Tag Archives: flickr

Two weeks notice: unfinished work

Three weeks ago I had about a dozen open Jira tickets. Today, my last day with the company, most of those are still open. I was able to update some documentation and do minor maintenance work, but a bigger change I had hoped to deploy turned out to be impossible because of a missing internal API.

It’s unsatisfying to leave unfinished work. There’s only so much that can be done in a limited time, though, and as we all know software (especially a web app) is rarely ever completely finished.

Bittersweet, moving on after so many years. The folks I’ve worked with have been really great. I’m going to enjoy keeping an eye on what they ship long after my GitHub access has been revoked.

This morning, my (now) former boss and good friend Willie Abrams linked in the company chat room to some of the photos that he had taken over the last 14 years. Brought back a lot of good memories, from brainstorming app features in a conference room to wandering around San Francisco before WWDC.

I think I’m going to let this be the final post to wrap up the “two weeks notice” series. I’ve accomplished a lot but there is still plenty left, especially shipping new products. It’s been good to force myself to write every day, so I’ll keep that going with the usual full posts and microblog posts.

You can find all 14 posts under the tag “2weeks”. Thanks for reading.

Retiring App.net support for Sunlit

Sunlit 1.3.1 shipped today. It’s a minor update focused on fixing bugs, but it is also the first version to remove App.net support. Existing users still have access to all the App.net features — the code still exists in the app for now — but the App.net sign-in button and settings have been removed for new users to simplify the requirements and UI.

It was difficult to let go of the App.net-specific features. A significant amount of the codebase was around syncing and collaboration features via App.net. There was also some great location check-in support built on App.net locations and compatibility with Ohai. I had to remove screenshots and prune down the App Store description to account for the removed features.

What’s left is an app that has fewer features but which feels light and simple again. Maybe this should have been our 1.0 version all along.

Two years ago, I wrote about waiting for App.net’s killer app:

“The promise of App.net is bigger than one type of app. App.net isn’t just a blank slate; it’s an amplifier. It’s waiting to power the next new idea and help it grow into something big.”

This vision didn’t pan out. But I’m proud that we gave it a shot and put a lot of effort into the platform even after others had given up on it. Now that we’ve finished this “reset”, of sorts, we’ll move forward to build other features we always wanted in Sunlit.

Sunlit 1.2

Sunlit version 1.2 is now available in the App Store. It includes a few minor improvements and one major change: you can now use the app with only a Flickr account. It no longer requires App.net.

We hope this will allow more people to try the app. At any time, you can always add your App.net account to the app’s settings and it will unlock the more advanced features: syncing, sharing stories to other App.net users, and multi-user collaboration so that anyone can add photos and edit text in a story.

Making App.net optional instead of required meant rethinking what the minimum features were that all users should have. Obviously you have to be able to create stories, add photos, include text descriptions, and use filters. But we also kept coming back to one thing: we could not ship without also supporting web publishing. The bulk of work on Sunlit 1.2 was creating a parallel implementation for publishing that would seamlessly work with exactly the same UI, with or without App.net.

Some people may ask why we chose Flickr instead of creating our own user accounts system, or simply having no registration. To support publishing, it helps to have some unique username for a user, and a secure way to authenticate them on the server. It won’t surprise anyone to hear that a lot of people have Yahoo accounts. With a redesigned web and mobile experience, plus 1 TB of free photo storage, Yahoo’s giving Flickr something of a new resurgence. There’s a lot we could build on the Flickr API.

At the same time, Sunlit’s App.net support is a powerful differentiator and we’ll continue to improve it. It lets you own your data, share it with other apps like Ohai, and sync to multiple users. I still believe in the App.net API and user community; it’s too good a platform to give up on.

Building Slack

Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of Flickr and his latest company Tiny Speck, published an internal email from around the middle of development on their collaboration app Slack:

“There’s no point doing this to be small. We should go big, if only because there are a lot of people in the world who deserve Slack. Going big also means that it will have to be really, really good. But that’s convenient, since there’s also no point doing it if it is not really, really good.”

It’s long but there’s a lot of good stuff in it on marketing and building a product people need.

Sunlit 1.1

Today we shipped version 1.1 of Sunlit, our app for collecting photos and text together to make and publish stories. Some of the bigger changes include:

  • Instagram and Flickr import. You can now add any of your own Instagram or Flickr photos into a story. With Flickr, you can even browse from your Flickr sets.

  • Improved Dropbox support. The first version of Sunlit assumed most of your photos on Dropbox were in the Camera Uploads or Photos folder. For 1.1, we’ve added a full Dropbox browser so you can pick any folder you want.

  • Multi-user text syncing. Now anyone subscribed to a story can add both photos and text descriptions, and the text will sync to all users. This is a really powerful feature for collaborating on stories. We think it puts Sunlit in a class above any other app like this.

  • Confirm deleted photos. What happens if you let other people add photos to your story, but they accidentally delete one of your photos? Sunlit now tracks this and shows a special confirmation alert so that you can either allow the photo to be deleted or keep it.

