Changing Expectations with Instagram’s New Avatar

a_texan_winestopper_-_october_21__2016_at_0507pmFor me, Instagram has always been a place to share my phone camera’s photos. I have seen others including National Geographic and 500px share their professional shots and I’ve come to accept that. But personally, I like the constraints that a phone camera (aka iPhone for me) imposes on you. Initially it was the square format but now you can post your 4×6 photos as well. The filters allowed you to treat your photos like art (I never really understood the #NoFilter [1].)

With each iteration, phone cameras are getting better and better. Right now, even with the smaller sensor size, they allow for RAW capture that you can edit in apps like Lightroom, Enlight, Snapseed, VSCO, etc. that are almost as good as their desktop versions. With speciality apps like Prisma, there’s no illusion for depicting reality as it literally urges you to treat your photos like art. That’s a direction I like. However, with Instagram, if you follow the right people, there’s always the expectation of showing off your best photos. Although now you have your ‘camera’ on you all the time, the pressure to capture great photos can get to you and more often than not, you’re less likely to post if your previous one was really good.

more_lucy____-_september_24__2016_at_0751pmOf course, there’s an entire parallel and even larger community that is using Instagram to share photos, good or not. But most of this community had been living on Snapchat where no one is appreciating your photos but rather looking for where you are and what you are doing. The photos take a backseat and sometimes literally, with the countless overlays of emojis and text. To take that on, Instagram launched its newest feature – Stories. Photos that you’ve taken in the last 24 hours can be added to one stream with no captions, titles, or even locations [2]. But more importantly, there’s no pressure to edit your photos or present the best of them. You just click and share with minimal tagging with colors, emojis, or text. More importantly, like Snapchat, these stories disappear in 24 hours.

So with one notable addition, Instagram has resolved that dilemma of whether a photo is good enough to share on your feed or not. Now you basically can ‘dump’ your so-so photos in the Stories and curate the best ones for your main feed. Think of your main feed as your primary gallery showcasing your best works and your stories as the behind-the-scenes process. It’s the director’s commentary for your movie. Heck, the commentary may be for a movie that never made it to the screen or a movie that has no commentary at all. All the rules are out the window.

I follow some insanely talented photographers on Instagram and their ‘stories’ in terms of the photo quality can be crap but it’s fun taking a look behind the scenes. Or the cook who shares the final product on the main feed and all the steps involved in 10 separate photos on the Story, with a few videos thrown in. This Instagram I like and it may be Mark Zuckerberg’s wisest acquisition at what now seems like a steal.

  1. I never quite got the intent behind #NoFilter. Is it meant to indicate that this scene I’m presenting to you is just as glorious as it looks? That implied that your other photos are heavily edited to make them look pretty. I’ve no problems with either except I don’t believe photos always are intended to depict WSIWYG unless you’re doing photo journalism in Aleppo. []
  2. A sign of my greying age is that I had to google to find out how to use it the right way. But soon, I was somewhat mollified when others asked me about it []

The problem with Flickr

The Home view is also quite un-interesting. Some recent activity is displayed, as well as a few recent photos from your Contacts, but it’s just not done in beautiful way. And these are photos we’re talking about! What’s with the miniature thumbnails?

[via Flickr’s upcoming makeover]

After Vimeo’s impressive UI update, I cribbed about Flickr’s lack of updates so I was glad to hear about the upcoming changes. But apart from making changes to the single photo page, I don’t see any major overhaul in the way the site is designed. I hope I’m wrong and BetaBeat didn’t report on the entire list of changes. But as Ryan points out, Flickr, especially after being bought by Yahoo, has lagged. I still consider it a superior photo hosting site compared to its competition. It still offers plenty of options in terms of customization and privacy; the recent geofences privacy was especially brilliant.

But the way I use it now is more of a photo storage in the cloud with almost no interaction with the community that it was known for when Flickr launched. I receive almost no comments or favorites on the few public photos I upload but then I don’t comment or favorite others’ photo as well. Flickr Home is a total disaster; cluttered, filled with unused features, and worst of all, scant focus on the photos. Almost all social networking sites have or at least are working on presenting the recent activity in more pleasing terms. Facebook’s News Feed updates constantly and hence fosters more interaction. Flickr’s idea of recent activity is showing recent photos from your contacts in the smallest thumbnail size possible at the bottom of the Home Page. If one of your contact has uploaded several photos at once, like most of us do, then all you see is that person’s photos. Why isn’t the much vaunted ‘Interestingness’ photos promoted on the home page? Where are the photos that inspire you to shoot better photos, like the way 500px does?

O HAI! by Pratik M (Pratik) on 500px.com

On the other hand, 500px is an excellent site if you want to get inspired (or intimidated) by people’s photography skills. But more importantly, their UI is excellent and so is their iPad app. I nearly purchased their ‘Awesome'(pro) account until I realized 500px doesn’t allow private photos (to be fair, they want you to only upload photos that you want to share with everyone else). Checking out the Popular and Editor’s Picks on 500px is something I do every night before I sleep. It helps to end the day looking at wonderful art disguised as photographs.

Flickr doesn’t even have an iPad app; I hope they do especially after the retina display iPad 3 launches. But they’ve already lost the market to apps like Flickring and Flickr Studio that tap into their public API. Talk about a lost opportunity.

