Tom Insam

Flickr vs Instagram

I see two things in
the Google Trends for Flickr vs Instagram.
Firsly, I see that, compared to Flickr, Instagram is a meaningless blip.

Secondly, I see that Flickr hasn't done
anything interesting enough to get noticed by Google for the entire time that Instagram has existed.

flickrgram

Instagram does two things. Firstly, and most obviously, it takes photos, sticks a filter on them, and uploads. But it also has a social aspect to it; it gives you a single, very simple view of the photos of your friends - a flat list in reverse upload order.

When I first started using Instagram, I just turned on the 'post to flickr' option for all of my uploads and didn't think about it again. But that stream has a certain fascination to it - photos are uploaded one at a time, in the expectation that people will look at them very soon, and they're fleeting - there's no homepage for your past photos. You link to them or they go. People only upload things that they think people want to look at.

Combine this with an app like Carousel so that I don't have to keep waking up the phone to see things, and I've started to quite like the ambient pictures that it gives me.

I haven't decided if any of this is Meaningful yet, however. These photos are interestingly ephemeral. I'm not ready to decide if transience is a useful property, but I keep coming back to Jason Scott:

[..] if someone gives you an amazing Moon Laser and the Moon Laser lets you put words on the side of the moon, the fact that the Moon Laser’s effects wear off after a day or so isn’t that big a deal, and really, whatever you probably put on the side of the Moon with your Moon Laser is probably pretty shallow stuff along the lines of “WOW THIS IS COOL” and “FUCK MARS”. (Again, to belabor, a historian or anthropologist might be into what people, given their Moon Laser, chose to write, but that’s not your problem).

To hedge against this, I still upload all of mine to Flickr (except when I forget to press the button grr defaults) and I have the phone set up to store all the pre-filtered high-quality versions of the photographs (there's a minor issue here that instagrammed photos have crap exif - this may bite me later. We will see).

Anyway, there's nothing inherent to Instagram-the-application about any of this. This is just the model that the software encourages. As an experiment, I threw together something that I've called (for now) flickrgram. It emulates a similar thing for your flickr photostream - stuff your contacts have posted, in reverse-uploaded order, with a tiny bit of metadata wrapped round it. It's formatted for iPhone, because I like the portability, but scale it up a bit and it's a perfectly decent desktop interface (I'm using high-resolution images for the retina display, so it still looks good).

And here's the conclusion I, and some people I know, have come to -- it doesn't work as well, because people don't use Flickr the same way as they use Instagram. This isn't entirely unexpected -- several people have mentioned that they put photos into Flickr more for archive and storage than for sharing. I know plenty of people who will upload massive batches of photos (hundreds at once), entirely swamping everyone else. (Luckily, the API call I'm using to populate flickrgram returns at most 5 photos per user, so I'm defended against this. But only by accident.)

The interesting thing to me is that these models -- "shoeboxing" verses Instaagram-style "lifestreaming" -- are two entirely different usage models for a photo sharing site. Flickr was built for the streaming case (it's got a photostream as the main thing you see) but recently the shoeboxing is rather swamping the streaming, and the two models just can't coexist in the same contacts list - the uploads of the shoeboxers will swamp the incoming streams of people who just want to follow streamers. Instagram, on the other hand, by utterly ignoring the needs of shoeboxers, has been able to build a much better streaming experience.

It reminds me of Twitter, where the same thing has happened. The high-volume broadcast / at-reply people drown out the ambient "eating a sandwich" group of people that I quite liked getting the updates of.

Two things interest me about this. Firstly, is this 'streaming only' interface convention something that's going to hurt the Instagram streamers in the future? Are they going to realise in a few years that they've not built up any meaningful history in this service? When they want a photo they remember taking, and can't get it, will there be pain? Or will no-one care?

The other question is, can you get any money out of streamers? Shoeboxers want reliably stored photos, safe URLs, lots of upload bandwidth, all things you can charge money for. They can't easily drift between services, because they have all their data in this one. Streamers don't care. They haven't got any history, and as long as the streaming app will push into facebook, who cares what the backend is? They'll change apps just because the new one has a better filter.

Maybe the streaming experience that Flickr provides is as good as you can get it, because you have to pander to people who want to do archive, or you can't make proper money.

Anyway. go play with flickrgram.

Android

The pull-down is a progressive reveal: when it's half-way out, you see the top half, which is probably where the stuff you care about is.

iOS 5

The pull-down slides the view into place: when it's half-way out, you see the bottom half, which will be blank if you only have a couple of notifications. Also, there's no indication that you have any notifications unless you pull the slide out.

Pretty trivial, to be honest. And both entirely fixable before the actual release of the thing.

