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December 18 2012

Instagram: On being the product

Let me start by saying that I’m not an Instagram user, and never have been. So I thought I could be somewhat dispassionate. But I’m finding that hard. The latest change to their terms of service is outrageous: their statement that, by signing up, you are allowing them to use your photographs without permission or compensation in any way they choose. This goes beyond some kind of privacy issue. What are they doing, turning the service into some kind of photographic agency with unpaid labor?

I’m also angered by the response that users should be willing to pay. Folks, Instagram doesn’t have a paid option. You can be as willing as you want to be, and you don’t have the opportunity. Saying that users should be willing to pay is both clueless and irrelevant. And even if users did pay, I don’t see any reason to assume that a hypothetical “Instagram Pro” would have terms of service significantly different.

It really doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve used Flickr for a number of years. I’m one of the few who thinks that Flickr is still pretty awesome, even if it isn’t as awesome as it was back in the day. And I’ve had a couple of offers from people who wanted to use my photographs in commercial publications. One I agreed to, one I refused. That’s how things should work.

As far as the general question of paid versus unpaid services: I have no idea how many online services I use. Forty, 50, more? Most of them are free, with pro versions that cost anywhere from $10-$250/year. It’s easy for a journalist writing an article in a business publication or a blogger hoping to make it rich in his startup to suggest that people ought to be willing to pay, but add that all up, and it’s a couple of thousand dollars a year. That’s a pretty big bill. And while I could afford it, there are many people who can’t. In addition, that bill adds up insidiously, $25 or $50 at a time, so once you realize the amount of money leaking out through “pro” Internet services, it’s a lot of work to scale back.

The ball is in Instagram’s court (I see that they’ve announced that they’re going to say something). Yes, they have to monetize, even within the Facebook ecosystem. Yes, they have to contribute to Facebook’s bottom line. But getting customers to use their service and suddenly changing the rules isn’t a decent way to treat people (though it’s a gambit that Facebook has played several times in the past few years). Instagram is certainly not generating more value than they capture; and it might threaten their ability to capture any value at all. I can’t see any good reason to stick with a service that’s planning to sell your photos behind your back. If nothing else, you have to ask “what’s next?”

Update 5:13 pm ET — Instagram has just released a response in which they say, among other things, “Legal documents are easy to misinterpret,” and claim it’s all a misunderstanding.
I call BS. It’s easy to misinterpret a legal document, but the language of Instagram’s TOS was exemplary in its clarity.

If Instagram is backing down, that’s great. They should just say so, rather then blaming their customers for misunderstanding. And they should (quickly) release some equally clear legal language rectifying the situation. They’ve promised to “remove the language that raised the question.” Great, but what they’re doing now is just damage control until they release the new document. Let’s see it.

April 26 2012

Four short links: 26 April 2012

  1. Apollo Software -- amazing collection of source code to the software behind the Apollo mission. And memos, and quick references, and operations plans, and .... Just another reminder that the software itself is generally dwarfed by its operation.
  2. flickrapi.js (Github) -- Aaron Straup Cope's Javascript library for Flickr.
  3. t (Github) -- command-line power-tool for Twitter.
  4. Habits of Mind (PDF) -- Much more important than specific mathematical results are the habits of mind used by the people who create those results,and we envision a curriculum that elevates the methods by which mathematics is created,the techniques used by researchers,to a status equal to that enjoyed by the results of that research. Loved it: talks about the habits and mindsets of mathematicians, rather than the set of algorithms and postulates students must be able to recall. (via Dan Meyer)

January 09 2012

Decisive moment? Smartphones steal focus from compact cameras

Camera sales fell 30% in 2011 as experts predict snapshot device may go way of satnav and landline

Not long ago, life's precious moments were captured by someone who had the foresight to bring their camera. Now, everyone can reach for their phone. And having also dented demand for landlines, the PC and the satnav, smartphones are now officially replacing the compact camera as the most popular device for taking photos.

Sales of point and shoot cameras fell 30% by value in 2011 compared with the year before. Camera manufacturers have been on red alert since last summer, when the iPhone 4 became the most popular device from which snaps were uploaded to the picture sharing website Flickr.

Even some professional photographers admit they turn to their phones for snaps, with the celebrity photographer Annie Liebovitz describing her iPhone as the "snapshot camera of today". "I'm still learning how to use mine," Liebovitz told NBC. "I can't tell you how many times I see people show me their children. It's the wallet with the family pictures in it."

Basic fixed-lens cameras accounted for more than 48% of manufacturers' takings in Britain in 2010, according to research firm GfK. By November 2011, the most recent data shows these cameras represented just 37% of takings.