There are other fixes and improvements too, which you can see in the release notes. Here are a few screenshots of the new Dropbox and Flickr screens:

Sunlit v1.1

Sunlit is available in the App store as a free download. If you like it, pay just $4.99 to unlock the full app, and leave a review in the App Store to help others discover the app. Thanks!

Introducing Clipstart

Last week I looked at the SVN log for my application in development and realized that I had started it exactly 1 year ago. While I wasn’t actively working on it every day or week during that time, that’s still a very long time for me to work on an application before shipping it. I knew I had to call the 1.0 done and push it out.

I was falling into that infinite 1.0 cycle where I could continue to improve the application forever without releasing it. The sooner I noticed that trap, the sooner I was able to correct course and get the app into the hands of real users.

The app is called “Clipstart”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/clipstart/. It’s for importing, tagging, and uploading home movies. I have high hopes for the app and a lot of fun stuff planned for the future.

As usual, a lot of people talked about the product even before I did. My thanks to Dan Moren of Macworld for “covering the launch”:http://www.macworld.com/article/140376/2009/05/clipstart.html before I even had a chance to spam him with a press release; to John Gruber for “posting about how he uses it”:http://daringfireball.net/linked/2009/05/04/clipstart; and to “Duncan Davidson”:http://journal.duncandavidson.com/post/102477678/clipstart and “Mike Zornek”:http://blog.clickablebliss.com/2009/05/04/clipstart-10/ for their write-ups. I also very much appreciate “all the retweets”:http://search.twitter.com/search?q=clipstart and goodwill from my friends on Twitter. Those meant a lot.

Essays about the web

Paul Graham thinks “Microsoft and desktop apps are dead”:http://www.paulgraham.com/microsoft.html:

“Gmail also showed how much you could do with web-based software, if you took advantage of what later came to be called ‘Ajax.’ And that was the second cause of Microsoft’s death: everyone can see the desktop is over. It now seems inevitable that applications will live on the web — not just email, but everything, right up to Photoshop. Even Microsoft sees that now.”

He’s definitely off the mark with that statement. Luckily “Martin Pilkington has a counter-rant”:http://pilky.mcubedsw.com/index.php?/site/the_desktop_is_here_to_stay/:

“There seems to be a slightly delusional section of web developers who seem to believe that in a few years time all of our applications and data will be online, while our computers run little more than a browser. Of course this is complete bull.”

As someone who builds both desktop software and web apps, I’m very much interested in what happens in the middle. Next generation Mac software in particular can mix local HTML interfaces, web services, and syncing with a traditional rich UI to build something that is the best of both offline and online worlds.

I had an interesting conversation with “Willie Abrams”:http://willie.tumblr.com/ the other day about why the Flickr UI is better than iPhoto, even if you take away all the social parts of Flickr. The reason is that Flickr introduces extra layouts specific to certain types of activities, such as the excellent calendar view for archives. Another example of a web app UI innovation is the Backpack reminder UI that “John Gruber recently wrote about”:http://daringfireball.net/2007/03/deal_with_it.

Web apps are usually able to iterate on features and interfaces much quicker than desktop software, but that doesn’t make web apps inherently better. Put another way, iCal sucks because it hasn’t been seriously updated in 5 years.

I have other thoughts on this topic, but already I’ve extended this blog post 3 paragraphs more than intended.

The web is incomplete

When we use Google everyday and mostly work with technology and related topics that are well indexed, it’s easy to forget the truth: the web is horribly incomplete. I’ve been doing some research for an upcoming podcast and it’s very frustrating to encounter huge gaping voids in the internet where history, audio recordings, and photographs should be. Somewhere out there is an audio cassette tape recording that I’d like to hear, but it will probably gather dust in an attic for the next decade instead. It needs to be even easier for anyone to put everything they have online so that it can be preserved and shared. Already I think the current generation raised on instant messaging and the web may not realize that there’s a whole world out there that is outside the reach of our keyboards. At least I know I sometimes forget.

The other part of the problem is linkrot. And not just 404s, but old links to obsolete file formats that can no longer be accessed. I can’t even count how many links to .ram files I’ve clicked that result in an error. When your content requires a special server (RealAudio streaming server software, in this case), it’s only a matter of time before that content itself will die.

Now, the good news is that a simple MP3 file and static HTML file with JPEG images will be around forever. It requires no special server software, no dynamic processing of any kind, and client software is so widespread and open that it’s a guarantee you can access it 10 years later. The only missing piece of the puzzle is reliable non-expiring domain registration and hosting.

The bad news is the rise of centralized web applications and data stores. What happens when YouTube shuts down? Remember they burn through huge amounts of cash for bandwidth each month and seem to have few options for becoming profitable. I feel better about Flickr, because they get it, but “Yahoo! has been known”:http://www.manton.org/2002/07/yahoo_mail.html to not treat data longevity seriously.