Applications Blogs and blogging Writing

Blogging software and good shoes

Dave Winer commenting on his new blogging software:

It was the right thing to do. Often software only feels that way before you use it. The really good stuff feels that way even after you’ve settled in.

I like my software like I like good, new shoes: it feels good when I start using it and just feels more comfortable and natural the more I do.


Why Flickr is better than Google Photos

As many predicted, Google relaunched its photos service as the standalone Google Photos just days after I told you why you should use Flickr as your primary photo storage and sharing service. Google Photos is a pretty good service but it still doesn’t beat Flickr where it counts, at least not for me. Keep reading and I’ll tell you why Flickr is better than Google Photos, despite what you may have heard.

An overview of Google Photos

For starters, Google Photos is now a standalone service. It is no longer tethered to Google+ and its not clear what this means for Google+ as a social stream.

One of the best features of Google Photos is what Google described as a “single, private place to keep a lifetime of memories, and access them from any device”. You can store “unlimited, high-quality photos and videos, for free”. That bit got my attention immediately and features strongly in any discussion about Google Photos. It is a bit misleading, though, and I’ll get into that below.

One feature which was carried across used to be called Auto-Awesome. It is now called “Assistant” and it takes your photos and does some really cool stuff with them; adding effects, creating animations and a number of other really nice effects. It is one of my favorite features of Google’s photo service (here is a cool example based on some of these photos) and I’d love to see this in Flickr even though I’m not sure anyone other than Google can really pull it off.

Google Photos will take your photos and organize them automatically based on when you took them, where you were when you took them, who features in the photos and what is in the photos. It potentially takes a lot of that manual effort you usually put into organizing your collections. You can create manual albums too and you can even create Collections (these used to be called Stories in Google+) which are also very cool ways of telling stories using your photos from events and locations.

Another feature is your ability to share your photos using other services (like Twitter or Facebook) or even using a link that gives people who have the link access to your photos even if they wouldn’t otherwise have access. That is something Dropbox practically pioneered and Flickr emulated. It is great to see services supporting sharing across more external services.

Google has released iOS and Android apps as well as a new desktop uploader that, like the Flickr Uploadr, watches specified folders and uploads automatically. The apps are very clean and work pretty well. The iOS version works on iPhones and iPads.

Overall the update is a great one. Google Photos is a pretty compelling option for consumers who never really saw the point of Google+ as a separate social thing.

Google’s bait and switch

Google says users have “unlimited” space for their photos but there is a catch, a big one. The “unlimited” space applies to photos uploaded from now (or probably photos which were previously covered by Google+ Photos unlimited option – roughly 2 megapixels if I remember correctly) and only if you choose the option to upload “high quality” versions of your photos.

High quality images are compressed versions of your photos and are limited to 16 megapixels. That is probably fine for most casual users but it becomes a problem for more serious users and users whose devices natively shoot more than 16 megapixels (it won’t be long before this is the norm).

There is more, though. Your existing photos aren’t included in this new unlimited plan if they exceeded the resolution that qualified for the original “unlimited” so don’t expect space you paid for to suddenly be freed for other uses. Also, even though Google Photos will upload RAW photos (something Flickr doesn’t do), those photos probably won’t be included in the “unlimited” storage – RAW photos are usually very high resolution images and will probably use your normal storage allocation.

Flickr, on the other hand, gives you what it promises: 1 TB of free storage. Within that, you have pretty generous limitations:

  • Videos can be up to 1GB each and playback on Flickr is limited to the first 3 minutes;
  • Photos can be up to 200MB each (that is probably the equivalent of a direct export of a RAW file at maximum resolution for most DSLRs);
  • Photos can’t be more than about 31 times wider than they are tall (not sure what this is about but I usually don’t encounter this problem).

Flickr prefers JPG and PNG images and will convert to JPG for viewing. That said, it retains your original files which you can download as and when you want:

The original, completely uncompressed version of your content is always saved to Flickr, along with several alternate photo sizes for you to use around the web.

Google Takeout will let you download your photo albums but bear in mind that you will be downloading the compressed, “high resolution” versions of your photos if you take advantage of the “unlimited” space. This means you can’t count on Google Photos for uncompressed photo archives unless you pay for enough storage.

The real losers

Google Photos isn’t going to replace Flickr for me but it is going to be a great option for casual users, especially people who use Google’s other services like Gmail, Google Drive and others (which is a lot of people). It is also going to be an easy choice for Android users (as you would expect).