"2011 was when sales of basic cameras seriously started to decline," said GfK analyst Zhelya Dancheva. "It's about how consumers are using cameras, and on what occasions. The smartphone is popular because it's always in your pocket, and you are connected so you can directly upload to the internet whenever you want."

Manufacturers will attempt to breathe new life into the budget camera market at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, an annual showcase for gadget makers. Samsung, Canon and Sony Electronics have added a range of bells and whistles, including Wi-Fi connections and technology to recognise and zoom in on children's faces, with which they hope to lure back their lost customers.

"All manufacturers need to focus on the value of a camera and what differentiates it versus a smartphone," said Reid Sullivan of Samsung, unveiling the firm's latest model, the DV300F, which can upload images to sharing sites. It will also do away with the need for cables by sending images wirelessly to a computer.

The camera also claims to eliminate blurry backgrounds when capturing fast moving subjects, and has a small screen on the front to let users see self portraits.

Canon's flagship new point and shoot, the PowerShot G1X, can apparently prioritize face detection of children so that even the most fidgety subject's expression will appear in focus.

Sony's newer cameras can take photographs in 3D and will work in extreme conditions, including under water. The budget models will also come with more powerful zoom lenses that capture events at a greater distance and with a higher resolution than phones.

The iPhone 4 is now used by more than 5,000 people to upload more than 73,000 photos each day on Flickr. The second most popular camera, with slightly more than 4,000 daily Flickr users, is the Nikon D90. It costs more than £550 without a lens and has a picture resolution of 12.3 megapixels, compared with the iPhone 4's five megapixels.

Unveiling the latest iPhone last autumn, Apple's chief executive, Tim Cook, spent as much time emphasising its camera features as its processing power. The 4S has a resolution of eight megapixels, almost as high as the minimum of 10 now sported by most basic cameras.

The trend towards cameraphones is just as advanced in the United States, where they were used to take 27% of photos last year, up from 17% in 2010, according to market research firm NPD. The proportion of photos taken with a point and shoot camera fell from 52% to 44%.

Trevor Moore, chief executive of photography retailer Jessops, said customers now believe the quality of photographs taken from their smartphones is high enough to spend money turning them into prints. "We have a huge number of smartphone users coming into our stores to use our printing kiosks," said Moore. "We take the opportunity to talk to them about how they can make better pictures with a high quality camera."

In fact, sales of higher quality camera models are booming, giving hope to manufacturers such as Canon. Having become dissatisfied with the limitations of basic digital cameras, customers are flocking to those which offer better zooms and higher resolution. Sales of fixed lens devices, which offer a zoom of more than 10 times, were up 42% by volume in the year to November, having risen 55% in 2010. Compact system cameras, which have interchangeable lenses, have seen sales by volume rise 51% in the past year, according to GfK.

Expert view

Having spent a few years schlepping around a heavy bag of cameras and lenses and with at least one dodgy shoulder to prove it, I'm always interested in developments that take some of the weight out of shooting decent pictures. And it looks like I'm not the only one who has discovered the joys of using the ultimate lightweight camera as millions of people seem to have proved by ditching them and using a smartphone instead.

Sales of cheap cameras are down; it's not surprising – if you carry one thing these days it's a phone, and if it shoots pictures of similar quality to a camera, why carry a camera too? Having shot those great pictures of junior's first steps, a couple more keystrokes on the phone have them winging their way to a proud granny. If you really want them, Hipstamatic and other apps are available to "improve" your snaps, while Twitter or Flickr will distribute or store them for you.

Photographically, a really interesting and encouraging thing about using a smartphone is the way the focal length of the lens feels "right" for many shots. This is because the lens is slightly wider than the "standard" lens sold with a camera and gives a usefully wider view. In practice these images feel comfortable or real to the viewer, something early users of compact 35mm cameras in the last century discovered.

They were trying to capture reality and a widish lens gave them that result. They were also trying to be inconspicuous, hence the use of small Leica cameras just as these days someone using a phone in the street arouses no interest. Even if you are not a Cartier-Bresson, convenience and a reasonably faithful representation of their world is all that most people want from their photography. A smartphone gives you all that.

