Menu

Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Like? Subscribe.

Large companies aren’t good homes for beloved services

(I had no idea what to title this post.)

Peter Kafka, reporting for Recode earlier this year, re: Verizon shuttering relatively large services they’ve purchased over the years rather than “bothering” to sell them off (like they did with Flickr):

So if Verizon thinks a property with 100 million users is better off dead than sold, think of all the other random properties it might have slated for the deadpool.

A revealing tidbit in this is K. Guru Gowrappan regretting the sale of Flickr because it took too long and was too expensive of a transaction. I’m glad they did. I want Flickr to continue to exist and I’m sure there are millions more that would too.

Large companies are not good homes for beloved services. We are living in an age of the internet where if a service isn’t at hundreds-of-millions of users and throwing off tons of profit they simply aren’t worth the time for companies the size of Verizon or Google. Both of these companies have enormous cemeteries in their backyards of things they’ve built or bought and shuttered regardless of their usage or loyal users.

Over the last year I’ve moved my use of platforms, services, or products to things I can control long term or are open source. Examples include my photo management process no longer being reliant on the cloud, my content all being on my own domain, and my site being on my own infrastructure. I still have more work to do but I want to future proof as much of the stuff I care about as I can.

What I saw this week #55 – February 8, 2018

I want to be regular with this series. I do. I’ve just been busy. Sorry. Here are some links that you might find interesting. I did.

Is Instagram about to plummet?

When Instagram first started to hit popularity – long after their failed attempt at being a check-in service – the app was all about photo filters. Anyone could snap a photo with their phone and quickly add a filter to make it look “better” or at least more interesting. It made everyone feel like a photographer.

At first “true” photographers balked at the platform. But then they saw the power of the network it was building so they started to sign up. Which created a boon for the platform and its Explore page because whenever we opened the app we saw gorgeous photos of the people, places and things we are interested in.

But this created pressure. I dubbed it Instagram pressure. It meant that the “anyone” (those that do not consider themselves photographers but enjoyed adding a filter to their photos) I mentioned before felt out of place. Incapable of producing such high quality, and often composite, results. So their usage began to wane. They were still looking but not posting as much.

Then the algorithmic timeline. Which made for completely different issues. It meant that really great photos from people with less of a following were getting little to no attention. And like-fatigue set in. Instagram had a problem but they had smart founders. They new they needed to act quickly.

So Instagram gobbled up Snapchat by stealing the medium of Stories and (in my opinion) improving on them. Which created another bolt of energy into the platform as there was now a way to create and publish far more content that didn’t need the same polish as a photo.

But then Facebook happened. True, Facebook purchased Instagram 6 years ago but it has only been the last 24 months that Facebook has taken a nosedive in public opinion. And with the founders of Instagram leaving the platform my own personal confidence in Instagram is at an all time low. In fact, I’ve stopped updating the app. I love Instagram as it stands right now. But I fear the next few updates.

Anyone that has been online for many years has seen the rise and fall of countless services for a variety of reasons. Mostly, though, the fall of a platform has something to do with some mass of individuals that originally embrace a platform eventually leaving a platform. Teens jump on Snapchat and move to Instagram and then move to TikTok or Musically. Tech people blog then tweet then blog again (yay!). Photographers use their own sites, then Flickr, then Instagram, then their own sites (and/or Flickr) again. At least, that is what seems to be happening.

Instagram has a huge backer, otherwise I think it’s decline would be as meteoric as its rise. So I don’t think it or Facebook will be gone any time soon. But I do have the feeling we will see photographers slowly leave the platform behind in order to publish elsewhere – whether that be their own web sites or Flickr or SmugMug or an as-yet-unreleased platform.

Join me for MeToday Week on Flickr from May 7 – 13, 2018

Since Flickr’s acquisition to SmugMug I’ve been thinking about how best to jump back in over there. Back in the old days we posted things called MeTodays (now called selfies) and they were quite a thing. So I think I’ll start there again.

Join me for one week of posting MeToday’s to Flickr’s MeToday Group. Here is the post about it there.

