kottke.org posts about Flickr
Flickr released a new version of their iPhone app today (App Store) and it appears to be a dramatic improvement over their old offering.
We know that some of your best photo moments happen on the fly, so we've made it easier to get the perfect shot when inspiration hits. Once you get the shot, there's a built-in editor to quickly correct, crop, or enhance it with one of the new high res filters.
I haven't had a chance to check it out in detail yet, but from everything I'm hearing, people are jazzed about it.
From Mat Honan at Gizmodo, an account of how Yahoo bought Flickr and then frittered away all its potential.
Because Flickr wasn't as profitable as some of the other bigger properties, like Yahoo Mail or Yahoo Sports, it wasn't given the resources that were dedicated to other products. That meant it had to spend its resources on integration, rather than innovation. Which made it harder to attract new users, which meant it couldn't make as much money, which meant (full circle) it didn't get more resources. And so it goes.
As a result of being resource-starved, Flickr quit planting the anchors it needed to climb ever higher. It missed the boat on local, on real time, on mobile, and even ultimately on social-the field it pioneered. And so, it never became the Flickr of video; YouTube snagged that ring. It never became the Flickr of people, which was of course Facebook. It remained the Flickr of photos. At least, until Instagram came along.
The recent uploads by your contacts is the most important page on Flickr and it's broken. Timoni West is a designer at Flickr and she wrote a brief post on that page's problems.
The page fails on a fundamental level -- it's supposed to be where you find out what's happened on Flickr while you were away. The current design, unfortunately, encourages random clicking, not informed exploration.
The page isn't just outdated, it's actively hurting Flickr, as members' social graphs on the site become increasingly out of sync with real life. Old users forget to visit the site, new sign ups are never roped in, and Flickr, who increased member sign-ups substantially in 2010, will forego months of solid work when new members don't come back.
Many of my friends have switched their photo activities to Instagram and, more recently, Mlkshk. And Flickr's broken "what's new from your friends" page is to blame. Both of those sites use a plain old one-page reverse-chronological view of your friends' photos...just scroll back through to see what's going on. The primary advantage of that view is that it tells a story. Ok, it's a backwards story like Memento, but that kind of backwards story is one we're increasingly adept at understanding. The Flickr recent uploads page doesn't tell any stories.
As long as we're talking about what's wrong with Flickr -- and the stories thing comes in here too -- the site is attempting to occupy this weird middle ground in terms of how people use it. When Flickr first started, it was a social game around publishing photos. You uploaded photos to Flickr specifically to share them with friends and get a reaction out of them. As the service grew, Flickr became less of a place to do that and more of a place to put every single one of your photos, not just the ones you wanted friends to see. Flickr has become a shoebox under the bed instead of the door of the refrigerator or workplace bulletin board. And shoeboxes under beds aren't so good for telling stories. A straight-up reverse-chron view of your friends' recent photos probably wouldn't even work on Flickr at this point...you don't want all 150 photos from your aunt's trip to Kansas City clogging up the works. Instagram and Mlkshk don't have this problem as much, if at all. (via @buzz)
As I mentioned on Twitter, we got Ollie a camera for Christmas and set it up to post automatically to Flickr. He loves it so far, and it's been fascinating to see how he sees the world...which is mostly low-angle and mundane. The account is private, but here are a few of my favorite shots of his:
Ollie's great grandpa
Looking out the door (note the low angle)
But often the camera is a tool for him. Yesterday morning we were trying to build a boat out of blocks..."the same as we built last week," Ollie said to me. I couldn't remember how we'd built the boat last week and Ollie couldn't really describe it or duplicate it by himself. "We should have taken a picture of it. Then we would remember," he said. And a couple of weeks ago, his toy computer (basically a glorified Speak N' Spell) ran out of batteries and when he came running in to the kitchen to tell me, he held up his camera with a photo of the computer in question, "see Daddy, the screen's not working"...as if I wasn't going to take his word for it.
After I tweeted about the camera, a number of people asked what setup we were using. We had an old Powershot SD450 laying around, so we gave him that instead of buying a kids camera. Ollie's three and a half now and pretty conscientious; he doesn't throw stuff around or smash things so we figured we could trust him with an actual camera. And for the most part, he's been really good with it. He puts the cord around his wrist so the camera won't fall on the floor if it slips out of his hands. For the first few days, he was accidentially sticking his fingers in the lens area and that caused the little shutter that covers the lens when the camera is off to stick a little bit, but he stopped doing that and learned how to fix the sticky shutter himself. He sometimes gets stuck in a weird menu after pushing too many buttons, but mostly he knows how to get in and out of the menus. He knows how to use the zoom and can shoot videos. He also can tell when the battery is running out and knows how to remove the battery to recharge it. Giving an "adult" camera to a three-year-old may seem like a recipe for confusion and broken electronics, but I'm continually amazed at kids' thirst for knowledge and empowered responsibility.