Roger Tooth, the Guardian's head of photography


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


December 22 2011

Readers' gig photos: our Flickr picks – in pictures

Here's our pick of the gig pictures submitted to our Flickr group in the past few days



November 18 2011

Four short links: 18 November 2011

  1. Learning With Quantified Self -- this CS grad student broke Jeopardy records using an app he built himself to quantify and improve his ability to answer Jeopardy questions in different categories. This is an impressive short talk and well worth watching.
  2. Evaluating Text Extraction Algorithms -- The gold standard of both datasets was produced by human annotators. 14 different algorithms were evaluated in terms of precision, recall and F1 score. The results have show that the best opensource solution is the boilerpipe library. (via Hacker News)
  3. Parallel Flickr -- tool for backing up your Flickr account. (Compare to one day of Flickr photos printed out)
  4. Quneo Multitouch Open Source MIDI and USB Pad (Kickstarter) -- interesting to see companies using Kickstarter to seed interest in a product. This one looks a doozie: pads, sliders, rotary sensors, with LEDs underneath and open source drivers and SDK. Looks almost sophisticated enough to drive emacs :-)

September 01 2011

ePayments Week: Financial Times bets on its web app

Here's what caught my attention in the payment space this week.

Financial Times drops iOS app

Financial Times web appThere are at least two big issues involved in The Financial Times' decision to pull its iPad and iPhone apps from the iOS App Store this week: one is about data; the other is about money. The FT, along with other publishers, has complained that the key sticking point in Apple's new requirement that all purchases, including subscriptions, go through the App store, has been the question of who controls the relationship with the subscriber. The publishers see these as their readers, and they want to know everything about them. And when readers upgrade or renew their subscriptions, the publishers want to deal directly with them. The view from Cupertino is different: these readers appear to be iTunes subscribers making an in-app purchase. For delivering this consumer to the app maker (the FT in this case) Apple would like its 30% cut of revenue. That may have been a factor in the FT's decision, though it seems the amount of money it would have had to give up — Robert Andrews at PaidContent.com figured it at $1.63 million at the high end — would have been fairly insignificant to FT's parent company Pearson (and even more so to Apple with its billions in cash).

The FT's withdrawal comes as no surprise. Its online and print versions have been encouraging readers all summer to dump their iOS apps and switch to FT.com's "web app" — its HTML5 site that displays nicely on the iPhone and iPad. The Wall Street Journal reported that more than 550,000 users have the web app. PaidContent's Andrews speculated that the web app's adoption may have been spurred by a promotional offer earlier this summer granting full access to the site. (FT.com is primarily a paid-subscription site, allowing only 10 free articles to registered users every 30 days.)

Lest we wonder if "the pink 'un" knows what it's doing in walking out on Apple and its 200 million store members, we should note that FT.com has run successfully on its paid subscription model for more than 10 years, even during the days when most mainstream news publications believed they could never charge for online content. Some publishers have come around to the FT's model, most notably The New York Times, which resumed charging for full access to online content earlier this year.

What's more, the FT says it hasn't completely abandoned Apple and, according to a Reuters report, still plans to distribute future apps in its store, including one for its luxury weekend magazine, "How to Spend It." Apparently, those are subscribers that the FT doesn't mind sharing with Apple.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD

Flickr's geofencing: setting access based on location

Last week, I wrote about geofencing in the context of Placecast's service to announce deals and other offers when subscribers enter a virtually delineated space. This week, Flickr rolled out another interesting use of geofencing: automatically setting privacy restrictions on photos based on where they were taken. Flickr's blog explains the new feature, and creating a geofence and linking it to access preferences is a quick and easy process.

Flickr geofence example

Flickr's geofencing is a mashup of two services that its members are already familiar with: geotagging photos and setting limits on who can see them. But in combining these two simple features, Flickr (and parent Yahoo) will offer many consumers the first glimpse of a new degree of control they will gain over the intersection of their digital and physical worlds: setting controls over what happens when they move from one location to another.

As a bonus, there's a nice post on code.flickr describing the details of the feature and the fun process the coders went through to pull it together: "We met at Nolan's house, ate a farmer's breakfast, and brainstormed."

Is daily deal fatigue getting you down?

Robert Hof has a compelling column on Forbes: "5 Reasons Daily Deals are Tanking — and 3 Reasons They're Not Dead Yet." Movements this week among the category's top players would seem to confirm the ambiguity of that headline. Facebook has said it will stop its four-month old Deals program and Yelp said it would scale its program back (CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said "it hasn't been all rainbows and unicorns"). Meanwhile, Google appeared to be ratcheting up its Offers program, even promoting an offer on its legendarily sparse home page ($5 tickets to New York's American Museum of Natural History). And Groupon continued to storm toward its anticipated IPO.

