Tag Archives: photos

Micro.blog photos from MarsEdit

This morning I updated Micro.blog’s XML-RPC posting to support the MetaWeblog API, which allows uploading photos to your hosted microblog. If you’re using MarsEdit to post to Micro.blog, edit your “System API” in MarsEdit’s blog settings to “MetaWeblog API” instead of “Blogger API”.

Working on the photo upload support has also helped clarify how Micro.blog should process text from the different posting APIs such as MetaWeblog and Micropub. After the next version of the Micro.blog iOS app ships, Micro.blog will start requiring Markdown and escaping HTML tags from Micropub, just as it currently does from the web interface. This will be a much better default for most people, and bring more consistency between web and iOS posting.

MarsEdit and other tools that use XML-RPC will still be available for when you want more control over the HTML that is posted. Micro.blog does allow Markdown in your MarsEdit posts, but otherwise it does very little processing of text from MarsEdit. It even lets you post long-form blog posts.

Micro.blog + Facebook

Today we’re adding Facebook cross-posting to Micro.blog. Facebook support is now built in, just like Twitter cross-posting, and can be configured for a microblog hosted on Micro.blog or any external blog with a feed.

Micro.blog’s cross-posting naturally works with long-form content or microblog posts. For longer posts, it includes the title with a link back to your blog. For microblog posts, it sends the entire text to Facebook.

Micro.blog also parses your post HTML looking for img tags, downloads the photo and attaches it to the Facebook post. This means that microblog posts with photos look great on Facebook, but the source content is still on your own web site. It works really well with the Micro.blog app for iOS.

I feel like Micro.blog is starting to pick up steam. I’m looking forward to rolling out more improvements before the public launch.

Preview of Sunlit 2.0

A few years ago, Jon Hays and I built an app for photos called Sunlit, powered by the App.net API. We evolved it to work with other services, like Flickr and Instagram, but as App.net faded away we could never justify the investment to rewrite significant parts of the app to bring it forward and keep it relevant. It also wasn’t clear what the app should do if we were to modernize it. So we let the app sit in the App Store, kind of neglected, and even discussed removing it from sale.

As I rolled out Micro.blog to Kickstarter backers, Jon dusted off the Sunlit project and experimented with something that should’ve been obvious to us earlier: Sunlit should post to blogs. And more than that, it should work well with microblogs and IndieWeb standards. It should become a great app for photoblogging. The new version of Sunlit can post photos to Micro.blog, WordPress, or any site that supports the Micropub API.

To play nicely with microblogs, we introduced a new post type in the app for single photos. For longer posts, you can still collect multiple photos together, add text, and post them as a story directly to your blog. There’s also a brand new editing interface with filters and advanced adjustments:

screenshots

Jon has put a bunch of work into this while I focus on Micro.blog. Sunlit 2.0 is already feature complete and in beta testing now. We expect to ship it sometime this summer.

What to post to a microblog

On the surface, an independent microblog might seem a lot like a Twitter account. There are some important differences: you own your own content, you can use Markdown or HTML for styled text, and you aren’t limited to 140 characters. An indie microblog can be just as easy to use as Twitter, but more flexible since it lives at your own web site, even with your own domain name.

So you’ve created a Micro.blog account or chosen to set up your own blog. How should you use your own microblog compared to Twitter or Instagram? Here are some ideas:

  • Use it the same as Twitter. Write short posts on your own microblog and cross-post them to Twitter. This is essentially what I do. If what I want to say fits naturally in 140 characters, it goes to Twitter as-is and followers can reply or like it there. If it’s a little longer, Micro.blog automatically truncates the tweet and links back to my blog.
  • Use it instead of tweetstorms. If you find yourself trying to express a thought and it’s going to take 2-3 tweets, consider posting it to your own microblog instead. Micro.blog suggests a limit of 280 characters. It’s still short enough that it encourages quick, easy posting, but it’s long enough that you can use it for much more well-formed posts.
  • Use it for a photoblog. I’ve noticed some pushback against Instagram as they add more ads, clutter the UI with Snapchat features, and move away from a simple reverse-chronological timeline. I want to make Micro.blog a great alternative for photo-blogging, which is why you can discover users from photos and there’s a UI for filters and cropping. You can see all my photos here.
  • Use it for a linkblog. Link-style blogging is for short commentary about another article, usually with a link at the end pointing to the other web site. Since microblogs are based on Markdown or HTML, you can also include inline links, which makes the blog posts look clean and readable on your own site. Micro.blog’s cross-posting will automatically parse out the link and append it to the tweet version of the post.
  • Use it for company news. Because it can be integrated into an existing full blog or web site, a microblog is a convenient format for posting updates about your business or industry topics you care about. This is why Micro.blog allows custom domain names and also offers the Sidebar.js include.

