About the broken feature of photosharing: discovery and explore

Whereas photosharing has become so popular for the last years, it is well known that most of the time, looking for “good photographers” – which means someone who takes pictures YOU like, has become more and more challenging. Arthur Chang has already written an excellent post about this. Curation is indeed a real challenge as the flow of new pictures is getting each month even bigger.

Some may argue they can always find good picture easily. I can’t and more important, I am struggling finding photographers I really like. That’s surprising because I am a very versatile photographer and I can like a lot of different “species” of photographers. But the reason is trivial. There are now too many pictures!

Too much information

I don’t know Arthur, but he seems to have tons of good ideas about curation of your friends’ photos. And obviously, there is some real room for improvements. I have had several times some discussions with Pictarine‘s founder similarly. There service is a great curating tool, but it still does not help with information overload, at least so far. That’s more the other way around, you are not going to miss any picture! And again, I don’t know whether my existing contacts are really so close to connecting me with the photographers I like. In theory, yes, and the only good tool I know, flexplore, is doing a really decent job. Most of the pictures are beautiful. It helps a lot to discover great pictures, but not to connect with photographers I like because a good picture does not mean you will like the work of the photographer! At the end of the day, photosharing is about people, not photography.

Most of the photosharing services are egocentric, which can be fine, fair enough. But it is not enough. When you like photography per se, not only because you need to have some people who are faving your photography just because you faved theirs, you would love browsing for more. You want to be surprised, you need emotions, you want to discover. And like said Thomas Hawk, most of the photographers’ work will stay unknown by those who would like to see it. More over, it is now so easy to engage and communicate, you would love to contact them but you can’t because there are lost in the noise of “too much pictures” and “very limited explore features”.

What a good picture means

OK there is maybe Flexplore again, but it is still very limited. So I don’t know any tool good at showing me some interesting pictures for ME, and I have no doubt someone else will not find interesting the same pictures than I do. And that’s the point. Some services have tried to quantify the aesthetic of a picture. I tried it, and I am not convinced! Other clever tools exist to auto-tag pictures and autocrop them (Which means they could quantify a lot and help you a lot). But no real “discovery & explore” tool aside from Arthur’s criteria:

  • Quantity of views
  • Quantity of actions taken
  • Quality of person who viewed or acted (based on their own accumulated algorithm results)
  • Time (recency)

I am sure this tool would need some personalization because, again, there is no way to find and absolute way to classify photographies. I can’t care less about puppies’ pictures, some would love seeing thousands of them, I respect that. Conversely, I like HDR, B&W and many other kind of pictures, some love or dislike HDR or B&W and so on.

We are still far – well at least as far as I can know – given how poor the existing libraries are able to quantify the aesthetic of a picture and also because auto-tagging is still at its infancy. But for sure there is here a fantastic subject for brave and talented entrepreneurs… In the meantime, I would love seeing Pictarine and Arthur’s project helping me on my urgent need for good pictures!

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.

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.

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…