I tend to agree with one of Hof's main points: too many offers are for expensive, bucket-list or birthday-party events, like flying in a hot air balloon or learning to scuba dive. Google Offers appears to take a more budget-friendly approach, offering things that people really buy every day. Google launched its Offers in Portland in June with a $3 deal at Floyd's coffee, and it continues to promote cheap recession-friendly luxuries, like $7 worth of frozen yogurt. But even Google Offers suffers from an excess of kayak rental offers.

I have to wonder if all the wine-tasting and helicopter ride offers are part of the reason why Groupon has seen its web-based traffic drop by half since June, as reported by Experian Hitwise. It may be that while there is a continuous appetite for bargains on things we consume every day (like coffee and bread), it's more difficult to sustain interest in endless offers for boot camps and laser-based body slimming.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.


If you're interested in learning more about the payment development space, check out PayPal X DevZone, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.

Fence photo: Fence Friday by DayTripper (Tom), on Flickr



Related:


Reposted byurfin urfin

March 12 2011

SXSW 2011: Can Facebook photos be used commercially?

Social network grilled over whether businesses and advertisers could co-opt 'Flickr's worth of photos uploaded every month'

Much of the focus of this discussion was inevitably focused on Facebook's photos product manager, Sam Odio, who disappointingly played the "not my remit' card when asked the most interested and pertinent questions about Facebook's use of users' photos, including facial recognition and how images might be co-opted by advertisers.

• Facebook sees "a Flickr's worth of photos uploaded every month", said Odio. But it's worth considering the different values of those two services: Flickr includes some high-quality, well edited photography, while Facebook focuses on storytelling over quality. It doesn't matter, said Odio, if that first photo of your newborn nephew is blurry: it's the social context behind the photo.

• Odio fielded a question by one delegate about how businesses and advertisers might start appropriating photos for commercial use. "We're not in the business of selling ads through people's photos and we want to prevent businesses having free rein over users," he said. "But businesses are users," pushed the delegate. Odio said Facebook would want the people in the photos to be telling the story – which means advertising would be there but more subtly, and directed by users.

• As for ownership of photos, Odio said that comes down to the need to build the API in such a way that it can access your friends' photos. If each of those users retained ownership, that would become very complicated. "There are worries we are going to use photos in advertising but it doesn't really benefit us that much given how sensitive the subject is."

Yan-David Erlick, a serial entrepreneur who founded Mophot.to, predicted that social photos will become even more integrated with our lives through different sorts of tagging. "Timelines between items will mean that over time, these entities are not viewed as individual pieces of media but will have contextual attributes tying them to other pieces."

• Odio explained how after struggling to keep his startup photo site Divvyshot going in 2009, ploughing in all his own savings, he got a random email one Sunday night. It was from Blake Ross, who later turned out to be co-creator of Firefox, at an address at Facebook. "He said 'Sam – your site looks interesting. You should come here.' I was living with six developers at the time and they were all looking over my shoulder to figure out if the email was fake or not." It was, and Facebook acquired Divvyshot in April 2010.

• Feature requests aren't always the best way to develop a product. Odio said nobody asked for Instagram, which just raised $7m in funding, but now it is taking off. Facebook's engineers also have a monthly hackathon where they can work on whatever they like; that doesn't determine product direction but features such as drag-and-drop organisation have come out of that.

• On facial recognition, all Odio would say is that Facebook "hasn't been able to move quickly on it given how sensitive it is", which does seem to imply it would have liked to do plenty if it could have got away with it.

• Odio said a startup should make the product extremely simple; he had got distracted when trying to add too many features and functions. "Focus on one thing and do it extremely well. In early days the product needs to be explained to users in 10 seconds or less."

• One delegate said he was concerned that Facebook is becoming such an important repository for his life, and that photos are the most easily accessible part of that archive compared to status updates or messages. Erlich described the web being used as an external memory for us all, from photos to phone numbers; this ties in with Clay Shirky's idea of cognitive surplus – if machines can take over the mechanical parts of our brain function, what can we do with the space and energy that frees up?