You can also post to your own blog, Twitter, etc. but be sure to use #MeToday and, if possible, link to the Flickr group to help spread the word.

I started today.

On the acquisition of Flickr by SmugMug

Thomas Hawk:

As someone who joined Flickr back in 2003 pre-Yahoo and has been on the site pretty much daily since then, I thought I’d share my own thoughts on what this acquisition might mean for Flickr users and the larger Flickr community.

No one has perspective on Flickr like Thomas. Go read his entire post.

I joined Flickr shortly after Thomas in 2004. I can’t believe it has been 14 years. Wow.

I was a prolific user of Flickr in its early days. Since I wasn’t yet very serious about photography (lets face it, I’m still such a newb) it served as more of a photolog + community for me in those early Web 2.0 days. I could post something there – say, a screenshot or my desk setup – and get a slew of comments and views.

It was also an excellent development playground. Their API, developed by now Slack’s Cal Henderson, was a boon for Web 2.0 type applications. I built many tools that used this API and cut my teeth as a still budding entrepreneur. One of my favorite projects I worked on was a Mac OS X Dashboard Widget called Flickit. It allowed you to interact with your Flickr account within a Dashboard Widget. Such a fun thing to work on.

Serious photographers still use services like Flickr, 500px or SmugMug to post high-resolution images of their work, create albums, sell prints, etc. But they also use Instagram for exposure. And they likely use a blog or Twitter or Facebook Group to interact with their community. At the time, Flickr was all of these things in one.

Today, if you were to sign up to Flickr and begin sharing your photos you’d likely carve out an audience of fellow photographers but you wouldn’t find “other” people there. And you likely wouldn’t reach a younger demographic at all. They are all on Snapchat and Instagram.

I have no idea what the future of Flickr is. The general consensus seems that SmugMug is a great company to take over stewardship of the platform. Flickr needs to exist in perpetuity in my opinion. Even if no one ever signs up to it again it stores an amazing amount of history and web history. I really hope it is preserved well.

YouTube has replaced TV for me (and, how to use the Watch Later playlist)

I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube lately. More specifically, I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube on my TV lately. Here is how I do it but first, a bit of background on my personal YouTube habits.

For the first few years of YouTube the only videos that I would see were the viral or massively popular ones. Unless someone sent me a link directly to a YouTube video I probably wouldn’t have seen it. Then, a few years into YouTube’s massive growth, it seemed as though the utility of its video library exploded. I could search just about anything and find what I needed to know. Things like how to cook hard boiled eggs or how to properly brew my coffee using a Chemex or how to fix some random household item. Even incredibly obscure things that you’d never think you’d get a result for ended up popping up. Entire days worth of video were uploaded every minute and I’m sure that continues today. A few years later, out of the ooze of that same library, came personalities and talking heads and people putting seriously well-made films on YouTube. That’s when I started to dabble in subscribing to some channels.

But it didn’t stick.

Every person with a modern computer had a camera facing them all day and so some of them used that camera to record themselves talking about various topics. Every single day. But, for me, talking heads are boring. And while some of these YouTube personalities tried different editing techniques to make their discussions somewhat entertaining, I grew tired of them and so YouTube didn’t stick with my daily watching habits. The videos were yet good enough to replace my TV habits and the rest of what was on TV was taken off of YouTube since the major networks still didn’t have accounts.

Then vlogging came along. And vloggers, like the talking heads on YouTube, made videos about their day each and every day. Except, these people went outside and explored and did interesting things. They just happened to record themselves while they were doing it. As someone who was a pioneer in MeToday photos on Flickr and videos on Viddler (where I used to be employed) I really liked this type of content. And, as time has progressed so have the tools. Now, instead of people being limited to recording videos in front of their laptops, they can fly cameras above cities and mountains have stabilized handheld cameras that shoot video in 4K. So now these videos are amazing.

Watch a few of Ben Brown or Casey Neistat’s (who is about to burst past 5M subscribers this week) videos and you’ll see a quality of video that wasn’t even available to commercial videographers just a decade ago. Now anyone can make these types of videos if they learn the software.