My reasons for sticking with Flickr as my primary photo storage and sharing service remain compelling, even with Google Photos’ improvements. What Google Photos prompts me to revisit is how I’ve been lazily uploading photos to Dropbox to share with people who can’t seem to get to my Flickr albums. I got into the habit of just exporting photos from Lightroom to a Dropbox synced folder and just kept that running because I had enough space.

I don’t need to do that anymore. I have pointed Flickr’s and Google Photos’ desktop apps to a local folder outside my Dropbox folder and they will upload new exports as soon as they appear. This means I can remove all my stored albums from Dropbox and keep that space available for other files I need to store on an ad hoc basis.

Dropbox’s appeal is your ability to store your photos in their original format on Dropbox and that includes RAW and other more specialized formats. Of course that means you need a fair amount of space but if you have followed all the suggestions to earn more free space you probably have more than the basic 2GB for use for a variety of storage requirements.

Paying for premium Dropbox accounts to accommodate photo libraries has become an unnecessary extravagance and, despite ripping off many of its features, Dropbox’s Carousel is just less compelling than Flickr and Google Photos now. If I were a casual user, I wouldn’t even bother with Dropbox.

iCloud Photo Library is also a waste of money and for a far more limited service. I wrote a bit about this in my previous post so I won’t go into more detail here.

Other losers include all the other paid photo storage and sharing services. Some of them, like 500px, are really good services but they are becoming niche services for professional photographers who want more advanced analytics and the ability to charge for their work.

Flickr and Google Photos have won the consumer space

The elephant in the room is Facebook with its huge market share. It doesn’t have the features Google Photos and Flickr have and may add those in down the line but my preference is to stick with a relatively free-standing service for my memories.

Consumers who feel similarly have no real reason to go with services other than Google Photos and Flickr. If you want to share high quality versions of your photos and be able to store them reliably (as much as you can with 3rd party services), stick with Flickr. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have a secondary backup to Amazon S3 in addition to local backups and I recommend a similar setup. Don’t trust your only backup to just one service, whether it is Flickr, Google Photos or something else. Have multiple backups and blend local with online to keep your stuff safe.

When it comes to an overall winner, I still pick Flickr and you should take another look if you dismissed it previously.


The many reasons you should use Flickr to store and share your photos

Update (2015-05-28): As many predicted, Google has spun off Google Photos as a standalone app. Taking Flickr on pretty directly!

Flickr recently updated its Web and mobile apps with features that make it one of the most compelling photo sharing and storage services available today. It is so good now that using its competitors would probably be a waste of money.

I’ve been using Flickr since about 2004 and, admittedly, I didn’t pay much attention to Flickr until recently. Until then it was a service I sometimes paid for (I opted for the paid Pro version for a few years for the additional storage) and then loosely used as a backup storage space for my photos. Three significant changes brought Flickr to the foreground as my primary photo storage and sharing service:

  1. All accounts being upgraded to 1TB for free,
  2. The updated and excellent Flickr Uploadr, and
  3. The most recent updates that just made Flickr so much more useful.

I have a lot of photos in my archive that go back over a decade. My photos are a growing record of our lives and experiences. When I look at the photos that have survived from my parents’ earlier years and from our ancestors, I see fewer and fewer visual records of earlier times and a relatively poor historical archive. Digital photos make it possible for us to create rich historical archives of our lives and to store those archives pretty inexpensively.

Granted digital also means we probably take way too many photos of stuff we don’t particularly need to document in quite so much detail but, on balance, I’d rather have a richer archive.

My journey

Anyway, I have used various combinations and solutions over the years to archive and share my growing photo library. I’ve used 500px (great service but I didn’t see the point in paying when I had Flickr for free), Dropbox (paid and free), Google Photos (including Google+ Photos), Google Drive, local external drives, Amazon S3 storage, iCloud and Flickr.

My current archive runs to about 128GB. It is derived from iPhoto library exports and edited photos from Lightroom. I don’t think it includes most of my RAW archives so that size will increase when I consolidate those archives fully. The first challenge with a photo library of more than a few gigabytes is that you have to start paying for storage and you have to decide between a variety of photo storage options and how you want to also share your photos.

What I did for a while (and still do to a degree) was to store my photos in a dedicated storage space and share more limited and selected collections on Facebook, Google+ and Dropbox. Actually, Dropbox doubled as a storage and sharing service so it is pretty useful but accommodating my collection means subscribing to the Pro Dropbox service at about $99 per year. That may not sound like much but I had to contend with a pretty hefty currency conversion rate at the time and it wasn’t the only paid storage service I was using.

