Sharing Memories Online

SharingMedia

I love taking photos and videos of family events for posterity, often to the annoyance of my family. Memories are very important to me, and the idea of digitally recording events has always appealed to me vs the old shoe box full of flammable and yellowing photos.  When it comes time to storing and share my digital memories, the options are varied. To whittle down the list of online offerings, I have a couple of basic needs that I look for. Everything I consider must be at least compatible with my iPhone and Mac, as well as some sort of web interface. When it comes to taking photos, I believe in “the best camera is the one you have with you” and that means my iPhone 6 Plus even over the beautiful Leica lens of my beloved Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 (even with Eye-it wasn’t able to mimic smartphone capability and smartphone cameras are only getting better). My iPhone is always in my pocket and the bulk of an additional camera is a deterrent from carrying anything but my iPhone. I’ve never been someone who takes photos of sunsets and flowers, but I respect some of the amazing photos that people take and share. To me, my moments are just as precious. Obviously I’m not interested in photos that disappear after 10 seconds like Snapchat – yawn.

First and foremost, I need my photos be presented on Facebook. Facebook is, for the most part, the social network where my friends and family live. Facebook is where real contextual conversation and friend interaction happens. They also provides fine grained control over who can see my media. Other networks are either subsets of my Facebook friends, or a public broadcast platform to strangers such as Twitter where I don’t want to present photos of my kids.

Second, I need my photos to be potentially removable from the site in their original form. I was bitten badly by Everpix when they went into non-free mode and were unwilling to get my uploaded pictures back to me in any form whatsoever. Google frequently cancels services. I am in a sense using an online service as a backup and want to make sure that backup is always there for me. I don’t want to upload my high quality pics to a service only to find that what I get back is lower quality. I don’t want my pictures silo’d into something that my Facebook friends have to go to another site to see or have to register for another account or have to make 10 clicks to get into. Any other form of sharing such as email is rudimentary and just gives the recipient no sense of presentation.

Flickr – All platforms. Tons of free space. The 1TB that Flickr gives us is immense. I have over 44,000 photos going back 20 years (some are scanned prints) and I am at 4.5% of usable space – the remaining space is more than I will be able to use in my lifetime.  I can see that people who are into serious photography who might be using RAW format would be the primary target for that amount of space.

Unfortunately, Yahoo still hangs on to the idea that it wants to sort of create its own social network so Flickr has no real idea of integration with social networks. Albums and photos need to be set to completely public in order to share into Facebook, so all my photos are set to private by default. Automatic photo sync. Photos kept in original format. I do like the new Uploadr app which lets me auto sync photos from certain folders on my Mac, which means I can auto upload any pics I get in iMessage, which means also capturing any media sent by my green-bubble non-iPhone friends: capturing almost all media that I’m in contact with. Photo sorting and organization on Flickr is greatly improved with the new Camera Roll feature. I hope this is a sign that the service will be getting more attention in the coming months instead of languishing unattended for yet another few years.

WordPress – Completely public presentation. Manual upload. 3GB space for the basic account, pay for up to 13GB on the Premium account and unlimited for the business account. I’m past the days where I once ran my own PHPGallery site so I don’t want to build web pages or manage a site when it breaks – I just want to upload phones and be sure that it works, not make me do more of what I already do at work. Not Facebook friendly. Photo organization is redimentary.

Dropbox – All platforms. Sharing is not linked to anything like Facebook. It’s just a filesystem so you do whatever you want with your files and folders. Booooooring. Beyond the initial free 1GB account (or is it 2GB these days?), you can sign up for their Carousel app which does automatic sync and gives you some bonus space. Otherwise you are invited to pay for all the storage you can use. No real presentation for recipients – just a disorganized online shoebox. Not Facebook friendly. No Uploadr equivalent to get photos from alternate sources. Sharing and collaboration are primitive.