For the automatic uploading to Flickr, we put an Eye-Fi card in the camera. The Eye-Fi is a regular SD memory card with built-in wireless networking...the low-end 4GB card is only $45 on Amazon. And you can link the card to a Flickr account so that when the camera is on and in range of a trusted wifi network, the photos are automatically uploaded. Pretty simple once you get it set up.
Flickr debuts a new photo page today...bigger photos, more navigation options, and a black-background option. It's still in beta tho...go to any Flickr photo and opt-in for a peek.
Locals and Tourists is a set of maps showing where people take photos in various cities around the world. The results are broken down into tourist photos and photos taken by locals. Here's NYC:
Blue points on the map are pictures taken by locals (people who have taken pictures in this city dated over a range of a month or more). Red points are pictures taken by tourists (people who seem to be a local of a different city and who took pictures in this city for less than a month).
This visualization represents a year in color (summer is at the top, winter at the bottom).
The images were taken of the Boston Common, courtesy of Flickr.
The US National Archives have added a number of photos to the Flickr Commons project. Flickr is quietly building the greatest collection of historical documents on the web.
You can tag people directly in Flickr photos now.
Flickr's developer blog has a pretty interesting post about how they built a fast client-side search that worked equally well for data sets of 10 people and 10000 people. Ajax with XML & JSON was too slow and using dynamic script tags was too insecure so they rolled their own format and used split to quickly parse it.
Flickr has HD video now (for pro accounts only). Also, those with free accounts can now upload two videos a month.
Idée Multicolr Search Lab is pretty amazing. You select up to ten colors and it returns Flickr photos with those colors. I couldn't stop playing with this.
Great but waaaay too short article about how Heather Champ and the rest of the Flickr staff build, police, and shape community on the site.
Director of Community Heather Champ doesn't just guard the pool and blow the occasional whistle; it's a far more delicate, and revealing, dance that keeps the user population here happy, healthy and growing. In addressing that question of how much to police and how much to let things be, Champ oversees an experiment that, outside some far-flung and sandy exceptions, one rarely sees in such detail. There are no IEDs or snipers in this place, but it's hard not to conclude Flickr's conducting a kind of nation-building.
Flickr is an inspiring example of how to run a community site in an era where other sites almost delight in taking zero responsibility for what goes on in their comments and forums.
Of all the things that Flickr has done, The Commons project might be the most significant. If, in two years, there are tens or even hundreds of thousands of old photographs previously unavailable to the general public from collections all over the world -- all tagged, geocoded, annotated, contextualized, and available to anyone with a web browser -- that would be an amazing resource for exploring our recent history.
Awesome collection of folk graphics and photography protesting Flickr's decision to let members post short videos. But without the video, we'd miss out on stuff like this. (via waxy)
Flickr users can now upload video to their accounts. I uploaded a video during the beta test but since I'm not a pro user, I can't show it to anyone now that Flickr's gone public with the video uploading. :(
Update: Ok, Flickr Pro is back in effect. Still can't mark the video unprivate. Maybe the video stuff isn't truly live yet? (thx, heather & adam)
Update: Yep, the video stuff goes live "starting late Tuesday or early Wednesday".
Update: The video stuff looks like it's live now. Here's a video of Ollie crawling that we took a couple of months ago. Videos are limited to 90 seconds...they're calling them "long photos". Love that.
This happened while Choire was minding the store so apologies if you've seen it already, but Flickr's new Commons program is quite interesting. For a start, the Library of Congress has put 1500 photos with "no known copyright restrictions" up on Flickr for people to tag and annotate. The LoC's extensive online image repository has always been exceedingly difficult to use so making images available on the easy-to-use Flickr is a great step forward. The response so far has been pretty good.
At long last, Apple is listed as one of the available brands of camera in the flickr Camera Finder.
This means that you can search for shots taken not only with iPhone, but with the three models of Apple's original camera line, the QuickTake (codenamed Venus, Mars, and Neptune). Currently, there are no viewable uploaded photos taken with the QuickTake 100 or 150, but there are some from the QuickTake 200.
