New Flickr Stuff

The flickr blog announced this week a couple of useful new features. The first one addresses a bit gap that I have had with getting people to use flickr — how to post private pictures, but invite a select group to come to flickr to view them without having to sign up for a flickr account. This is solved by the addition of the ‘Guest Pass’ which allows you for any photoset to invite up to 50 people to view that set. You can also at a later time expire the guest pass.

I also note in the link provided for this feature a neat little trick: you can create a flickr URL of the form where ‘me’ would normally be a specific flickr username. The ‘me’ URL will take you to your own flickr sets if you happen to be logged into flickr at the time.

The other two are not as big a deal, in my opinion: they have revamped, which is the scaled down version of flickr meant to be accessed from a mobile phone. I have never used the mobile version to upload photos but find it a good diversion when stuck in an airport or some such place. Mobile allows you to catch up on comments and contacts photos among other functions.

The camera finder seems like flickr just closing the loop on external companies that were using the flickr API to mine this sort of data (as previously posted). Not to miss a trick, er, opportunity, flickr also links the camera info into the yahoo shopping site to make it easy for you to add a few dollars to the Yahoo coffers if you decide to buy.

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See Ya Later, LookLater?

I started using LookLater last year, before introduced private bookmarks. I used LookLater primarily as a scratch pad that I could tuck away URLs that I wanted to revisit in more detail later on.

Well, it appears that over the weekend, looklater has just stopped working. Specifically, you can submit bookmarks to it and not receive any errors from it, but you can’t retrieve any URLs submitted after October 12th (or at least I can’t). The help forums for looklater have been taken down and I have not received a response from the email link that is in its place.

I guess this is the ‘price’ of free software and services on the web. Here today and gone tomorrow — then you are stuck with spending time trying to find a suitable replacement. Some of them turn out to be really useful (like searchfox) and to a lesser extent looklater. When searchfox went away, I tried out Rojo for a while. But after Rojo’s nearly week long outage and absolute lack of comprehension of testing and change control that rendered it largely unusable, I fled to NewsAlloy. NewsAlloy was an passable online reader, but the developers seemed to focus more on whiz-bang AJAX visual cruft than performance and reliability.

Luckily for me, as I was reaching my pain threshold with NewAlloy, the new release of Google Reader came out and I was able to move my OPML file to reader and have been a (largely) happy puppy since then. Now, I need to find a replacement for looklater that is hopefully going to be around longer. Maybe its time to take another look at Diigo to see if it will meet my needs. Another possibility is working more with Google Notebook, but that never felt like a good fit.

Time will tell. I’ll probably leave some notes here when I get further along with my tire kicking.

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Google Promoting Mac Software

Google has a new blog up reaffirming their commitment to Mac software:

We’re pretty serious about that mission, including the “universally accessible” part. It means making products that everyone can use – including Mac users. We want to provide great products and services to the tens of millions of Mac users around the world, because it’s the right thing to do, and because Mac users inside and outside Google demand it. That’s why we’ve recruited some of the best, most passionate Mac people out there for a Mac Engineering team.

Kind of surprised that there was no mention in the blog posting of SketchUp which has a Mac version that is also available from Google.

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Flickr Adds Geo-Tagging

Today Flickr added the ability to geo-tag photos via the flash-based organizr tool. This is a great addition and one of the big features I really liked about zooomr.

Basically, within organizr you drag and drop photos onto an embedded Yahoo Maps screen. You then have the ability to further edit tags, tweak security and location information. The first time you use the map function you are asked to set a default view permission for photos that you geo-tag (this can be overridden on an individual picture or batch setting).

It’s no surprise that Flickr is using Yahoo Maps for this function (instead of the vastly superior Google Maps), the huge downside of this is that there is little or no street level information available in Europe and Asia — even trying to switch to the satellite view doesn’t help much as you frequently get a blank screen if you are at a low enough altitude. This made trying to geo-tag some of my recent vacation photos from Spain basically impossible.

You can use the Explore -> Photos on a map drop down to see what other photos have been added to a given map. You can search for a location by name or just by dragging around on the map. I was surprised to see that another photographer in my area had uploaded/tagged close to 50 photos already.