Microsoft – All platforms. Same as Dropbox, except Microsoft provides OneDrive app to do the syncing. Also no Uploadr equivalent to get photos from alternate sources. Sharing and collaboration are primitive. You get 15GB of space these days for free. I feel like this is another company that could offer 1TB of space, but if you want more you can pay for it.

Facebook – All platforms. I’m not aware of any limits on the number of photos you can have. Photos and videos are separated into different albums, although Moments app tries to bridge this. No auto upload from mobile and no autocapture capability for photos on my Mac, although interestingly Benny Wong does just fine in this area with the Timehop Mac app. Collaboration on the platform with Shared Albums is really good in getting moments that you yourself weren’t able to capture. Photo sorting is a little frustrating – one large set of pictures was set to sort by time the photo was taken and it was a jumbled mess. The real drawback – video quality is surprisingly horrific for uploads.

Apple – Automatic photo sync. Photo and video quality is fantastic. The 5GB limit of the basic account is anemic, but Apple knows how to monetize so you always have the privilege of paying for more space. Only captures photos that I take – anything else relies on my saving the photo or on Uploadr via my Mac. Sharing via Photos relies on other members being iOS users. Apple could add more audience by providing some similar functionality to Windows and Android users, but that’s not the point of their halo effect. As much as I’d like it to be otherwise, however, not everyone I know is an Apple user. Photo organization here is what everyone would expect from every service. As such I can only capture and share photos with my Apple gear, but not have any meaningful backup.

Google – All platforms. Data export through Google Checkout is awesome. Sadly, image quality is altered for unlimited uploads – you can only store unlimited photos in lower than original quality (they call it High Quality). Uploading original photos in highest quality results in using up your allotted space (currently says 16GB for me) and having to pay for more space. Google was one of the big players in the space wars when 1GB online was a big deal, now they’re holding back just like the rest. Google Photos Assistant and Magic are genius level features – I share those back into other services. Automatic photo sync since they already had that capability in Google Plus, but this is a backup of last resort. No Uploadr equivalent to get photos from alternate sources unless you’re still counting Picasa.

Instagram – Many but not all platforms (ahem, iPad). Disorganized mess. Connected to Facebook. No auto upload.

Twitter – Please. No. Stop.

I cannot keep my photos in any one single place where I can trust that they will still be under my control in their original form. Being native to Apple, I have to use Photos in iOS and Mac to share, but I cannot keep them there since I am unwilling to pay for the extra storage and photos basically age out of the system for me. Automatic syncing to Flickr works as my backup for storing full sized photos. Facebook is my preferred sharing platform. I use a lot of connected automated means of capturing photos from everything else, including IFTTT to capture media that I’m tagged in like Instagram, but that tends to be such a very small amount.

If there were any areas of improvement in the above flow, I’d say:

  • Facebook should auto capture my photos from mobile and desktop, making sure everything is private by default.
  • Apple should provide a lot more space especially to those that have invested in multiple iCloud capable devices. The limits should be 5GB per device for the basic account.
  • Yahoo should integrate Flickr sharing permissions with Facebook to get some granularity. All the above services should as Facebook is now the de facto backbone for all social networks – stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Sorry Twitter.
  • Flickr or Apple or both should pay attention to the AI magic of Google Photos’ Assistant. This only improves presentation and it’s the future.
  • Stop with the stupid stickers on photos. I don’t want to explain to kids 20 years from now why there is a thumbs up hand in the middle of one of their most cherished photos.
  • Facebook needs to stop making my videos look like blurry photos of bigfoot escaping into the woods. This is a crime against humanity in 2015.
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The Trouble With Evernote

Evernote security
Evernote has been a great way to store notes, for quite some time now. Better than all other available note taking services for mobile and desktop platforms, its ability to capture and organize photos and audio, outline and format notes, and sync across all your platforms, has over time made it stand head and shoulders above the rest.