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


June 23 2010

Four short links: 23 June 2010

  1. Ira Glass on Being Wrong (Slate) -- fascinating interview with Ira Glass on the fundamental act of learning: being wrong. I had this experience a couple of years ago where I got to sit in on the editorial meeting at the Onion. Every Monday they have to come up with like 17 or 18 headlines, and to do that, they generate 600 headlines per week. I feel like that's why it's good: because they are willing to be wrong 583 times to be right 17. (via Hacker News)
  2. Real Lives and White Lies in the Funding of Scientific Research (PLoSBiology) -- very clear presentation of the problems with the current funding models of scientific research, where the acknowledged best scientists spend most of their time writing funding proposals. K.'s plight (an authentic one) illustrates how the present funding system in science eats its own seed corn. To expect a young scientist to recruit and train students and postdocs as well as producing and publishing new and original work within two years (in order to fuel the next grant application) is preposterous.
  3. jQTouch Roadmap -- interesting to me is the primary distinction between Sencha and jQTouch, namely that jQT is for small devices (phones) only, while Sencha handles small and large (tablet) touch-screen devices. (via Simon St Laurent)
  4. Travel Itineraries from Flickr Photo Trails (Greg Linden) -- clever idea, to use metadata extracted from Flickr photos (location, time, etc.) to construct itineraries for travellers, saying where to go, how long to spend there, and how long to expect to spend getting from place to place. Another story of the surprise value that can be extracted from overlooked data.

May 21 2010

Four short links: 21 May 2010

  1. Infrastructures (xkcd) -- absolutely spot-on.
  2. The Michel Thomas App: Behind the Scenes (BERG) -- not interesting to me because it's iPhone, but for the insight into the design process. The main goal here was for me to do just enough to describe the idea, so that Nick could take it and iterate it in code. He’d then show me what he’d built; I’d do drawings or further animations on top of it, and so on and so on. It’s a fantastic way of working. Before long, you start finishing each others’ sentences. Both of us were able to forget about distinguishing between design and code, and just get on with thinking through making together. It’s brilliant when that happens.
  3. Open Government and the World Wide Web -- Tim Berners-Lee offered his "Five-Star" plan for open data. He said public information should be awarded a star rating based on the following criteria: one star for making the information public; a second is awarded if the information is machine-readable; a third star if the data is offered in a non-proprietary format; a fourth is given if it is in Linked Data format; a fifth if it has actually been linked. Not only a good rating system, but a clear example of the significantly better communication by semantic web advocates. Three years ago we'd have had a wiki specifying a ratings ontology with a union of evaluation universes reconciled through distributed trust metrics and URI-linked identity delivered through a web-services accessible RDF store, a prototype of one component of which was running on a devotee's desktop machine at a university in Bristol, written in an old version of Python. (via scilib on Twitter)
  4. Data Access, Data Ownership, and Sharecropping -- With Flickr you can get out, via the API, every single piece of information you put into the system. Every photo, in every size, plus the completely untouched original. (which we store for you indefinitely, whether or not you pay us) Every tag, every comment, every note, every people tag, every fave. Also your stats, view counts, and referers. Not the most recent N, not a subset of the data. All of it. It’s your data, and you’ve granted us a limited license to use it. Additionally we provide a moderately competently built API that allows you to access your data at rates roughly 500x faster then the rate that will get you banned from Twitter. Asking people to accept anything else is sharecropping. It’s a bad deal. (via Marc Hedlund)

March 12 2010

Four short links: 12 March 2010

  1. Flickr Flow -- a "season wheel", showing the relative popularity of colours in Flickr photos at different times of the year. Beautiful. (via gurneyjourney)
  2. Light Peak -- optical peripheral cabling and motherboard connections. (via timoreilly on twitter)
  3. British Museum Pilots "Wikipedian in Residence" -- Liam's underlying task will be to be to build a relationship between the Museum and the Wikipedian community through a range of activities both internally and public-facing. (via straup on Delicious)
  4. Twitter's Location Policy -- If you chose to tweet with a place, but not to share your exact coordinates, Twitter still needs to use your coordinates to determine your Place. In order to improve the accuracy of our geolocation systems (for example, the way we define neighborhoods and places), Twitter will temporarily store those coordinates for 6 months. Because how could anything go wrong if there's a database containing 6 months of my precise locations stored on the Internet even when I've chosen not to share my precise location? (via straup on Delicious)

January 29 2010

Four short links: 29 January 2010

  1. Chat Roulette -- not sure it's new, as I think I recall Eric Ries talking about implementing it in the early days of IMVU, but it's still interesting: chat to a random person who also wants to chat. I wonder whether it's being used for drive-by phone sex, or whether there's a genuine curiosity about other human beings that extends beyond their genitals. (via Roger Dennis)
  2. Only Surviving Photo of Phineas Gage Found on Flickr (NPR) -- are we still surprised at this? It's a little like "last copy of book found in library". Great photo, though. (via wiselark on Twitter)
  3. The 2009 Feltron Report -- life quantified beautifully. (via Flowing Data)
  4. Chart Wars: The Political Power of Visualization (Ignite) -- how to be a smart consumer of datagraphics and visualizations. (via KathySierra on Twitter)

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