It's also nice to see that Merlin's tree.cx pic made it to the top of the iPhone-taken 'interesting' list. (via highindustrial)
Update: A potential reason for the iPhone's relatively paltry numbers is that when you email photos from the phone, it strips the exif data out which means those photos aren't counted. I imagine many more people email photos to Flickr from the iPhone than upload them from their computers.
Eye-Fi is a wireless memory card for digital cameras. Once you get it set up, you take a photo with your camera and it's automatically uploaded to your computer and to Flickr (or another photo sharing site of your choosing). The first thing you notice about the Eye-Fi is that it looks just like an ordinary 2-gig SD card...so tiny that when you use it for the first time, you almost can't help but examine your camera from all angles to make certain that there are no wires involved. It's magic.
But can an enchanted memory card make you a better photographer? That is, does it make you want to use your camera more and take better pictures? I've been testing an Eye-Fi for the past week, courtesy of my friends at Photojojo (where every order comes with a Blow Pop!). The setup and usage were pretty easy. Not having to fuss with an uploading cord was nice. I didn't like the requirement of setting up each wireless connection you want the card to use; it should find open wireless access points when it can. But after a week of using the card, I finally figured out the optimal way to use the Eye-Fi:
1. Get a Flickr account.
2. Set the Eye-Fi to upload automatically to your Flickr account with the privacy set so that only you can see it.
3. Use Flickr's online organization tools to publish, group, tag, or order prints of the keepers and discard/ignore the rest.
Instant online-only workflow...no intermediate "download then find the best ones then upload" steps required, everything happens right in Flickr. The lack of editing tools (brightness, levels, etc.) on Flickr might be a deal breaker for some, but for the rest, it certainly makes it easier to take a lot of photographs and get them up where family and friends can see them.
This is the 2 billionth photo uploaded to Flickr. 2,000,000,000!
How are Don DeLillo, Flickr, and The Most Photographed Barn in America related? Read on, my friends.
After a complaint that the photos on Flickr are "just all conventional, it's all cliches, it's just one visual convention after another", Alec Soth asks where all the good photos are and gets a bunch of responses.
A bunch of presentations on how to scale web apps, including Flickr, Twitter, LiveJournal, and last.fm.
Museumr lets you insert one of your Flickr photos into a museum (sort of). I gave my beer bottle-shaped sausage photo the Museumr treatment. (thx, chuck)
Marc Hedlund, founder of the intriguing Wesabe, recently made this interesting observation:
One of my favorite business model suggestions for entrepreneurs is, find an old UNIX command that hasn't yet been implemented on the web, and fix that. talk and finger became ICQ, LISTSERV became Yahoo! Groups, ls became (the original) Yahoo!, find and grep became Google, rn became Bloglines, pine became Gmail, mount is becoming S3, and bash is becoming Yahoo! Pipes. I didn't get until tonight that Twitter is wall for the web. I love that.
A slightly related way of thinking about how to choose web projects is to take something that everyone does with their friends and make it public and permanent. (Permanent as in permalinked.) Examples:
- Blogger, 1999. Blog posts = public email messages. Instead of "Dear Bob, Check out this movie." it's "Dear People I May or May Not Know Who Are Interested in Film Noir, Check out this movie and if you like it, maybe we can be friends."
- Twitter, 2006. Twitter = public IM. I don't think it's any coincidence that one of the people responsible for Blogger is also responsible for Twitter.
- Flickr, 2004. Flickr = public photo sharing. Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake said in a recent interview: "When we started the company, there were dozens of other photosharing companies such as Shutterfly, but on those sites there was no such thing as a public photograph -- it didn't even exist as a concept -- so the idea of something 'public' changed the whole idea of Flickr."
- YouTube, 2005. YouTube = public home videos. Bob Saget was onto something.
Not that this approach leads naturally to success. Several companies are exploring music sharing (and musical opinion sharing), but no one's gotten it just right yet, due in no small measure to the rights issues around much recorded music.
kottke.org might be a little slow today with (hopefully short) periods of downtime. I'm doing some long-overdue maintenance on the server to pave the way for a bit of future development. In Flickr parlance, kottke.org is having a massage.
Update: Alright, we had two little blips of downtime and now it looks like the site is back up and running like a finely tuned watch, a watch with a web server running on it.
Update: Took care of one last little glitch last night...should be alright now. You may need to clear your cache to make sure everything works smoothly.
The Game Neverending Museum contains several screenshots and a paper transformation matrix. I got a little nostalgic for Web 1.0 looking at this.