However, I do have a problem with Evernote policy on security in its free product. In May 2013, Evernote began to offer two-factor authentication in addition to its standard password authentication, both of while are limited to only the Premium product. While every other service has recently offered two-factor authentication, I am shocked that the note taking service that has stood out over time, has no plans to offer it to everyone. And in the days of concern over the NSA invading our personal security, it feels like Evernote has a lack of interest in security for non-premium members, and that seems mercenary and disingenuous.

I understand they are a business, but if they are truly concerned about security, this is a good place to appear generous. LinkedIn is a good example of a service that has free and premium services, but has chosen to value security over profits. I call upon Evernote to similarly open two-factor authentication to all users of the service, just as Google, Yahoo, Apple, Twitter and many others have. I know that having two-factor authentication available in Evernote would make me feel safer placing sensitive information into my mobile and desktop devices, and others will too. Don’t get me wrong, I have no illusions that the NSA has not been spying for so much longer than this little scandal has been around, nor that the NSA would not be able to break anything that we try to encrypt with nothing simpler than an order under our many domestic terrorism laws. I feel there should be a deterrent, not just completely open access, and this would be a good first step.

The Location Game

Back in 2006, when I was rocking my old Sony Ericsson T610 on TMobile, before I moved on to a Palm Treo, I came across a new service with a revolutionary idea. Plazes was one of the original checkin sites, operating through SMS messaging to let the site know where you were. We didn’t have the benefit of verification by GPS to make sure I didn’t claim to be at the Eiffel Tower when I was actually kicking back in New Jersey. You texted your location as best as you could specify and their engine would figure out where it was on Google maps and place you there. They used shortcuts to let you define favorites such as Work and Home for frequent use. They had a point system for biggest users and kept track of how much time it took you to get between places to rank fastest travelers. While it was fun to keep track of where I’d been, there were no social service hooks and none of my friends were at all interested in using it. Once at the forefront of the location game, Plazes is now a pale imitation, having hardly any locations in its database.

Dodgeball had already been out for a number of years, acquired by Google shortly before I began using Plazes. I never really got into using it, as it was also limited in the number of locations in it’s database, only being available in major cities. None of these services seemed complete and ready for prime time, or worth my time.

Once I started using Facebook and they revamped their apps interoperability, I eventually noticed some of my friends using something called Foursquare. It was soon followed up by Loopt, Google Latitude/Places, Gowalla, Brightkite, Yelp, and more. Foursquare, the successor to Dodgeball, held the most interest with it’s points, badge system, and large database. Facebook, giving up on the purchase of Foursquare, created their own Places service, taking advantage of their vast established user base. I would have expected that one detail to have killed off competition for Places, but the lack of game mechanics in It just doesn’t make it as fun to use as Foursquare. Gowalla feels like they’re trying too hard to be Foursquare with their pin reward system. It just comes off as being a little dopey, where Foursquare seems cooler. There are more of these out there, but they just don’t have the same appeal. Foursquare has become the backbone of location services the way Facebook has become the backbone of relationship services.

Privacy and location have been a big deal, but nothing brought this to the public eye more than Apple’s recent admission that they were storing and using location data on iPhones without the public’s knowledge. Common sense would tell you that if the phone has GPS turned on, and you might be using it to map directions, somehow the location services may be running in the background and logged somewhere for someone else to see. I agree that sharing this data with unwanted individuals is undesirable, but in aggregated form it presents no threats to anyone. I have no illusions that an evil corporation is wondering what I’m doing at this very moment at my current location. Early on in 2008 while using TripIt on a trip to Boston, I recall getting an email from my brother asking me if I really wanted anyone knowing that I was not home. My reply was that I had only shared this with friends, and that if I had to worry about being robbed by a close friend, I had other bigger problems in life. This was back in the day when everyone mistakenly left their profiles open to be seen and Googled by anyone, though I made sure mine was set to Friends Only from the start. I have been hooked on sharing location data with people I know for some time now. Not everyone is as keep to location sharing as I am, though. I come from the idea that i have nothing to hide, but my fiancée doesn’t like that I share everything with everyone, coming from the idea that not everyone has earned the right to see everything we might possibly be doing out together. So I’ve taken to keeping my sharing data everywhere but Facebook except for special events. A lot of the location services in this game allow you to make data private, but this keeps a lot of the benefits from working. Read on.