I have gotten one error in Organizr trying to use this function — it looked like the database was not available. The text of the error message was hard to make out as it was written over my photostream in a light gray font. Hitting the refresh button appeared to make everything right again.

It will be interesting to see how this evolves over time.

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Club Card Combiner

Owing to my wife’s uncanny ability to either destroy or lose cards of all sorts in a staggeringly short amount of time, I was happy to come across this webtool that will let you create a single club card that duplicates the bar codes of up to eight individual cards. For my purposes, it is also handy for creating duplicates of existing cards. I can only vouch for the fact that it made a perfect working copy of a Kroger card (your mileage may vary).

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Diigo, Ho Hum

I am not sure what to make of the new Diigo service that just launched this week. Seems to be yet-another digg meets google notebook idea. The ability to attach sticky notes to sites that others can view reminds me of a similar (IE-only) function that a startup floated back in the mid-90s that crashed and burned due to legal actions by sites that had unfavorable comments attached to them.

Overall, Im struggling to find a reason to use this tool versus what I already have.

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Zooomr Photo Hosting Rocks

As I stated in a previous post, I checked out Zooomr this past week and now I have returned to expand on my previous brief post. Let me start with one word of advice: just make sure you go to Zooomr with three o’s and not the dirt-bag typo-squater site at the two ‘o’ URL.

One of the strongest features is the ability to easily geotag photos — it is well integrated with Google Maps and doesn’t rely on entering in fiddly GPS coordinates and using third party tools like Flickr does. This feature is a lot of fun to use, much like wikimapia, except you get to add your own photos (not just text).

Great as it is, the geotagging capability still needs a few tweaks because there were a few times that I was tinkering with it that it ‘forgot’ what photos I was geotagging when I got to the end of the process. One huge enhancement for the geotagging capability would be to add a feature that would let you save locations as ‘favorites’ so that you don’t have to go re-find them in the map display constantly. This would be a real time saver for locations that aren’t at a particular address like campsites, hike photos, specific locations inside of parks/national forests.

Another feature that I like is the ability to access various functions right from the thumbnail of an image. When you hover over a thumbnail, it is overlaid with tiny icons that provide the ability to show the geotag info (if available), the ability to lightbox the image (see a larger view) and inspect the details (among other functions). To me this is a well thought out means of reducing page refreshes while providing valuable features in a concise manner.

As you would expect, Zooomr supports the usual tagging functions; though the only opportunity you have to apply tags to more than one image is at upload. In fact, probably one of the weakest areas for Zooomr is the lack of batch editing features and the (current) dearth of bulk uploading tools. Granted, Zooomr 2.0 has only been ‘live’ for less than a week — I am sure the upload tools will be forthcoming. I would especially like to see one comparable to the excellent flickrExport plugin for iPhoto. I poked around a bit and found this info for developers regarding the API for Zooomr. They have taken the open and intelligent approach of adopting the Flickr API to make it easier for developers to support both sites — well done.

SmartSets allow you to make a grouping of all photos with a certain set of attributes (tag, location, etc) making it sort of like a live RSS feed for a given photo attribute. What you don’t seem to be able to do is to create sets of just your own photos, say to group together photos from a vacation or social event.

Oh and of course, Zooomr has all of the feed goodness that you would expect including the ability to grab a feed for an individual, smart sets, specific tags and so on.

The site could certainly use some better explanation around the terms and functions provided. These could be simple links or tooltips right where the term is used. For example, what do they mean by trackback?, zoomertations?, smartsets? What do the color circles on the tagmap represent? Soothing out these minor usability issue will definitely make it easier to on board new users to Zooomr.

As of this writing, they are still providing free ‘pro’ accounts to those who host at least one photo and link to it on their blog. That’s how I got my pro account — thanks guys! The free pro account has certainly made it easier to explore the functionality of the site. I’ve got to say that I have been a dedicated Flickr user for more than a year now and Zooomr 2 has been the first viable alternative that I have found.

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What makes a good widget?

I had a look at a few new dashboard widgets this weekend and the experience led me to the question of ‘what makes a good widget?’