PS. I hop over to 500px site to get their URL and am surprised by an overhaul of their UI to make it even more impressive (just look at the size of the thumbn…err…photo previews). Flickr indeed has a steep hill to climb.

Bookmarks as Posts on the Blog?

It has been couple of months since I started posting my daily bookmarks on my blog. I did it primarily to keep my blog active and also to archive/share my bookmarks. I switched from Delicious to Pinboard and used the Postalicious plugin to give me better flexibility in presenting the bookmarks. Some blogs display their bookmarks on a sidebar or on a separate page [1]. The reason I added the links as posts was to make them available to feed readers. But is anyone clicking on these bookmarks and finding them useful or is it just cluttering the blog? Please vote below:

[poll id=”6″]

Since the bookmark posts are assigned an unique category, you can also subscribe to this feed that excludes bookmark posts, if you don’t like to see those posts in your feed reader. If not as part of the blog’s content, how would you like to access the bookmarks?

[poll id=”7″]

If you are interested in subscribing to the bookmarks directly at Pinboard, use this feed for all bookmarks. But this feed is the firehose that contains all my bookmarks including those imported from Twitter and Google Shared Items. However, I post only selected bookmarks on the blog. Thanks.

  1. Talk about redundancy, I also have a dedicated bookmarks and links page []

Aapka Video: Review

After making this post on bloggers being paid for reviewing products, I opened an account on ReviewMe to give it a shot. I didn’t expect many requests but I received a review request from Aapka Video and am posting my review below. Note that this is a paid review but I will try to be as objective as possible and it helps that ReviewMe stipulates that the advertisers cannot require a positive review. So here goes:

The Web 2.0 phenomenon is spreading rapidly across the globe and a prime facet is video sharing sites. India was kinda slow to adopt blogging or podcasting although it is gradually picking up steam now. The latest fad is video sharing sites. YouTube and its subsequent buyout by Google has motivated a lot of wannabes. Aapka Video is one such site that claims to be “a new service aimed at the budding Mani Ratnams and Karan Johars.” The emphasis is on desi videos and nurturing “desi video makers.”

For the bare facts first, the site allows you to upload videos in various formats after creating an account. You can then share or embed the videos on your blog or MySpace profile via the usual methods. From the point of the user, you can view as many videos as you want without registering. You can mark a video as offensive and probably after enough people have marked it thus, Aapka Video may require you to register to view ‘offensive content’ . But currently, I don’t suppose there are enough votes to mark any video as overly offensive. Let me break the rest of the review into Good, Bad, and Suggested Improvements.

The Good:

Currently the interface is clean, ad-free even without Adblock disabled. The videos are classified into six distinct categories – General, Entertainment, Comedy, Sports, News & Blogs, and Travels and Places. In addition, the site also encourages use of tags after uploading a video for easier searches. There is little or no lag time before a video starts playing but I use a cable connection and haven’t tested it on a dialup. The homepage features the ‘specials’, which may be of interest to the vistors on a particular day. Currently, Tendulkar’s 100s are featured since the Master Blaster hit yet another century in the ODI series against the WI. You can browse the videos by selecting Viewed Today, Recently Viewed (how recent?), This Week, This Month, and All Time.

The Bad:

The biggest drawback for me was that the videos refused to play in Firefox. I had to use IE7 to play the videos (can’t remember the last time I opened IE). This is a big drawback if they wish to appeal to the tech savvy crowd in India or elsewhere. The offerings are mostly dominated by raunchy videos or ‘hot’ scenes from desi movies or music videos. Almost half of the videos in the ‘Most Popular’ videos features such content with titles like mujra masala, female wrestling, and <insert actress name here> kiss. But this may be more of a criticism of desi Internet surfing habits. We haven’t yet gotten over our pron fascination. God knows how many years before we do.

Since this site purports to promote user generated videos, I see no specific emphasis in this direction and most of the clips are copyrighted material from Indian channels. The maximum size of videos is 100MB, which doesn’t allow for large-size videos which in fact might be a blessing in disguise. But until then, we have no hope for documentaries at least in continuous format.

Suggested Improvements:

The website could promote user-generated videos on their front page to encourage members to focus on such content instead of uploading music video clips. Since their tagline says, Director Ban Jao, they ought to make this the primary focus of their service. The site also better test for multi-browser compatibility but I’ll let that go since the service is still beta. Since video sharing is relatively new to India, it would help to have tips for budding ‘video makers’.

Incorporating user roles and control like Digg can help generate interest and promote interactivity. They could also offer a paid account for larger videos. The categories are basically useless due to overlap and wrong categorization by users and the site would be better off with tags only. Also, it seems that almost 90% of the content is in entertainment category so Aapka Video would be serve their interests and their visitors interest by focusing on this segment instead of spreading it too thin.


I am not sure India is ready yet for online video primarily due to bandwidth constraints that impede accessibility in India. We are already inundated with 24-hour news and music channels, so what else are the desi video sites offering apart from the ripped content? Should we promote a funny home videos section first on television and then urge viewers to upload their home videos to a video sharing site? Probably so. The TV show can be a filter-show for the best videos submitted and the website can be a treasure trove of the rest.

The other potential waiting to be tapped is indi-filmmaking. Various film and television institutes across the countries can be invited to share their student works for feedback or for general viewership. Give us more than just a desi-named YouTube.

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