Of course there’s no single correct way to blog. I’ve enjoyed watching Micro.blog users try different approaches to microblogging to figure out what works best for them.

Micro.blog photos

This week we added a selection of photos to the Discover page on Micro.blog, and today I uploaded a new TestFlight beta with the same feature inside the app. It’s another way to find users to follow, or just see what the Micro.blog community is up to.

Here’s what the iPhone screen looks like:

iPhone screenshot

I think photoblogging is a really important part of indie microblogging. When I share photos online, I want them to be at my own web site in addition to cross-posted to Twitter and other social networks. Photos always capture something — a moment with family or friends, visiting a new place, or just the everyday routine as it changes — and I want Micro.blog to provide a great user experience for photos, from filters to hosting.

Where I post everything

My content is all on this blog or linked from it, but if you’re following RSS feeds or Twitter it’s not as obvious where everything is posted. Here’s a summary to clear things up.

Microblog posts: Posted here and in a special RSS feed. Also automatically cross-posted to Twitter and App.net, with some occasional truncation.

Longer posts: Posted here and in the default RSS feed. Also automatically cross-posted to Twitter and App.net with the title and link. Twitter cross-posting is handled by my upcoming Micro.blog platform.

Photos: Posted to Instagram and then copied here using this workflow. They don’t show up in either of the RSS feeds above. They’re not cross-posted to Twitter.

Timetable: Posted to timetable.fm which has its own feed. Discoverable in your favorite podcast client.

Core Intuition: Posted to coreint.org. I’ll usually post a link here on the blog for each new episode.

All posts: Switching to WordPress brought a new global RSS feed, but I redirect it to the longer posts for now. There’s a new everything RSS feed which contains all posts: microblog, full posts, and photos. Enjoy!

Photo blogging follow-up

As I’ve written about already, I now post photos to my own site in addition to Instagram. I use the Workflow app to make this easier, automatically uploading a photo and making a new blog post for it from iOS.

Ryan Toohil has taken my rough workflow and improved it, adding support for prompting for the photo title, fixing the photo’s orientation, and a better dynamic folder name based on the date. You can see his updated workflow here.

I still have a lot to learn about using Workflow. It’s the kind of app that you can only really understand the potential for after diving in with a real problem. Now I find myself looking for more ways I can use the app.

I’ve also finally read Federico Viticci’s excellent intro to Workflow over at iMore, which includes this advice:

“When I was new to Workflow, visualizing the vertical flow of actions before building the stack was my biggest hurdle in getting started. I’ve since developed a habit that comes in handy every day: if I already know what a workflow should do at the beginning and at the end, I place the first action and the last one immediately on the canvas. Then, I only have to figure out how to go from Point A to Point B, dropping actions between those two as I play around with different ideas.”

Of course, Federico has written many times about Workflow. He has an article about using Workflow to post to WordPress, and tips and example workflows in the MacStories Club email. His podcast Canvas with Fraser Speirs also routinely discusses workflows.

Blogging your photos

Colin Devroe started microblogging on his own site, with separate sections for statuses and photos:

“I want to post content to my own personal site and not through closed social networks — because I want to keep control of everything I create forever. […] This doesn’t mean that I won’t be posting to Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, but that everything that I post there will originate here on my site.”

It’s the photos and their RSS feed that caught my attention. Others have done this too, but for some reason I rarely post photos here on my own site. I’ve stuck with using Instagram instead.

I need to change that. I do like the Instagram app, though, so I’m going to keep using it. I’ll just copy the photos over to my site as well, and I’ll use Workflow on iOS to help automate it. The basic steps are:

  • After posting the photo on Instagram, copy the caption to the iOS clipboard. This will be the title of the blog post.
  • Select the Instagram-edited image in the Photos app and run the workflow.
  • Workflow makes a filename based on the title, with some simple substitutions. Lowercase, spaces become underscores, and drop some characters.
  • Transmit gets launched and I confirm the upload to my own server.
  • Workflow creates a WordPress blog post with an img tag and the relevant metadata.

It’s not bad. You can see the workflow here. I’ve uploaded a bunch of my most recent Instagram photos this way. I’m not sure whether I’ll go back and mirror all the old ones.

These photos live under a new Photos category. I’ve excluded this category from the main RSS feed that I use for cross-posting, so they won’t automatically go to Twitter. You can continue to follow me on Instagram if you prefer that.