I'm playing with various different text editors again for a bit - I'm sure there must be something better than Textmate, but I've never found it. Paul pointed me at Sublime Text 2 which has an (alpha) Mac client, so I'm playing with that for a couple of days. It has the two features I cannot live without - an "open file in this project" keyboard shortcut (it even reuses the textmate shortcut by default) and a command-line tool, though this latter is rather hidden off in the bundle. To enable it, you want

sudo ln -s /Applications/Sublime Text 2.app/Contents/SharedSupport/bin/subl /usr/bin/subl

It's a really decent command-line, too - it'll do the obvious "open file" and "open folder as project", as well as the surprisingly useful "pipe into me to open text as a document" and the "edit file and hang command line till closed" that you need if you want to use it as a EDITOR shell variable. Nice.

iPad interface design

[..] there is a reason I didn’t go into Weather apps on the iPad, it is just a much more difficult device to layout weather information on.

-- Ben Brooks

Not just weather apps information. I have no design skills at all, but I was able to write a functional iPhone app and put it on the app store by just putting the obvious information in the obvious place. There's little enough room that a lack of imagination doesn't matter so much.

All my efforts to port it to the iPad have been thwarted by the fact that I suddenly have a MILLION PIXELS TO FILL. The desktop version gets round this problem by just using a smaller window, but on the iPad you have to fill the screen, but not crowd the screen.

There is no secret conspiracy to use variable-ratio reinforcement to literally addict people to MMOs. Not only is that really ethically sketchy, it involves a level of advance planning which doesn’t really exist in the production environment of an in-development MMO, where planning usually revolves around DEAR GOD THE SERVERS HAVE LITERALLY CAUGHT ON FIRE.

Scott Jennings

Facebook's Open Compute Project

On a large scale like this — not a small open-source project by good-willed individuals — “opening” something is almost always an effort to commoditize it, leveling the playing field as much as possible and marginalizing competitive advantages that others might have had.

[..]

Nobody “opens” the parts of their business that make them money, maintain barriers to competitive entry, or otherwise provides significant competitive advantages. That’s why Android’s basic infrastructure is “open”, but all of Google’s important applications and services for it aren’t — Google doesn’t care about the platform and doesn’t want it to matter.

marco. It's interesting that open-source is now considered a weapon against other companies. Though I guess it was always intended to be such a weapon...

Brent Simmons wrote a plea for Baked Weblogs the other week. It resonated - I'm the sort of nerd who obsessively re-writes his blogging engine more often than he actually uses it to blog things with, so I've been through a lot of solutions, and I keep coming back to baking.

Anyway. Brent wrote another piece in which he mentions,

I still get to write using MarsEdit, by the way. It talks to WEBrick running on my laptop.

Now, currently I blog in Tumblr, but I have the next generation version all set up and ready to cut across to when I feel like it, and it's based on Jekyll, like the rest of my site is. I want to be able to post to it from MarsEdit! How hard could it be to build something that will let me?

Actually, it turns out to be really annoying. I'm extremely unimpressed by the MetaWeblog API. HOWEVER, finally today I have a releasable / working version of jekyll-metaweblog, a stand-alone ruby webrick server that will expose a Jekyll source tree via MetaWeblog and let you post, edit, delete, upload images, etc, etc, from MarsEdit (and hopefully anything else that supports MetaWeblog).

Get the code and play.

An aside - Talking about baking, Brent writes

[Aaron] also wrote that he doesn’t care about performance. If getting fireballed were a thing back in 2002, he might have cared about performance. If he had seen system X go down for a day, he might have cared about performance. It’s interesting that performance — or robustness — arguably wasn’t an issue in 2002, but it is now.

The Wikipedia page for 'slashdot effect' goes back to at least September 2001. Performance did matter. Aaron's position is actually a lot closer to mine:

Honestly, I don’t care about performance. I don’t care about performance! I care about not having to maintain cranky AOLserver, Postgres and Oracle installs. I care about being able to back things up with scp. I care about not having to do any installation or configuration to move my site to a new server. I care about being platform and server independent. I care about full-featured HTTP implementations, including ETags, Content-Negotiation and If-Modified-Since. (And I know that nobody else will care about it enough to actually implement it in a frying solution.)

Baking has many problems, of course, but it has (for me) one huge overriding advantage - if I get bored of my codebase and want to build something else (this happens a lot), my blog doesn't go away. It just stops getting new content. Much safer. It's easy to build a dynamic site that'll cope with being Fireballed and still host it on a single system. It's hard to have to host 50 megs of mongrel process for the rest of time because you thought it would be a good idea to build some part of your site in Rails and now you can't turn it off.