I also don’t want to trust my collection to a service which could drop me without much notice because of a bug or policy change so its all about redundancy and managing costs overall. I started using Amazon’s S3 storage service a few years ago too. The cost of storage large amounts of data on Amazon’s servers is pretty low and considering that Dropbox uses S3 for its back-end, I didn’t see a lot of point in relying so heavily on Dropbox when I could just go to the source and upload all my data (including my photo archives) to S3 for longer term storage and use something else to share my photos. The challenge, for a few years, was uploading my massive archive to S3’s servers on South Africa’s very limited broadband plans and data transfer limits. It required a lot of patience so I basically uploaded bits and pieces over a few years to get started.

Along the way I also started using Google+ Photos to upload my archives. I subscribe to Google’s 100GB storage plan which became a lot more cost effective about 2 years ago when the price dropped to about $2 per month for 100GB. Coupled with Google+ Photos’ really good image recognition and the ability to find stuff easily, it didn’t matter that people never really caught on to Google+ as a primary social network. It was great for simple storage and personal reference. I still have a sizable chunk of my archive in Google+ Photos (about 45GB).

Dropbox and Google+ Photos introduced something which has become essential with so many devices being repositories for our photos: sync. These background sync services run on our desktops and mobile devices and aggregate our photos from these various sources in our cloud services. It is really useful because it means you don’t have to set aside time to backup or upload your photos. It just happens behind the scenes.

The challenge with Google+ Photos (and, more recently, Google Drive because they share the same storage capacity and are slowly become more integrated) is that I started to reach the 100GB limit and the next step up from there is 1TB for $9.99 per month. As much as I like using Google services, I’m not ready to hand over everything to Google either so I maintained my S3 backups and kept looking.

iCloud Photos
For a while I started using iCloud Photo Library (initially on my iPhone and iPad until the new Photos app brought that capability to my Mac) but at $0.99 for 20GB and $3.99 for 200GB of storage, Apple’s storage service really isn’t competitive when it comes to pricing and being limited to the iCloud ecosystem isn’t particularly appealing to me. What if my next phone isn’t an iPhone and what if not all my laptops are Macs (my office laptop is a Linux laptop)? I stopped using iCloud Photo Library and downgraded my plan to 20GB to make sure my iOS devices could still backup to iCloud.

Back to Flickr

Flickr, a Yahoo! company, started to shake things up about 2 years ago when it announced a redesign and a new free storage option: 1TB. Yes, one terabyte of free storage, albeit with ads initially. You could pay $50 to remove ads and $500 to double your storage (that option always struck me as a “well, if they want to pay $500 to double their storage, what the heck!” option) but 1TB was (and remains) far more than any other free storage plan so I started uploading more of my library to Flickr even if it was more for personal storage.

I’ve had the Flickr apps on my devices for a while now and I’ve enabled the auto-upload feature almost since the beginning. That meant that Flickr has also been uploading photos from my devices to my Photostream in the background on and off for a couple years. A couple months ago, Flickr released a beta version of its new Uploadr app for Mac OS. The app basically watched folders I told it to watch (including my iPhoto library) and quietly and quickly uploaded my albums to my Photostream. Our connectivity here in Israel is pretty fast and unlimited so I just left my Mac to upload overnight over the course of a week or two and, eventually, my Flickr collection was complete.

Visit my Photostream
Finally, Flickr announced a series of updates and redesigns a few weeks ago which included an updated Uploadr and both general design and mobile app refreshes. One of the newer features I really like is the Camera Roll which was probably copied from Dropbox’s Carousel app. It’s a great perspective on your uploads and your photo timeline.

The Uploadr worked even better than I thought. It organised my photos based on time-based metadata so my collection is organised chronologically. There is some duplication between albums I uploaded manually beforehand and the automatic uploads, at least where Uploadr didn’t realise they were duplicates. At the same time, Uploadr didn’t upload albums it recognised as duplicates and all the automatic uploads are marked as “Private” so they are only visible to me until I share them.

I love that I can selectively share photos within albums. I don’t like sharing photos of our kids publicly so I tend to create two albums where I have a photoset that includes photos of our kids and photos to share publicly. With Flickr, I can use one album and selectively share photos of our kids with Friends, Family or Friends and Family while others remain Public. The disadvantage here is that I have to designate contacts as Friends, Family or both for them to see the photos. That means those contacts need to be Flickr users and be logged in to see the photos. At least, that is generally the case.