Mark Pilgrim's The Dogs of Flickr posters illustrate the problem of sourcing and giving credit in the remix age....the credits take up much more room than the work itself. Imagine if he had to get permission for all that and you've got some idea of how difficult it is to make documentary films these days. See also: the ending credits for The Return of the King (full story).
Update to the whole annoying Flickr/Yahoo login business: Heather Champ is personally giving refunds to people with pro accounts who don't want to switch their login to Yahoo.
Update: Just so this is clear, Heather is refunding people out of her own personal PayPal account and funds. Anyone who takes her up on it gets a punch a nose from me.
Update: I didn't read this carefully enough...it's not Heather's personal money. And no punch in the nose, although I might poke you in the ribs or something. (thx, rich)
Flickr is switching their earliest members from a Flickr login to a Yahoo login and many of those folks are none too happy about it. Flickr is handling this tough situation very well, even though I'm personally disappointed at having to use Yahoo's login myself. Few sites do customer service and community management better than Flickr...it's impressive and inspiring to watch in action. They just tell people the truth, with humor, patience, and not too much spin...it's as simple as that. (via waxy)
Quick! Which photo sharing site community thingie is more popular: Fotolog or Flickr? You might be surprised at the answer...but first some history.
Fotolog launched in May 2002 and grew quite quickly at first. They'd clearly hit upon a good idea: sharing photos among groups of friends. As Fotolog grew, they ran into scaling problems...the site got slow and that siphoned off resources that could have been used to add new features to the site, etc. Problems securing funding for online businesses during the 3-4 years after the dot com bust didn't help matters either.
Flickr launched in early 2004. By the end of their first year of operation, they had a cleaner design than Fotolog, more features for finding and organizing photos, and most of the people I knew on Fotolog had switched to Flickr more or less exclusively. They also had trouble with scaling issues and downtime. Flickr got the scaling issues under control and the site became one of the handful of companies to exemplify the so-called Web 2.0 revitalization of the web. The founders landed on tech magazine covers, news magazine covers, and best-of lists, the folks who built the site gave talks at technology conferences, and the company eventually sold to Yahoo! for a reported $30 million.
So. Then. Here's where it gets puzzling. According to Alexa1, Fotolog is now the 26th most popular site on the web and recently became more popular than Flickr (currently #39). Here's the comparison between the two over the last 3 years:
This is a somewhat stunning result because by all of the metrics held in high esteem by the technology media, Web 2.0 pundits, and those selling technology and design products & services, Flickr should be kicking Fotolog's ass. Flickr has more features, a better design, better implementation of most of Fotolog's features, more free features, critical praise, a passionate community, and access to the formidable resources & marketing power of Yahoo! And yet, Fotolog is right there with them. Perhaps this is a sign that those folks trapped in the Web 2.0 bubble are not being critical enough about what is responsible for success on the Web circa-2007. (As an aside, MySpace didn't really fit the Web 2.0 mold either, nobody really talked about it until after it got huge, and yet here it is. And then there's Craigslist, which is more Web 0.5 than 2.0, and is one of the most popular sites on the web. Google too.)
What's going on here then? I can think of three possibilities (there are probably more):
1. Fotolog is very popular with Portugese and Spanish speakers, especially in Brazil. According to Wikipedia, almost 1/3rd of all Fotolog users are from Brazil and Chile. In comparing the two sites, what could account for this difference? Fotolog has a Spanish language option while Flickr does not (although I'm not sure when the Spanish version of Fotolog launched). Flickr is more verbose and text-intensive than Fotolog and much of Flickr's personality & utility comes from the text while Fotolog is almost text-free; as a non-Spanish speaker, I could navigate the Spanish-language version quite easily. Gene Smith noted that a presentation made by a Brazilian internet company said that "Flickr is unappealing to Brazilians because they want to the customize the interface to express their individual identities".
Cameron Marlow noticed that Orkut is set to pass MySpace as the world's most popular social networking site (Orkut is also very popular in Brazil), saying that "Orkut's growth reinforces the fact that the value of social networking services, and social software in general, comes from the base of active users, not the set of features they offer". Marlow also notes that Alexa's non-US reporting has improved over the past year, which might be the reason for Fotolog's big jump in early 2006. If Alexa's global reporting had been robust from the beginning, Fotolog may have been neck and neck with Flickr the whole time.
2. Flickr is more editorially controlled than Fotolog. The folks who run Flickr subtly and indirectly discourage poor quality photo contributions. Yes, upload your photos, but make them good. And the community reinforces that constraint to the point where it might seem restricting to some. Fotolog doesn't celebrate excellence like that...it's more about the social aspect than the photos.