Instagram hits 400 million users

From Graham Spencer at MacStories, commenting on the latest Instagram numbers and that the service is only 5 years old:

“But I was really surprised to remember that Facebook acquired Instagram in April 2012, when Instagram had ‘only’ 40 million users. If I recall correctly, a lot of people thought Facebook was crazy to buy Instagram for $1 billion. Well, I think Facebook got the last laugh on that one, and as Forbes points out, Instagram now has more monthly active users than Twitter (316 million).”

Impressive growth, but it fits. Instagram has crafted a user experience that encourages thoughtful posts and never feels overwhelming in the way a Twitter or Facebook timeline can be. If Instagram was a paid product, I bet Instagram’s churn rate would be the lowest of any of the big social networks. They did it with a small team and weren’t afraid to grow slowly.

Google Photos

Tim Cook spoke recently about privacy and cloud services:

“You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email or your search history or now even your family photos data-mined and sold off for God knows what advertising purpose.”

I’m going to give you a very cynical translation, which I don’t often do: We are in denial about how much better Google Photos is than what we’re doing at Apple. It is so advanced in terms of search that we won’t be able to match it anytime soon. In fact, we don’t even have anyone working on similar technology at all.

It’s not about being free. I pay Dropbox $20/month to be grandfathered into 2 TB of storage so that I can put all of my photos and documents there. Dropbox is rock solid and worth it.

Like Marco and others, I have tried to avoid Google services. I don’t use Gmail. I hate advertising. But the idea of being able to quickly search my photos by content without even tagging or organizing them was too compelling to not try. So I’ve uploaded over 10,000 photos so far to Google Photos. It is really good. (I’m going to finish uploading all my photos and give it a few months before making a final judgement on the search vs. privacy trade-off.)

Some of the random searches that work out of the box to filter my photos: “beach”, “trains”, “New York City”, “Oregon and 2013”, “road trip”, “party”, “basketball”, “Christmas tree”. I never saw a demo or tutorial for how to use Google Photos; I just type stuff in and it mostly works, discovering photos and events. And on top of that, there’s also the automatic stories and collages, which is something we always wanted to build for Sunlit.

My family photos are the most important files I have on my computer, and I very rarely share any photos of my kids publicly. But ironically I’m willing to overlook some of the privacy concerns around this exactly because the photos are so valuable to me. I want multiple copies in the cloud, and I want the power of search that Google has built.

Write locally, mirror globally

The Atlantic has an interesting essay on whether Twitter is on a slow decline, less useful and meaningful than it once was:

“Twitter is the platform that led us into the mobile Internet age. It broke our habit of visiting individual news homepages first thing in the morning, and established behaviors built around real-time news consumption and production. It normalized mobile publishing power. It changed our expectations about how we congregate around shared events. Twitter has done for social publishing what AOL did for email. But nobody has AOL accounts anymore.”

It reminds me of something I brought up on Core Intuition a few months back, wondering if Twitter is a core part of the web, something that would be with us forever, or if it is “just another web site”. When we get into the groove of using a new service for a few years, it’s easy to forget that web sites don’t have a very good track record. Giant sites like Facebook and Tumblr seem to have been with us forever, but my personal blog is older than both.

Think about this: if it’s even possible for Twitter to fail — not likely, just possible — then why are we putting so much of our content there first, where there are rules for how tweet text can be used? Storage for all tweets is so massive that there’s no guarantee that other companies will be able to take over the archive if the service has to fold. It’s why I built Tweet Library and Watermark to archive and publish tweets.

Decentralization is the internet’s greatest strength and weakness. There shouldn’t be one service to hold all of blogging; each writer should have his or her own domain and web site. But web sites also die all the time from neglect. We need centralized services to index and syndicate content so that it’s preserved and accessible to more people.

Longevity is the next great challenge for the web. All of my work on Riverfold apps is leading this way, from archiving tweets, to curating and publishing your best photos, to indexing a copy of the text and HTML from your blog. But I’m just one guy with a limited server budget.

It’s time for a new web standard — a metadata format and API that describes how to mirror published content. Maybe it’s part of IndieWebCamp? When I write on my blog, I want the content to flow to GitHub Pages, to the Internet Archive, to Medium. When I post photos, I want the content to flow to Dropbox, to S3, to Flickr. It’s not enough to backup or copy data blindly; the source must point to each mirror, and each mirror service must understand who the creator is and how to find the original data if it still exists.