I realised that the most recent updates include a very cool sharing option. It looks like I can use Flickr’s sharing tool to create a link that gives everyone who has the link the ability to see the photos I have shared (except for Private photos which remain hidden) even if they could not ordinarily see the photos if they just browsed to my Photostream.

The Flickr share dialogue
That seems to extend to other services I share on, such as Facebook. I haven’t seen an explicit confirmation of this in Flickr’s documentation yet (I haven’t really looked) but it seems to be confirmed in the Flickr blog post about some of the updates:

So now you can easily upload, organize, and navigate your photos. But to what end? To share them of course! We’ve overhauled our sharing experience to make it lightweight and incredibly simple to use by bringing you bulk sharing! You no longer have to create an album in order to share a batch of photos. Simply swipe across your photos to select a few from your Camera Roll and click “Share.” You can grab the link, share via email, upload to Facebook, and more.

This is a great feature because it means I can share an album of photos of my family on Facebook with a subset of my Facebook friends without making the Flickr album Public just to facilitate that. At least I am pretty sure this is how it works. What this means for me is that I can really use my Flickr albums as my primary photo storage and sharing service and drastically reduce redundancy in my photo sharing processes.

Yet another update which doesn’t usually have as much sex appeal as the design stuff is a bulk download option. This is a big thing for me because it means that I have an exit option if Flickr ever stops working for me. I have over 86 000 photos in Flickr’s servers and I need to be able to get those out. Now I can:

No cloud home for your photos is complete without the ability to download them easily. For the first time, we’re bringing you bulk download. You can pick a selection of thousands of images from your Camera Roll and download them in zip format.

There are other enhancements which include improved image recognition and search capability, as well as a somewhat controversial auto-tagging feature. I suspect the bad results are a consequence of a system that is still learning. Google’s systems do this a lot better and it seems Flickr has a lot of catching up to do but, in the meantime, it is better than it was and I like the changes overall.

So, for now

For the time being, my workflow is much simpler. Uploadr automatically uploads my photos to Flickr when it notices exports from Lightroom. My exports actually go into a Dropbox folder but that is more of a temporary way-station for some ad hoc sharing until I am more comfortable with switching completely to Flickr for that or run out of space on Dropbox (I have 22GB of free space after a series of space bonuses). My longer archives are in my S3 buckets and I update those manually using Panic’s excellent Transmit app. I recently completed my archive upload to S3 so I have a complete copy of my photo archives along with other data in Amazon’s servers and it costs me around $16 a month (give or take).

I used to upload photos to Facebook to share with family and friends but I’ll just use Flickr sharing for now and see how that works. It seems to be a pretty effective option.

I’ll leave my photos in Google+ Photos. Google has its annual IO conference coming up this month and there is always the possibility they will announce some amazing update to Google+ Photos that will prompt a rethink. Even if they don’t, there is no big need to remove those photos from my Google storage spaces.

Between the Flickr apps on my iPhone and iPad and the Web view, Flickr has become a pretty complete photo management option for me. It is very easy to add new photos from different devices, share them with whomever I want to share them with and access them when I need them without needing a lot of storage space on my devices. It isn’t perfect and some apps and services do some of what Flickr does better than Flickr but, when I look at Flickr holistically, it is a winner.

You really should give Flickr another look if you are serious about your photos

Flickr isn’t the cool kid on today’s Web but it has a solid history and a great set of updates that make managing photos so much easier. The layouts are really clean and features like Magic View are fantastic. I get the feeling that these features are a little rough and will improve even more but they could really change your perspective on how you currently store and manage your photos.

Like TheNextWeb’s Amanda Connolly, Flickr has prompted me to all but abandon Apple’s Photos app as my primary local photo management tool. Photos is nice but it became a lot less relevant when I considered Apple’s iCloud storage plan pricing, the disadvantage of being locked into the iCloud ecosystem and Flickr becoming such a great primary photo storage and management option.

That said, Flickr’s Organizr could really use some updates (I’d like to have an option to dynamically create and update albums automatically based on tags or locations, for example). It works well enough for now though, especially considering it is free.

There are many really good photo sharing and/or storage services on the Web today and you have probably picked one (or a few) that work well for you. If you haven’t thought about Flickr for a while (or at all), you should take another look. You might find it has everything you need and more. Worst case, you receive a free 1TB for whatever you do decide to upload.


When machine learning helps us find photo memories

I am still amazed at how smart machines are when it comes to understanding what we include in our photos. I just ran two simple searches on Facebook and Google+ Photos of my photos and received these results:

I think Google’s machine learning is better when it comes to semantic searches although I haven’t conducted any scientific tests of any sort. It doesn’t really matter which is better. What does blow my hair back is that you can search for objects in the photos and have these machines show you those photos, even though your titles, tags or other metadata has nothing to do with your search terms.