3. Maybe tags, APIs, and Ajax aren't the silver bullets we've been led to believe they are. Fotolog, MySpace, Orkut, YouTube, and Digg have all proven that you can build compelling experiences and huge audiences without heavy reliance on so-called Web 2.0 technologies. Whatever Web 2.0 is, I don't think its success hinges on Ajax, tags, or APIs.
Update: You can see how much Fotolog depends on international usage for its traffic from this graph from Compete. They only use US statistics to compile their data. I don't have access to the Comscore ratings, but they only count US usage and, like Alexa, undercount Firefox and Safari users. (thx, walter)
 Usual disclaimers about Alexa's correctness apply. The point is that among some large amount of users, Fotolog is as popular (or even more) than Flickr. Whether those users are representative of the web as a whole, I dunno. ↩
Nice little interview with Stewart and Caterina about how Flickr came about. "George Oates [a Flickr employee] and I would spend 24 hours, seven days a week, greeting every single person who came to the site. We introduced them to people, we chatted with them. This is a social product."
Wordie is "like Flickr, but without the photos". "Wordie lets you make lists of words -- practical lists, words you love, words you hate, whatever. You can then see who else has listed the same words, and talk about it." Lots of people love schadenfreude. (via clusterflock)
In this interview with .net magazine, Flickr founder Caterina Fake likens building an online community to throwing a party:
According to Caterina: "The most difficult part is not the technology but actually getting the people to behave well." When first starting the community the Flickr team were spending nearly 24 hours online greeting each individual user, introducing them to each other and cultivating the community. "After a certain point you can let go and the community will start to maintain itself, explains Caterina. "People will greet each other and introduce their own practices into the social software. It's always underestimated, but early on you need someone in there everyday who is kind of like the host of the party, who introduces everybody and takes their coat.
I recall those early days of Flickr...Stewart and Caterina were everywhere, commenting on everything. A core group of people followed their example and began to do the same, including Heather Champ, who now manages Flickr's community in an official capacity. Matt did a similar thing with MetaFilter too...he spent a lot of time interacting with people on there, taking their coats, and before long others were pitching in.
A couple of days ago, I pointed to a patent filed by the Flickr folks for the concept of interestingness. I should have poked around a bit more because there's a related patent filed by the Flickr and Josh Schachter of del.icio.us concerning "media object metadata association and ranking". I'm not a big fan of software patents, but even so, I can't see the new, useful, nonobvious invention here. I also find it odd that these patents reference exactly zero prior inventions on which they are based...compare with Larry Page's patent for PageRank.
Watch democracy in action: the "ivoted" tag on Flickr.
Space tourist Anousheh Ansari is Flickring photos from the International Space Station. NASA reportedly spent 250,000 man-hours building a module to upload snapshots from space via the Flickr API.
Update: That NASA man-hours stat is a joke, sorry. NASA is not that absurdly wasteful. I have no idea how she's getting the photos on Flickr. Do they have web access on the ISS?
Update: Ansari called Larry Page today and reported that there's no internet access on the ISS. Email is delivered in batches...so she's either emailing them to Flickr or someone's uploading them for her. BTW, the first kottke.org reader in space...could you give me a call when you get there? (thx, terrell)
Update: According to Ansari's blog (from space!), email is sent from the ISS three times per day.
I'm so glad I'm friends with you
I can see your Flickr pix
and your Vox posts too
This news isn't new, but it's still irritating. Companies that do photo prints (Target, in this case) refuse to print certain photographs because they look too professional. Digital cameras are so good and cheap these days that everyone's taking professional-looking photos...Flickr is full of pro-looking stuff shot by complete amateurs. This stupid policy needs to change or these places aren't going to have any business left.
Browsing recent interestingness on Flickr, I ran across these photos of women photoshopped to include glass eyes, prostheses, eyepatches, and to look like amputees. This is a practice of devotees of amputee fetishism called Electronic Surgery. More examples here, here, and here. Probably a bit NSFW.
Update: Flickr has removed the users who posted those photos. Sorry.
Five suggested Flickr tags. Merlin brings the funny. "Rows Of Seated White Men Typing At Conferences".
This is a bit old (from March last year), but the most photographed city on Flickr at the time was London followed by New York, but when you take population into account, Vancouver, Amsterdam, and Las Vegas win for photos per capita.
Judith lost her camera (and most of her pictures) on her trip to Hawaii, so she's using other people's photos from Flickr to produce a trip journal.
