Flickr vs. Instagram (loosely)

Over the last couple of days, everyone’s on Instagram’s back. As of 16 January, they are allegedly changing their terms of use such that advertisers can sell the photos you upload for their own profit, but you are responsible if their doing so contravenes any laws.

So people are lauding Flickr, suggesting that they’ll switch to it by way of protest, or as a more acceptable way of storing their photos.

But here’s the rub. Flickr’s a crock of shit.

OK. I’m being harsh. Here’s the reality, for me at least.

Flickr is a wonderful repository. It allows me to use a relatively intuitive user interface to upload my photos (and videos under 90 seconds in length). And it allows me to share these with fellow Flickr users that I deem to be either Family or Friends. I can tag stuff, group stuff, and map stuff. All rather lovely. (The 90-second cut-off is rather limiting and irksome, but not a major annoyance.)

It also has an add-on called Picnik that allows me to do some basic edits to the photos: cropping, filtering, rotating, removing red-eye etc.

But it’s not the storing of images that I have an issue with. My issue is with the user experience of the viewer. It’s appalling.

First, my friends and family. They must be Flickr account holders. In a day when Facebook is becoming the de facto standard for online identity (at least for social stuff), this is criminal.

My mum doesn’t want a Flickr account. And I want to share my photos with people I know, love and trust without forcing them to sign up to another service. I would estimate that 90% of the people I want to share my photos with have no interest in having a Flickr account.

And once they’re in, my view is that the user experience is at best, poor. My photos are presented to those I share them with sequentially, linearly. The first page shows my five most recent photos, all nice and big. If I flick to page two or beyond, the pictures become smaller, the 18 photos per page becoming more akin to a set of Windows Explorer thumbnails than anything more inviting.

I can click on any photo to access more sharing options, see where it was taken or to access a higher resolution version of the image. But it’s all so very functional.

To the viewer, the Flickr website has changed little in the four and a half years since I became a pro member, and changed little in the three or so years before that when I was a non-paying customer. It’s vanilla. It’s linear. It’s functional. It doesn’t embrace the user and take them on a journey. It doesn’t give the user the sense that they are experiencing the event, the concert, the playground, the dinner, the airshow, the beach walk with the user.

And it should. Yahoo! has the ability to bring photos to life, to create an absorbing experience that people want to come back to again and again. Montages, full-screen slideshows by default. It has the ability to exploit Facebook’s credentials (and user base) to draw people into its service, while at the same time converting an increased number of users into its premium service to pay for the platform.

Or else Flickr can continue being left behind by its competitors and, with time, become a relic of the internet.

I only hope you’re reading, Marissa.

Google Play Music: a review

On 22 November, I decided that enough was enough. I needed a new music solution.

All of my digital music was residing on my old, largely defunct laptop which I’d replaced in June. It was sitting in iTunes in a library that I was far from happy with, as I’ve documented in a previous post, titled How Apple ruined my music collection.

Now as many of you will be aware, iTunes is the biggest piece of shit ever to grace a PC laptop. I know many of you Apple fanboyz/girlz will wax lyrical about how wonderful it is on a Mac (although I understand that there are even Mac users who hate it). But on a PC, it’s supremely appalling. Dog shit, if you will.

But that aside, the problem with digital music is that it came too soon. People had big music collections. Mine weighs in at a respectable but by no means mind-boggling 5,500-ish tracks. At maybe 4Mb per song, that’s around 20Gb of music.

Computer hard drives could just about cope with such volumes when iPods were first introduced in the very early part of the new millennium. But iPods could not. They started at 5Gb, although they soon got up high enough to cater for my 20Gb.

But then smartphones were introduced. And these came with SSDs rather than spinning discs. This meant that they were faster, quieter and much more worthy of a hug. But it also meant that their storage capacity was limited. And it meant compromise. You were (I was) unable to store your entire music collection on your portable device. So you had to pick and choose.

Even today, over eleven years after the first iPod came out, my Google Nexus packs a rather paltry 16Gb of storage. But that storage is for everything. Currently, about 5.5Gb of it is used for apps, photos and data other than music. A further 2.3Gb I am unable to access (the Android OS, I expect). Leaving just over 8Gb for music, if I so choose. Not enough for my entire music collection.

Over the years, I’ve upgraded laptops a few times, and music has been lost along the way. I’ve restored partial music collections from iPods. DRM-ed music confuses the hell out of me, and I’ve slowly grown to loathe everything that iTunes is about. It could have been so wonderful. But instead it contributed significantly to fragmenting my music collection. (Every time I’ve upgraded my laptop, I’ve struggled long and hard about how to move my music across.)

Now I’ve often thought about buying a NAS. But I don’t really have a N to speak of to which I can A the S. And they sound that bit too scary. So I haven’t.

But then along came Google Music.

Overnight on 22 November, and throughout most of 23 November, my old laptop’s internal fan was in overdrive as the laptop was resurrected to upload 4,705 songs from its music library into the Google Play Music cloud. It was working. And I felt huge relief and excitement. (There are about 400 tracks thereon that won’t upload, but I’m not quite sure why. It may be something to do with DRM. They’re probably those ones with the funny icon next to them in iTunes, an icon that I don’t comprehend and that has no hover text.)

And now it’s there, it’s lovely. I can play it direct from the Chrome browser. No need for installs. Just lovely. Some of the metadata has been maintained from iTunes, including number of plays. (Sadly, the five-star iTunes rating has been replaced with one with only three levels: thumbs up, nothing or thumbs down.)

And while all of the music can be streamed from the Android app on my phone (which over 3G might rack up some big bills), I can also highlight specific music that I want to store locally. And that music has been downloaded to the Nexus to use up some of my spare disk space until such time that available phone storage exceeds music collection.

The only thing I’d like now is the ability to stream to my Sonos player. I’m expecting that’s on its way.

In the meantime, I’m happy. Happy that I again have a definitive music collection, one that is not tied to a device for the first time since I collected CDs.

Grammatical standards in ebooks

I am a big fan of my Kindle. I’ve read countless ebooks over the last two years since buying it. Not literally – I guess I could count them. I just choose not to. (This despite writing a rather damning post upon their introduction back in 2007.)

But I’ve noticed that in publishing ebooks, authors seem to be bypassing an important step that was rarely bypassed in the production of the printed book: proofreading.

I’ve read quite a few works of fiction over the last few months. And every single one falls short of the mark. There are words in the wrong order, words that are missing completely, hyphens in place of en dashes, British spellings creeping into an otherwise American style guide, and countless (more literally) other niggling gripes. Sometimes I’ve seen three or four errors on a single page, which given that Kindle pages are less text-heavy than standard book pages, is rather unsettling.

(For the grammar stalwarts among you, a recent book I read started all parenthetical clauses with an en dash but finished them with a hyphen – frustrating in the extreme.)

As well as making publishing more accessible to the masses, the Kindle has lowered the standards needed for a work to be published. And future generations will note the sudden drop in standards that electronic book publishing brought about.

A crying shame. But a trend that will continue, I fear.