The Location Game has it’s benefits as well. When sellers know you are in the area, they are more likely to offer you something extra to compel you to buy. For instance, in NYC yesterday, while looking in the electronics stores for a Mophie Air, I was offered a crap iPhone 4 charger for $99. When I walked away, they shouted lower prices – $60, then $50 – still too much for that junk. While you won’t get such aggressive price adjustments at Walmart or your local restaurant, there are local deals out there if you are willing to look beyond your usual spots. In the day of extreme couponing and a necessary incentive for making every dollar count, location services can be a great tool to help you save money.

A great way for vendors to alert you to nearby specials is by the use of geofencing technology. When you walk into a vendor’s perimeter, you would be able to automatically check in if you linger for X number of minutes. This is something Mayormaker gives you on the iPhone, but to do it for every business would task even the best battery on a smartphone to the point of losing charge within an hour. Processing this information and consuming it needs to become less compute intensive or needs to wait until battery technology advances. Databases of homes and businesses need to expand so that everything is already waiting to make the checkin experience as quick and easy as possible. Some online locations don’t match the real business locations, either because someone checked in after walking away from a place, or the business moved. Databases need to be verified for accuracy by comparing to other location services in order to become reliable.

Events are also something that can benefit from location technology. Walking into a city should be able to let you know what’s going on. Wouldn’t it be great to walk into NYC and find out what’s going on that day? A convention on your favorite interest or a food festival could be right around the corner.

Non-entertaining events such as construction or accidents could be beneficial for those driving into an area. Problems such as driving while using a smartphone can be overcome with the use of simplified interfaces. We use GPS all the time on the road, watching a display for images of where our next turn is. Something similar for other applications needs to be developed to make our travel experience safe as well as productive. Through a friend who is an iphone novice, I found a free GPS application called Waze that lets you check in once you arrive at a destination. This is a good example of combining the mature mapping tech with the newer checkin tech. It also keeps in mind the idea that there is something else going on between checkins. There are gaps in what destinations can be checked into at times, which makes me wish the default Maps app would do turn by turn paths and checkins, but for the most part it works nicely. Along the same lines, apps like TripIt will help you describe what’s going on between your destinations, though I don’t believe they have integrated location services into their service. Something where your safe arrival at an airport or attraction would help others feel better about your travel. Passing through an area might let you know about a great deal on lower gas prices through the Cheap Gas app, integrated the same way Boxcar ties in apps that deal in notifications.

What if you could tell when a group of friends is nearby? Wouldn’t that trip into the city be even better if it could be shared with an even bigger group, possibly making new connections as you join two sets of friends together? Or if you come into an event and meet someone you’d like to remain in contact with, seeing their profile show up as part of the event list would make reconnecting easier afterwards.

Getting tips from people more familiar about an area also makes a visit more enjoyable. Most location services feature Tips, but that information is volunteered ahead of time. Services like Localmind or Donteat.at can help you make smarter choices that keep you out of uncomfortable situations or even the ER for eating the wrong thing. They let you actively or automatically ask about the place you are visiting to get more information from the crowd than what has already been put out there.

In the end, to summarize all this activity to help see how you’ve spent your time, there are aggregator services like Memolane that pull your social life from different sites to help make a more complete picture. Aggregating this data together makes it easier to scan and look for common likes.

What have you done lately to promote location services to those that don’t yet use them? The more the merrier, so having more friends show up in your friends list for location services means that you’ll know more about what’s going on around you from trusted sources. Get someone started with Facebook Places and introduce them to Foursquare for better integration. The system doesn’t work if you’re one of the few using it.

Keep in mind most smartphone alert systems are not compatible with this, potentially throwing up too many alerts to make this useful. Information overload from advertising and friends needs to be solved before this can all be an attractive tool to everyone.