Some player names I observed while playing Fastr (a multiplayer game based on guessing tags for a selection of Flickr images) last night for about 15 minutes under my usual online nickname "jkottke":
yes no one likes kottke
For some reason, this reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from Being John Malkovich where he's just popped out of his own head and onto the side of the New Jersey Turnpike and a passenger in a passing car says, "Hey Malkovich, think fast!" and pegs him in the head with a beer can.
Retrievr is a simple, amazing use of the Flickr API. You draw a little drawing and Retrievr fetches similar photos from Flickr. Photodisc, the stock photo site, used to have a feature like this back in 1997-98, but then they discontinued it (I have no idea why...it was insanely useful). One feature request...instead of a drawing, let me pick a starting Flickr photo and find me similar ones. (via mh)
Sorry for the lack of updates...we've been having some trouble with the internet and I've been wrestling with my email for the past two days (I finally pinned it in the 8th round). If you sent me mail, I think I got it, but expect a slower than normal response...most of it will probably wait until I'm back in the States.
Been doing some reading up on Vietnam (we're heading there in a couple of days). I'm finding that Wikipedia (Vietnam, Vietnamese cuisine) and WikiTravel (Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City) are good sources for the 50,000 view of things, taken with a grain of salt. The guidebook is better, but it takes a lot longer for you to get the gist. Reading Wikis Pedia and Travel and then the guidebooks seems a good strategy.
Also, we've been Flickring photos while we're in Asia (thank you T-Mobile for finally fixing my International Roaming), check out Meg's and mine for off-blog goings-on. (Completely off topic, here's some Flickr photos tagged "comic sans".)
The funny thing about TagTagger is that it probably would be useful to tag tags; it could help tag ecosystems like del.icio.us and Flickr better determine how tagged items are related. Think of it as defining tags...the tag "andywarhol" could be metatagged something like "andy warhol nyc artist person art popculture modernart".
A series of art projects based on Flickr. The Flickr tag cloud tshirt is clever; the printing on the shirts is reversed so that you can read them in the mirror..."the [Flickr user's] narrative is actually addressing himself while claiming to address others". (via ia)
You can now get prints of your photos from Flickr (in the US, more locations coming soon). You can also do a bunch of other things, like get books printed, back up your photos to DVD, and get stamps printed.
Flickr photos labeled with "cameratoss", which result from when you set your camera to a long exposure time, click the shutter, and toss it in the air. Looks like spirograph... (via matt)
I know you've always wanted to play Memory with pictures of me from Flickr and now you can. Memry works with any Flickr tag.
If you're a Flickr user, you can now get a book of your photos printed up for display on your coffee table or to put in your bathroom bookshelf. I've got one of these and it's neater than I expected.
Nikon is releasing a pair of digital cameras with built-in wifi. The cameras will only send photos via wifi to a designated Nikon application, but I wonder how long it will be before someone hacks the firmware to send those photos anywhere...like to Flickr on the fly.
Flickr set of glitch art created when digital satellite TV goes a little wonky.
An alleged pervert on the NYC subway was caught by cameraphone and the picture was posted to Flickr. No word on an identification yet. (thx newley)
Before we get going, here are some alternate titles for this post, just to give you an idea of what I'm trying to get at before I actually, you know, get at it:
- You're probably wondering why Yahoo bought Konfabulator
- An update on Google Browser, GooOS and Google Desktop
- A platform that everyone can stand on and why Apple, Microsoft, and, yes, even Google will have to change their ways to be a part of it
- The next killer app: desktop Web servers
- Does the Mozilla Foundation have the vision to make Firefox the most important piece of software of this decade?
- Web 3.0
- Finally, the end of Microsoft's operating system dominance
Now that your hyperbole meter has pegged a few times, hopefully the rest of this will seem tame in comparison. (And apologies for the length...I got rolling and, oops, 2500 words. But many of them are small so...)
Way back in October 2004, this idea of how the Web as a platform might play out popped into my head, and I've been trying to motivate myself into writing it down ever since. Two recent events, Yahoo's purchase of Konfabulator and Google's release of a new beta version of Google Desktop have finally spurred me into action. But back to October. At the Web 2.0 conference, Stewart pulled me aside and said something like, "I think I know what Google is doing with Google Browser." From a subsequent post on his site:
I've had this post about Adam Bosworth, Alchemy and the Google browser sitting around for months now and it is driving me crazy, because I want all the credit for guessing this before it happens. So, for the record, if Google is making a browser, and if it is going to be successful, it will be because there is a sophisticated local caching framework included, and Google will provide the reference apps (replying to emails on Gmail or posting messages to Google groups while on the plane).