I’ll start with answering the flip side of that question, what makes a bad widget.

Bad widgets are really sort of banner ads in disguise; their purpose is not to provide you any useful information. Rather they are really just tar-pits that reward any click on them with a trip to either some flash-advert-incrusted web site (to drive their hit count) or to some site offering you a ‘premium service’ for a fee. The most egregious do both.

Good widgets on the other hand are well thought out single (mostly) taskers that provide you with a good deal of information in a concise manner. I would put the weather, local traffic, package tracker, and flight tracker widgets (among others) in this category. With each of these, they either tell you what you want to know at a quick glance, or after a simple interaction (say, typing in a tracking number for a package).

It seems to me that the same ‘chunks of functionality’ that would make good widgets would also make good porlets (and vice versa). In both cases the developer needs to be focused on providing some real utility in a concise display and not simply creating another loathsome form of banner ad.

I should note that good widgets aren’t confined to Apple’s Dashboard and Java Portlets. The same concept could be implemented in Yahoo Widgets, Netvibes or even WordPress widgets (which I use extensively on this site). Alas, each of these has a different means of implementing so it is a bit of work to make your ‘chunk of functionality’ available on more than one.

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Timeline Widget

Timeline is a very slick open source, Ajax-based widget for representing timeline information in an interactive pane (much like Google Maps). More information about data points on the timeline can be viewed by clicking the data point. I like that the additional data can contain images and links and not just straight text.

Be sure to check out the additional examples that are linked in as well.

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Photobucket is Crap

I have been asked quite a lot recently about hosting photos on the web. My typical response is that I am happy with my Flickr hosting and the other sites that I have looked at don’t seem to do any better that Flickr. Photobucket seems to come up frequently and I have to admit that until about half and hour ago I hadn’t tried it out.

So there were a couple of warning signs right out of the gate: They require a lot of personal information up front (with no privacy notice in sight), but the real warning flag was when they try to sell you something or generously offer to provide you personal information to some third party that you aren’t interested in in the least. Thankfully, I am well aware of flea-bag practices like this and never sign up with actual personal information when trying out new sites (I do provide proper information if the site pans out).

The interface to the is the site is fairly juvenile and not very well thought out. My first attempt at uploading a photo was rewarded with the following error:

Fatal error: Call to a member function on a non-object in /apache/htdocs/main/uploadPanel.php on line 592

Impressive. The photo in question seemed to have been uploaded anyway. I tried two more photos and they uploaded without further issue. The facilities for tagging and otherwise organizing uploaded photos were either absent or well hidden.

It wasn’t until I popped over to the ‘recent image’ page that the light bulb went on: most if not all of the ‘recent uploads’ where of women either in: tight t-shirts, in various states of inebriation, displaying multiple piercings and/or goth-ed up. The others were of male idiots sporting the Ferris-Bueler-shower-scene-soap-mohawk with a few tattoos, trying their adolescent best to look hard. A few searches quickly confirmed my suspicion that this was somehow related to the whole myspace swamp hole. The whole point of photobucket is not about showing your photos on the web, but fueling the idiocy that is myspace. And apparently photobucket is desperate enough to foster things like this.

So in summary, by experience with photobucket is avoid it at all cost.

The bad:

  • obnoxious banner ads
  • no tools to assist uploading (unless running Windows XP)
  • poor or absent organization tools
  • poor overall site design
  • questionable privacy and information sharing
  • association with myspace slime pit

The good:

  • Nothing really, except for the fact they have a ‘delete my entire account button’, which actually doesn’t delete your account, but marks it to be deleted (presumably so someone can go archive for their own private use any salacious photos, etc that you might be wanted to dispose of).

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Pin In The Map

Pin In The Map is another Google Maps mashup that allows you to click on a spot in Google Maps, add some text to it and then send out the resulting link to whomever might be interested in it. This could for example be used to show someone the location of a favorite beach or restaurant. I suppose this is sort of a more personal version of the wikimapia that I mentioned previously.

Be warned though, every time that I have visited this site with Firefox for OSX it has caused Firefox to hang and/or crash. Not sure what the issue is, but be aware.

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