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Why I’m Bullish on Google+ Again

I joined Google+ on the day that it became available, and have always enjoyed the service. I generally find the web interface to offer a nice, visual view that allows me to easily connect with and browse the work of other photographers. It’s a much nicer experience that some other leading social networks.

While the Google+ web browser experience was pretty good, their mobile experience (at least on the iPhone) was pretty bad. There was a lot of wasted space, navigation was cumbersome, and some serious performance problems made it an onerous task to do something as simple as post a status update or share a photograph. My mobile photo sharing continued to focus on other applications while I mostly ignored Google+ when I was away from my desk.

The lack of a good mobile app led me to question how much time I’d spend with the service in the future. I became skeptical.

And then last week, this happened:

Google+ photo display Google+ photo display

An update to the iPhone app brings a new, beautiful photo-centric display which makes browsing a Google+ steam a very nice experience… arguably even better than the Instagram stream which now looks a bit plain by comparison. It’s easy to +1 photos (just tap on the + count), easy to comment, and the performance when posting new items is improved. In short, Google got this mobile experience right. Mobile photography is a big deal ($1 billion for Instagram, anyone?), and a beautiful mobile experience represents a big plus (pun intended) for Google.

There’s one big piece that’s missing (still): an API for third-party apps. My current mobile photo workflow involves using Camera Awesome to upload mobile photos to SmugMug and then cross-post to social services (sometimes Twitter, sometimes Facebook, sometimes Instagram). If I could post the images easily to Google+ as well, that would be a huge time-saver that could only increase my usage of Google+ while on the go.

I’m on the fence about switching to Google+ as my primary mobile social network (instead of Instagram). The API would make it easier, but it’s not too bad now with the new app. There’s a local Instagram meetup in a few days; I’m curious to hear what other Instagram users think about the new Google+ interface…

Join me?

My Photo Sharing / Social Network Wish List

We’re in a bit of flux right now in the photo sharing space. Flickr, the powerhouse for several years, has stagnated and in the meantime Facebook became a daily destination for most of the internet. Facebook now hosts far more photos than anywhere else, but serious photographers (both pros and hobbyists alike) are yearning for a great way to store, share, and discuss their images.

Looking upward at a large skylight feature in the center of the main library in San FranciscoWith a variety of photo sharing websites in play, it seems that photographers haven’t yet found their ideal social network.

What might 2012′s perfect photo social network look like?

My Ideal Photo Sharing/Social System

Here’s what I’d like to see. My ideal photo network…

  • …is accessible via the web
  • …has great native apps for iOS and Android devices.
  • …has an open API so that developers can build support into other third-party apps.
  • …allows for easy sharing of images in an embeddable format on the web.
  • …allows for easy sharing of images via other social networks (Twitter, Facebook, etc).
  • …allows me to easily follow other photographers and see their latest images.
  • …allows me to put said photographer contacts into arbitrary lists (so that I can categorize them).
  • …allows me to specify a license for my photos.
  • …has a way to view the most popular recent photos on the site.
  • …allows users to setup groups around a common theme or interest, with the groups allowing for shared images and discussions.
  • …provides optional integration with a professional lab so that I can sell my photos (at a price I set) as prints.
  • …allows me to sell digital versions of my images.
  • …allows me to create a profile page where I an introduce myself and link to my other online places.
  • …doesn’t look like crap (yes, this is totally subjective, but it matters).

Right now, no single photo sharing site/network meets all of these criteria. Some come close. Arguably, Flickr is the closest, with the mobile experience being the big stumbling point. One can also debate where it resides in the “looking like crap” category, but recent updates such as the contacts page are a move in the right direction. Earlier today, Thomas Hawk argued that Google should buy Flickr. It’s an interesting thought, but with Flickr’s major shortcoming being the mobile experience, and the Google+ mobile apps being nearly worthless for photo sharing/browsing, I’m not sure that’s a perfect match.

What do you think? Did I leave any essential features off of my list? How do you want to share your images?

Path and Failed Trust

Path LogoI just deleted a blog post draft that probably would’ve been published later today explaining how I was really enjoying Path. I was going to talk about how it’s a logical evolution that tells interesting stories as opposed to the game nature of Foursquare.

Today it was revealed that the Path app uploads a user’s entire address book (including all contact information) to Path’s servers. Users are never notified of this occurring. Path’s CEO jumped into the comments and confirmed this is happening, and that they have future plans for an opt-in.

I’m done with Path. For a company to make such a move without any sort of notice is unacceptable. I have deleted the app and made a request to have my account information deleted.

If you’d like to delete your Path account as well, here’s the how-to article. When contacting them, be sure to let them know why.

Interesting Links Roundup: January 20th

As I wander the web I find interesting things. I share:

What have you seen lately that’s interesting?

Concerns About Long-Term App Sustainability

By most measurements, Apple’s iOS app store has been very successful. We’ve seen a proliferation of quality applications for mobile devices and consumers seem quite willing to pay for said applications. The same can’t be said for the Android Market. But there’s one nagging problem I have with the iOS app store, and it’s a problem that’s only going to get worse.