At the time, Adam Bosworth had been recently hired by Google for purposes unknown. In a blog post several months before he was hired, Bosworth mused about a "new browser":
A couple weeks later, Google introduced the first iteration of their Desktop Search. To me, the least interesting thing about GDS was the search mechanism. Google finally had an application that installed on the desktop and, even better, it was a little Web server that could insert data from your local machine into pages you were browsing on google.com. That was a new experience: using a plain old Web browser to run applications locally and on the Web at the same time.
So this is my best guess as to how an "operating system" based on the Web (which I will refer to as "WebOS") will work. There are three main parts to the system:
- The Web browser (along with other browser-ish applications like Konfabulator) becomes the primary application interface through which the user views content, performs services, and manages data on their local machine and on the Web, often without even knowing the difference. Something like Firefox, Safari, or IE...ideally browser agnostic.
- Web applications of the sort we're all familiar with: Gmail, Flickr, and Bloglines, as well as other applications that are making the Web an ever richer environment for getting stuff done. (And ideally all Ajaxed up to provide an experience closer to that of traditional desktop apps.)
- A local Web server to handle the data delivery and content display from the local machine to the browser. This local server will likely be highly optimized for its task, but would be capable of running locally installed Web applications (e.g. a local copy of Gmail and all its associated data).
That's it. Aside from the browser and the Web server, applications will be written for the WebOS and won't be specific to Windows, OS X, or Linux. This is also completely feasible, I think, for organizations like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, or the Mozilla Foundation to make happen (more on this below).
Compared to "standalone" Web apps and desktop apps, applications developed for this hypothetical platform have some powerful advantages. Because they run in a Web browser, these applications are cross platform (assuming that whoever develops such a system develops the local Web server part of it for Windows, OS X, Linux, your mobile phone, etc.), just like Web apps such as Gmail, Basecamp, and Salesforce.com. You don't need to be on a specific machine with a specific OS...you just need a browser + local Web server to access your favorite data and apps.
You also get the advantages of locally run applications. You can use them when you're not connected to the Internet. There could be an icon in the Dock that fires up Gmail in your favorite browser. For applications using larger files like images, video, and audio, those files could be stored and manipulated locally instead of waiting for transfer over the Internet.
One thing that might deter you from writing Web-based applications is the lameness of Web pages as a UI. That is a problem, I admit. There were a few things we would have really liked to add to HTML and HTTP. What matters, though, is that Web pages are just good enough.
Web pages weren't designed to be a UI for applications, but they're just good enough. And for a significant number of users, software that you can use from any browser will be enough of a win in itself to outweigh any awkwardness in the UI. Maybe you can't write the best-looking spreadsheet using HTML, but you can write a spreadsheet that several people can use simultaneously from different locations without special client software, or that can incorporate live data feeds, or that can page you when certain conditions are triggered. More importantly, you can write new kinds of applications that don't even have names yet.
And how about these new kinds of applications? Here's how I would envision a few apps working on the WebOS:
- Gmail. While online, you read your mail at gmail.com, but it also caches your mail locally so when you disconnect, you can still read it. Then when you connect again, it sends any replies you wrote offline, just like Mail.app or Outlook does. Many people already use Gmail (or Yahoo Mail) as their only email client...imagine if it worked offline as well.
- A Web version of iTunes. Just like the desktop version of iTunes, except in the browser. Manages/plays audio files stored locally, with an option to back them up on the server (using .Mac or similar) as well. iTunes already utilizes information from the Internet so well (Web radio, podcasting iTMS, CDDB, etc.) that it's easy to imagine it as a Web app. (And why stop at audio...video would work equally as well.)
- Newsreader. Read sites while offline (I bet this is #1 on any Bloglines user's wish list). Access your reading list from any computer with a browser (I bet this is #1 on any standalone newsreader user's wish list).
- File backup. A little WebOS app that helps you back up your files to Apple's .Mac service, your ISP, or someone like Google. You'll specify what you want backed up and when through the browser and the backup program will take care of the rest.
I'm looking at the rest of the most commonly used apps on my Powerbook and there's not too many of them that absolutely need to be standalone desktop applications. Text editor, IM, Word, Excel, FTP, iCal, address book...I could imagine versions of these running in a browser.