Unlike a distributed platform that works at the level of raw data, like BitTorrent, this new system should work natively with well-understood common files: text, photos, video, and the glue (usually HTML, Markdown, or JSON) that makes a collection meaningful. Instead of yet another generic sync system, it’s a platform that understands publishing, with adapters to flow content into each mirror’s native storage.

If you accept that this is something worth doing, then every place we put our content must be classified as either an original source or a mirror. And this brings us back to Twitter. Because while I think the next 5 years for Twitter will be strong, I’m not convinced that it will last 50 years. Therefore, Twitter cannot be an original source of data; it must be just one of several mirrors for micro-blogging.

We love music

In my short post about why we chose Mapbox for Sunlit, I said I wanted to use it because the folks working at Mapbox clearly love maps. We are so used to mega-companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft trying to provide every possible service, it’s nice sometimes to just buy directly from a specialist.

I think that’s why Beats Music is going to be successful. Music is all they’re doing, they’ve hired a staff of specialists — curators who are passionate about not just music but specific genres — and even their sister company makes music products: headphones and speakers. For more background on Beats Music, I recommend this write-up from MacStories and this (http://www.theverge.com/2014/1/21/5325766/interview-with-beats-music-ceo-ian-rogers-video).

Remember when Steve Jobs introduced the iPod? He said: “We love music. And it’s always good to do something you love.” As he continued to play some of his favorite songs, we believed him. The driving force behind the iPod and iTunes was to make it significantly easier to listen to music. They hit it out of the park and changed the music industry.

Today, Apple is either spread too thin or content to do the bare minimum only. iTunes Radio looks like something they felt they had to build, not something they wanted to build. Beats Music is in a completely different league, with a deep set of features and content. It looks like an app that’s had years to mature, not a 1.0.

I’d like to see Apple get back to doing fewer things and doing them well. That means no TV or smartwatch. They need more product categories like photography, which they excel at. The iPhone camera is the best, the built-in Photos and Camera apps are great, and there’s a rich layer of third-party apps to fill in additional features. Apple’s photos ad perfectly captures this.

Apple, fall in love with the next product category and lead us there. We’re ready for the next thing you love, not the next thing that Wall Street assumes everyone wants.

No coincidence

We released Sunlit yesterday and the response has been really great. It’s so amazing to see all the replies on App.net, emails of encouragement, and tweets telling people about the app. I think 1.0 is off to an excellent start. We’ll keep making it better.

I was a little anxious about the release, though. It was a challenging app to build, and it’s different enough from other apps that it’s hard to predict how the market will react. I was also surprised that the same morning we shipped our app, Storehouse was released. This is a beautiful iPad app from Mark Kawano and his new team. The interactions are extremely polished and it’s getting justifiably good praise and lengthy write-ups from Techcrunch and elsewhere.

(Of course, we think Sunlit is pretty awesome too. I’ll be writing more about what makes it special in future blog posts, especially highlighting how it leverages the App.net API, the URL schemes support, and why we use Mapbox.)

At first I was stunned by Storehouse. How could it be that we were both working on a similar idea for the last year, and both apps were finished at the same time? The apps have different UIs, and a different approach, maybe even different goals, but they both create stories, revolve around photos, and publish to the web. I’ve seen a lot of people compare the apps, and I think that’s fair.

To be honest, for a few minutes I was a little bummed out. If I had seen this tweet from Jackson Harper at the time, and not later in the day, I might have been nodding in agreement:

“Having a somewhat similar free app from a funded developer launch the same day as you must be a little disappointing.”

That doesn’t really capture it, though, because I’m also really happy for the Storehouse team. I’ve known Mark for years. I’m confident that his app is going to be one of the most impressive apps on so many people’s iPads.

And they have a full-time team. Jon and I are just two guys, working in our spare time to build something — something we think is new, something for us to use, but also something ambitious in how big it could be.

It seems like a big coincidence that both apps shipped with a similar set of features, but now I realize why it happened. Sure, it’s funny that the release days were identical, and not a few days or weeks apart. But the general timing shouldn’t be at all surprising, because this is an idea whose time has come. There are photo “album”-type apps popping up all over the App Store, such as Cluster, Albumatic, and Heyday, all of which Apple has featured. Plus there are web-based apps like Exposure and Medium, which was recently updated with great photo support as well.

It’s no coincidence; it’s just a good idea. And it’s a huge market: everyone who loves writing and taking photos. That understanding gives me a lot of confidence to double down on our plans for Sunlit 1.1, 1.2, and after. 2014 is going to be an awesome year for sharing stories.

Why we built Sunlit

Montreal

You have that feeling when hanging out with friends — everyone snapping pictures of their surroundings, of people, events, food, anything — that photo sharing should be better. That years later, you should be able to go back to that time, to see the best photos collected together from several people. And not just photos, but maps of where you were, and text to describe its significance.