Having a YouTube account allows you to upload videos. But it also lets you subscribe to as many channels as you’d like. Effectively building an interest graph for the types of videos you’d like to watch. Far better than TV even with a DVR. Brand-new content is available daily and you can watch any of it whenever you want on any device. My TV, Blu-ray player, Apple TV, mobile phone, tablet, and computer all have excellent YouTube apps on them. I can literally watch YouTube from anywhere and cable TV has yet to figure that out.

A neat feature that you may have overlooked is YouTube’s “watch later” playlist. You can build your own playlists for anything if you’d like, just like a music playlist. But YouTube gives you one that is private by default and you can’t delete it called “Watch Later” and this playlist is available on all of these same devices. So if you see a video you’d like to watch on your TV but you’re on your phone… you can just hit “watch later”. It works fantastically and I use it every single day. In fact, I’m subscribed to enough channels that I cannot watch every video that is published so I pick-and-choose and add videos to my watch later playlist using my phone and then watch them all on my TV.

Best of all, at least so far, is that my TV doesn’t show any YouTube ads. Not one. So I’ve been watching hundreds and hundreds of hours of video that I’m interested in without ever seeing an ad.

If you know of any channels I should be subscribed to please email me.

Wait, so Verizon is going to own Flickr? The Yahoo! weather and sports APIs? Yahoo! Mail (which I hear some like). Oh boy.

Flickr Premium?

Danny Nicolas has been keeping up with my Flickr commentary of late about how Flickr should create a more affordable, less feature-rich account type and he has a few things to add:

I feel as if most people currently paying for Flickr Pro don’t take advantage of all the features offered. I might even go in the other direction and have the current Flickr Pro offering become the mid-size account, and offer a more expensive Business account that doesn’t have file size or video limitations.

My main argument for why I think Flickr should make a scaled-down account is more about price than about features. I was a paying Flickr Pro user for many years, as was my wife, and we never utilized the account to the full. Though I’m sure more serious photographers do. However, in today’s market of mobile apps and the services that power them, most people will not pay $24 a year to share photos with their friends. And I don’t think the Instagram generation needs Flickr Pro. But I do think they’d pay enough to make it worth Flickr’s while to create a more affordable account with less features.

Creating a Premium account is an interesting idea and is always on the table for SaaS platforms. But I don’t think that is the right strategy for Flickr. I doubt there are many members that are pining for more features or space or video capabilities. They can go elsewhere for video. I believe there is a goldmine of brand new users that are dabbling with Instagram – to the tune of tens of millions perhaps – that would love a few extra features that Instagram simply does not provide (stats, groups, sets, etc.) and all Flickr has to do is price the account just right, and market it properly, in order to suck them all in.

Again, Danny:

Whatever their strategy for success may be, Flickr must evade further stagnation in order to be competitive. They can’t ignore and leave new markets wide open like they did with mobile. They have the opportunity to become a powerful weapon in the hands of Yahoo.

It is amazing to me that so many people see Instagram as Flickr’s failing. But it is obvious. The people that were the innovators in photo sharing missed the boat. I think the problem is that Flickr became a business very quickly after joining Yahoo! It went from being an innovative product that was really trying to solve problems to a business that needed to make money and innovation sort of was pushed to the side. And the fact that we didn’t hear anything from Flickr for years was mind-boggling. I have no idea what they’ve been doing for the last few years.

Danny nailed it when he mentioned cannibalization. Some of the things Flickr should have done over the last several years were no doubt thought of and even sketched out but perhaps decided against for that very reason. They didn’t want to lose current customers. But they may have to do just that in order to grow again.

Yahoo! needs to invest in Flickr. They need to let the team know they can take chances again. They can try and fail and try again. They need resources, talent, and a someone with a clear vision to run the entire thing.

If Marisa runs Flickr like she ran search at Google Flickr will succeed. If she runs it the way Google , Buzz, and Wave was run she won’t. And there is a subtle difference between the two approaches. Google , Buzz, and Wave were innovations, no doubt, but without any real value or use case that was obvious. I remember trying Wave for the first time and having no idea what it was for. The products were perhaps a little too innovative. Instagram isn’t so much an innovation as it a well-designed simple solution that brings delight to people every day. Google search is a well-designed (seemingly) simple solution that brings an amazing amount of value to people every day. Flickr should aim for one of those; delight or value. I’d pick delight.