- Google. If Google is not thinking in terms of the above, I will eat danah's furriest hat. They've already shifted the focus of Google Desktop with the addition of Sidebar and changing the name of the application (it used to be called Google Desktop Search...and the tagline changed from "Search your own computer" to the more general "Info when you want it, right on your desktop"). To do it properly, I think they need their own browser (with bundled Web server, of course) and they need to start writing their applications to work on OS X and Linux (Google is still a Windows company). Many of the moves they've made in the last two years have been to outflank Microsoft, and if they don't use Google Desktop's "insert local code into remote sites" trick to make whatever OS comes with people's computers increasingly irrelevant, they're stupid, stupid, stupid. Baby step: make Gmail readable offline.
- Yahoo. I'm pretty sure Yahoo is thinking in these terms as well. That's why they bought Konfabulator: desktop presence. And Yahoo has tons of content and apps that that would like to offer on a WebOS-like platform: mail, IM, news, Yahoo360, etc. Challenge for Yahoo: widgets aren't enough...many of these applications are going to need to run in Web browsers. Advantages: Yahoo seems to be more aggressive in opening up APIs than Google...chances are if Yahoo develops a WebOS platform, we'll all get to play.
- Microsoft. They're going to build a WebOS right into their operating system...it's likely that with Vista, you sometimes won't be able to tell when you're using desktop applications or when you're at msn.com. They'll never develop anything for OS X or for Linux (or for browsers other than IE), so its impact will be limited. (Well, limited to most of the personal computers in the world, but still.)
- Apple. Apple has all the makings of a WebOS system right now. They've got the browser, a Web server that's installed on every machine with OS X, Dashboard, iTMS, .Mac, Spotlight, etc. All they're missing is the applications (aside from the Dashboard widgets). But like Microsoft, it's unlikely that they'll write anything for Windows or Linux, although if OS X is going to run on cheapo Intel boxes, their market share may be heading in a positive direction soon.
So yeah, that's the idea of the WebOS (as I see it developing) in a gigantic nutshell. The reality of it will probably be a lot messier and take a lot longer than most would like. If someone ends up doing it, it will probably not be as open as it could be and there will likely be competing Web platforms just as there are now competing search engines, portals, widget applications (Konfabulator, Dashboard, Google Desktop Sidebar), etc., but hopefully not. There's lots more to discuss, but I'm going to stop here before this post gets even more ridiculously long. My thanks if you even made this far.
 Actually, the biggest potential problems with all this are the massive security concerns (a Web browser that has access to data on your local hard drive?!!!??) and managing user expectations (desktop/web app hybrids will likely be very confusing for a lot of users). Significant worries to be sure, but I believe the advantages will motivate the folks developing the platform and the applications to work through these concerns.
 For more discussion of Web applications, check out Adam Rifkin's post on Weblications.
 Rumor has it that Google is releasing an IM client soon (more here). I'll be pretty surprised if it's not significantly Web-based. As Hotmail proved for email, there's no reason that IM has to happen in a desktop app (although the alerting is problematic).
 Maybe Google thinks they can't compete with Apple's current offerings (Spotlight, Dashboard, Safari, iPhoto) on their own platform, but that's not a good way of thinking about it. Support as many people as you can on as many different architectures as you can, that's the advantage of a Web-based OS. Microsoft certainly hasn't thought of Apple as a serious competitor in the OS space for a long time...until Web applications started coming of age recently, Microsoft's sole competitor has been Microsoft.
One of San Francisco's steepest streets will be closed later this month...for ski jumping. They're hauling in 200 tons of snow and a bunch of skiers. I'm sure this will be a much Flickred event.
Using your favorite Flickr photo, you can use this handy widget to make your very own magazine cover. I knocked up an issue of Hello, Cowboy! magazine featuring Tom Coates wearing a gigantic hat. Magazines have never been so much fun.
I thought this was going to be some sort of Flickr/del.icio.us taggy tag mashup, but Flickrlicio.us is a bunch of hot babes found on Flickr. An anonymous reader: other Flickr + hot chicks sites include FlickrBooty, chicksnbreasts, and flickrchicks. NSFW. And where are the Flickr beefcake sites?
flickrTagFight pits tag against tag in a folksonomic battle to the death. fTF has already started a conflict in my household...results of the kottke(145)/megnut(34) tag smackdown are being hotly disputed.
Positive review of Flock, a new Mozilla-based browser with drag and drop blogging and Flickring built in.
Flickr reaches the 1,000,000 member threshhold. I wish Flickr publicized everyone's number so that I could lord my early-adopter status over everyone in a more quantitative manner.
The innuendo photo pool on Flickr. Including "Bunghole Liquors" and "Huron Drugs".