One afternoon before Çingleton in 2012, this subject came up as Jonathan Hays and I were taking photos around Montreal. It seemed remarkable and disappointing to us that there was no easy way to put those photos together. And I liked the idea of buildling a new app around photos, with the same themes of curation and preserving past events that are so important to my other Riverfold products.

So we let the idea sit in the back of our minds, and later we wrote a little code as time allowed. At the App.net hackathon before WWDC 2013 we dove into the project in earnest, figuring out how it would sync, then over the summer took some more time to think through the user experience.

Sharing a single photo has been done a hundred times on iOS. Instagram was an important app to nail the timeline UI, and Favd is currently my favorite way to post and browse new photos (it’s really great). But hardly anyone has even attempted to tackle photo curation, group sharing, and publishing, let alone gotten it right. Sunlit 1.0 is our first pass at this and we couldn’t be more excited about trying to solve a new problem with photos.

They say you should spend money on experiences — on memories, not things. Sunlit helps you put those memories together, share them as a group, and rediscover them when it matters. The first version will ship tomorrow. I hope you like it.

Quality photos

I’ve been slowly moving photos to Dropbox over the last year, using the Dropbox camera import feature so that all new photos from my phone get synced up automatically. It’s worked out so well that last week I decided to go all in. I moved about 13 years of photos there and upgraded to Dropbox’s 200 GB of storage.

In the process I’ve been poking around at old photos, photos of my kids from 6-7 years ago when we had a basic point-and-shoot camera. There are some great photos in there, but also so many that are blurry or out of focus. We were too cheap to buy a good camera at the time. Now I would pay any amount of money to go back in time and reshoot the photos with a better camera.

Gus Mueller learned this lesson more quickly than I did:

“It’s quite amazing what a difference a nice lens and a nice camera can do. Kirstin was shocked at the quality. The cameras on iPhones are getting better, but they don’t hold a candle to camera tech today.”

We don’t use our DSLR every day. It’s for big events, birthdays, school performances, and the iPhone suffices for the rest of the time. But it’s worth every penny and more, to look back on these photos years later and know we have captured them at their best.

Photos are also at the heart of my new app, Sunlit. We’ll be shipping soon. Enter your email address on the site to be notified when it hits the App Store.

Photo filters

Rene Ritchie has a nice comparison of black and white filters in iOS 7 and third-party apps:

“To create the comparison, I took the screenshots posted on Apple.com, isolated the unfiltered image, loaded it into the other apps, applied their filters, and then took screenshots of the resulting images.”

I’ve been working on an iOS 7 app that’s partly about photos, though not actually a camera app, and I always thought it’d benefit from a single great black and white filter. Not as one of a dozen filters, but as the only filter in the app — something strikingly different that would be noticed. iOS 7’s built-in filters and apps like Camera Noir have made me reconsider. Why reinvent the wheel when so much good work is being done on filters by other developers?

Related, the excellent mobile photo workflow by Rands.

The new Day One

Shawn Blanc reviews the latest version of Day One, which now supports photos:

“Over the years, most of the major, monumental milestones of life were documented in my Moleskine. But not all. And that’s why I’m glad to have an app that let’s me easily and joyfully add a snapshot or a quick note about an important or memorable event. These are the things my family and I will look back on 20 and 30 years from now with great fondness.”

While I keep the important stuff in my journals, I also use a protected Twitter account for the everyday notes and photos while away from the house. It has no followers; it’s just to have a date-stamped entry with a photo that’s easy to sync. Now that I’ve read how people are using Day One for this, I’m going to switch away from my private Twitter account to use Day One on the iPhone instead.

I like having one place for this kind of stuff. If the same type of content is scattered across multiple services, it makes it less likely that everything will be together in the future when I finally want it.

Especially interesting to me from Shawn’s review is that he also keeps a hand-written journal, even after using Day One for a similar purpose. I’ll keep using real-world pen and paper too, and everything I write there I will also transcribe into Day One. But I’ll write new things in Day One that will stay exclusively digital.

Federico Viticci also has a great review. He starts with the big picture, the why of writing it all down:

“I don’t even know if I’ll be around in twenty years. But I do know that I want to do everything I can to make sure I can get there with my own memories. We are what we know. And I want to remember.”

I think the best writers know that it matters what their work looks like in a decade, or two decades, whether the writing is private or public. You can see it in everything from permanent URLs to blog topics to what software they use — a conscious effort to create content that lasts.