My island on this ocean

Me, over four years ago:

As it stands I post what I’m currently doing to Twitter, I am testing out Pownce with mobile blogging, events, links, and files, I post mobile phone photos to Flickr (as well as the occasional screenshot), videos go on Viddler, bookmarks end up on Ma.gnolia, tasting notes end up on Cork’d, and my thoughts on Appleproducts find their way toTUG.n.

What a difference four years can make! Pownce, Ma.gnolia, Cork’d, TUG.n, all gone. Flickr rarely gets my attention. Twitter is still here but is changing policies more often than I change my shirt. Viddler, I’m very proud to say, is stronger than ever but is certainly a much different service than it was then.

The Internet is like the open ocean and what we publish seems to be on a life raft simply going along for the ride.Yet our personal websites seem to be like small islands in this ocean. Sure, their beaches may change from time-to-time but the island remains – like a beacon to all travelers that we’re still here – somewhere to always come back to as these rafts take on water and eventually sink into the deep.

This environment forces me to rethink, yet again, how and where I publish on the web. This internal debate seems to be one that keeps coming up, over and over, year after year, as the ocean of the Internet ebbs and flows.

Should I simply post everything that I publish directly to this site and nowhere else? Do I cross post things to this site and also onto other services? Do I simply link back to this site from those services? Do I syndicate to those services with their own accounts (like I do now on Twitter and Facebook for this site)? Do I post some content here and some content elsewhere?

Believe it or not, and you may think I’m crazy, but these questions plague me all of the time. I constantly struggle with this. And I never seem to muster the conviction to make a hard choice and so I’ve got content everywhere; Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, the brand-new App.net, Flickr, a little on Google , and so on.

Why does it take conviction to limit myself to only posting on this site? Because there is a pull and a need to share this content with as many people as possible. With nearly 2,000 followers on Twitter, a few hundred on Instagram, friends and family on Flickr, etc. it is hard to limit the exposure of this content. I want people to see what I’m publishing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. This site, as it stands, only has a relatively small audience. Some of my posts get views in the single digits, others, in the hundreds of thousands. So I can never really be sure how many people are paying attention. That is why it takes conviction. I have to be OK with the fact that maybe, just maybe, no one will notice. And maybe, just maybe, no one will care.

I think I’ve gotten to that point. Even as I write this I’m coming around to the idea that I don’t really need anyone to read this post. And if they do read it I’d much rather them read it here than on Facebook or Google . Whether or not I choose to publish here on my site or elsewhere doesn’t really matter at all to anyone but me. And I want to publish to my site. So I should publish in a way that makes me happy, right?

There is an upside to making this a hard, line-in-the-sand choice. If anything I post is shared around the web it will point back to my website. My island. Some have built up enormous followings on Twitter and Instagram. What happens when they go away or change? I’d much rather people remember me for my website than for my Instagram stream.

So what does this mean? Well, I’ve thought about it. And I’m still going to tweet. Though probably far less. Twenty-five thousand plus tweets so far and counting. My entire family and most of my close friends are on Twitter. And, using Twitter Lists, I’m able to get a lot of value from this service. Far more than any other. However, I’m done with Facebook, Google , Flickr, ADN and Instagram (even though I love Instagram). Everything that I publish is going to be on this site. Follow, don’t follow, it is up to you.

Do you deal with this struggle? I’d love to read about how you’re dealing with it on Hacker News.

Some have asked if they’ll be able to stay subscribed to this site via Twitter and Facebook. Yes, you will. As long as their policies allow for it. And also RSS if you’re a nerd like me.

365 photos by Marisa McClellan

Marisa McClellan is shooting a photo per-day and posting it to her blog (and Flickr account if you’d prefer). Most of her photos are fairly drool worthy but the above tips the scales (you know, because of the cast iron).

She’s up to 38 or so. I’ll be watching every single one.

Other projects like this exist on Flickr too such as the 365 days group and Project 365.