Apple App Store iconI’d like a way to continue to support my favorite app developers without trickery involved.

The lack of paid application upgrades means that purchasing an app is generally a one-time affair. I pay $4.99 forInstapaper and I’m done. Or the same price for Elements. I purchase Instacast for $1.99. And that’s the end of the transaction… which is fine for most scenarios.

What if I’d like to pay more? What if I find that I am getting a lot of value out of an application, perhaps far more than the small price I paid? There’s not currently any way to fund software on an ongoing basis, and I fear that without some sort of revenue model that allows for additional purchases, developers may abandon or deprioritize some software.

Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper, added a subscription service to version 4.0 of his application that allowed him to cover the increased costs necessary to provide the search feature in his app. He discovered that Apple’s renewing subscription service doesn’t work for this purpose:

Ultimately, I had to ship Instapaper 4.0 with non-renewing subscriptions, I was able to delete all of the clunky auto-renewing server code, nobody sees that terrible dialog in my app, and I need to ship an update soon that will annoy my best customers with manual-renewal notifications.

This isn’t some hypothetical or philosophical issue, this is a practical one. Full search of all of the content in Instapaper is a new feature which has very tangible server and bandwidth costs for Marco. Since he can’t offer a paid app upgrade, he attempted to setup a subscription, which can’t be auto-renewing due to Apple’s rules and now he needs to force his users to go through clunky steps.

Developers need incentive to continue building and enhancing existing quality apps. While goodwill is nice, goodwill doesn’t pay the mortgage. Apple owes it to its developers and users to provide a simple method for developers to charge for upgrades and enhancements.

Comparing Photo Sharing Websites

At the Long Performing Arts Center - Photographed while in Austin, Texas for SXSW InteractiveThe photo sharing world used to be all about Flickr. In the past couple of years Flickr has fallen from its position of high regard and we’ve seen various other options come onto the scene for photographers to share images with the world. I’ve recently fielded a few questions about various services and I decided to put together a comparison chart of features followed by some comments below. I’ve chosen to compare some of the leading sites; there are other options out there as well.

Photo Sharing Feature Comparison

  Flickr
Flickr Logo
Facebook
Facebook Logo
Google+
Google+ Logo
500px
500px Logo
SmugMug
SmugMug Logo
Free Accounts Yes Yes Yes Yes Free Trial
Paid Accounts Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Features of Paid Account Unlimited uploads
Unlimited sets/collections
Access to original files
Stats
No ads
HD Video
n/a Additional Storage Unlimited uploads
Unlimited collections
Custom domain
HTML5 Portfolio
Priority support
Google Analytics
(All features of the site)
Unlimited uploads
Unlimited galleries
No ads
Customizable site appearance
Custom domain
HD Video
Single Photo Display Size 640 px 720 px 915 px 900 px 1600 px
Private/Protected Galleries Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Mapping / Geotagging Support Yes No Yes No Yes

Community

Commenting Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Like/Favorite/etc. Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Follow Specific Users / Contacts Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Group Photo Pools Yes Yes No No Yes
Discover Popular Photos Yes No No Yes Yes

Social/Sharing

Embed Images Elsewhere Yes No No Yes Yes
Share via Twitter Yes No No Yes Yes
Share via Facebook Yes Yes No Yes Yes

Mobile Interfaces

iPhone App for Posting Photos Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Android App for Posting Photos Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Flash Galleries that Won’t Display on Mobile No No No No No

Photo Sales

Sell Photos at Cost Yes No Yes No Yes
Sell Photos for Profit No No No No Yes
  Flickr Logo Facebook Logo Google+ Logo 500px Logo SmugMug Logo

 

Beyond the Specs: My Thoughts on the Services

I have used and am currently a member of all of the services compared above.

Flickr used to be king, but Yahoo has mostly ignored the service and there hasn’t been any significant innovation in several years. Recent Flickr updates have basically been half-assed catch-up efforts and Flickr still displays photos in the smallest size of the sites compared.

Most of the social photo interaction I used to have on Flickr is now happening on Google+, where I interact with huge numbers of other photographers in meaningful discussions.

500px provides a pleasant visual interface and briefly had the attention of a bunch of photo heavy hitters but seems to have fallen by the wayside as many of those folks have devoted their effort more towards Google+ which offers many options beyond photo sharing.

I use SmugMug to show off my photos on a custom-designed site which matches the look and feel of my photography business website and for my clients to review images from their event or portrait session.

I hate Facebook and rarely post photos there. Their constantly changing privacy and copyright policies bother me and I find nearly everything about the service annoying.

Which service is right for you? Depends on your goals… are you looking for the best visual display? The biggest community? The ability to integrate with other services? If social interaction is the most important factor, I’d recommend Google+ Photos. If you’re purely concerned with the visual display or the ability to sell your work, go with SmugMug.