I’ve been thinking about the best place to share my photos and I am very tempted to stop using Flickr and, to a lesser degree, 500px to showcase my photos and to use Google+ Photos instead. As a social network, Google+ hasn’t exactly made waves but it is an incredibly dynamic and powerful photo sharing service.

One of the aspects of Google+ Photos that I really like is Stories (here is a fascinating article about what goes into making Stories possible). Rick Klau’s post about how he started adding old photos to Google+ Photos with some pleasantly surprising results got me thinking about this again:

I prefer to edit my photos myself but the Stories feature in Google+ Photos can be a really nice way to share, well, a story that I capture in my photos. When you add the machines’ ability to recognise things in the photos and make them so much easier to find (or even discovery forgotten gems), these sorts of services become really compelling photo sharing services.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Facebook introduced something like Google+ Photos’ Stories to its photo experience. The combination of the datasets these services have with that sort of nascent intelligence can be remarkable.

On a related note, Om Malik has published a very interesting essay titled “On visual web, a photo is worth more than a 1000 words” which is worth reading.

Photography Travel and places

Raindrops on a leaf

We’ve had quite a bit of rain lately and one of the upsides is that I see this sort of thing when I arrive at work after evening showers. This isn’t the first time I’ve taken photos of raindrops on leaves at my office but it is still something I enjoying taking photos of.

I shot this main image with my iPhone 5 using the TrueHDR app. It is interesting to contrast this with the stock iPhone 5 camera app version:

Raindrops shot using the camera app on my iPhone 5
Photography Travel and places

Heading north on the Gautrain

I’m heading to Centurion with my wife this morning for some civil service admin and, hopefully, a more efficient process.

I’m using the trip as an opportunity to capture more Gautrain images for my collection. I managed to delete my RAW files from my Rhodesfield collection (I still cringe when I think about it).

I think the Centurion platform is one of my favourites. Here are a couple HDR shots I took with TrueHDR a this morning. I have more on my Nikon which I’ll work on later.

Update: I started working through my DSLR photos and picked out these two to share in the meantime. I’m presenting at a conference next week so I’ll have to finish the photoset off in the next couple days.


Weird blue fringing in Lightroom 5 editing window

I updated to Lightroom 5 as part of my Creative Cloud subscription and I noticed this weird blue fringing that manifests in the editing preview window in version 5. I didn’t see this in version 4 and it doesn’t affect the image output itself. It seems to occur only when I intensify blacks or shadows.

Has anyone else noticed this? Does anyone know how to prevent this?

Useful stuff

Reeder 2 released for Mac

I noticed that Reeder 2 for Mac has been released and is available from the Mac App Store:

I bought ReadKit recently to use as my desktop feed reader after Reeder 1 for Mac pretty much languished and was withdrawn from the Mac App Store after Google Reader shut down a while ago. I installed the Reeder 2 beta when the first beta was released and wasn’t exactly overwhelmed (it was an early beta after all and not feature complete). I updated my beta version to the current beta 7 (which is presumably pretty close to the release version) and I like it.

Here is ReadKit on my Mac:

ReadKit on my Mac

And here is Reeder 2 beta 7 with the same basic folders (both apps are syncing with Feedly):

Reeder 2 beta 7 on my Mac

One little thing I like about Reeder 2 is its MarsEdit integration. I haven’t used MarsEdit for a while. I tend to write my posts in Byword and publish from there to my sites, converting my native Markdown to HTML. MarsEdit integration in Reeder gives me the option of creating a post directly from an item I am reading which can be handy.

Silvio Rizzi tends to be pretty erratic with updates and I started to wonder if I had wasted my money on his apps after he was pretty slow to update his apps following Google Reader’s demise. The iOS versions are pretty good and I am back to using them in place of the Feedly apps on my iPad and iPhone. He pushed out a 2.2 update for the iOS apps the other day too which was welcome mostly because I was wondering whether he was paying much attention to the iOS app.

I suppose I am spoiled by larger development teams which push out regular updates and respond faster to feedback. That said, Reeder 2 is a beautiful app and I think I am going to switch back to Reeder for my desktop use too. If you used Reeder 1, it is worth checking the update out and if you don’t have a good feed reader for your desktop and have been looking for one, try this one. Alternatively, ReadKit is a great all-in-one option too.