshop for the high-end, Aviary for the common mortal),
  2. Cataloguing (Picasa, Lightroom),
  3. Digital Asset Management (Actually for photography “Picture Management”: Lightroom but also Razuna for an open source player),
  4. Publishing services (usually embedded into DAM/cataloguing software but not always and must be customizable),
  5. Photosharing (Flickr),
  6. Analytics (sometimes embedded with Photosharing, sometimes not),
  7. Curation services (Pictarine)

My list is neither exhaustive nor static, but that’s a start.

And whereas projects are done for end-users – non technical people, I am in favour of developers-oriented open source projects where the technical frameworks are getting commoditized and free from the grasp of commercially-driven teams. Open source projects, modular, consistent with this approach, and based on very permissive licensing, would be very useful for everyone. People involved into the projects would get rewarded by reusing the code of the commodities and by influencing standards and trends. That’s basically what people are calling “community driven open source projects”.

Right now, photo sharing is indeed too much a proprietary thing. I hope open source will influence it the right way, so basically the community way. Commercial vendors are here, o.m.h.o., to propose some unique and seamless experience well integrated of the services listed in this blog, but mixing open source projects with end-users commercial ones may be confusing for both developers and end users.

So yes, Flickr and other Smugmug should be based on more open source frameworks and should open more their API. But I am still wondering the added value of trying to replace them by a project like Openphoto!

Sorry but we are not living in a brave new world, that’s good, and obviously photo sharing is going to evolve a lot!

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!

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”.

Why I am not a fan of Picture life

I have listed already quite a few photo sharing websites, actually from far too many, and it looks clear to me some real breakthrough are very much welcomed. So whereas there are too many players, a start-up could be successful. Picture life is another hype start-up, like so many in 2012 as soon as they are dealing with something “social”. But so far I am not impressed. To be fair, the start-up is really in beta and it looks challenging to get more details about their supposed innovative offer.

Let’s come to what I am aware of and what I don’t like it so far:

1. No freemium, you want to join, you need to pay. Ok Smugmug dit it this way, but for one Smugmug, how many failures?

2. Their innovative offer looks very similar to Dropbox and Picasa. I know skilled people which would demonstrate the opposite, but frankly, whereas Picasa has many drawbacks and limits, its ability to make available pictures everywhere is real. Same for Dropbox. Last and not least, quite a few players will also enter this market. If you are not aware, cloud offers are growing like hell. Like Google+ knows already, to fix something which is not broken is never easy, so good luck to Picture life if this is really what they are looking for.

3. They want to be a “Flickr-killer”. Well, I am afraid, whereas a big fan of Flickr, than Flickr does not need anybody else than itself to kill Flickr… Please, Yahoo!, do me a favour, sell Flickr to some people who like photo sharing and photography.

So, wait and see, as usual, but it seems to me to be just another photo sharing website. If you are a fan of Picture life, please let me know why, I would love to hear from you.