Everpix, The Rise of Centralized Cloud Photos, and The Decline of Flickr

Everpix-web

I signed up for Everpix last night and have been thinking about it all morning, even as I’ve yet to get my photo collection uploaded to it.

In essence, Everpix is an online repository of every digital photo you’ve ever taken, supported by a background Mac utility that keeps it in sync with your iPhoto/Aperture/Lightroom, and an iPhone app that syncs your Camera Roll, and allows you to view your library in the cloud. Crucially, it also syncs with your online photos on Flickr, Instagram, Google+/Picasa, and Facebook.

Every photo is private by default, and making an album (called a Moment), or part of it, public, gives you an obfuscated URL that can be shared with others. You can also publish photos ‘offshore’ to Facebook Albums, Twitter, and possibly other destinations.

Philosophically, this is almost everything I want my Flickr account to be right now, but that they are so, so far away from achieving. I signed up for Flickr Pro to have an online backup of all my photos, with the ones I want to share set to ‘Public’ visibility. In the past few years, the internet has moved on, and we now share photos on other stickier social networks. There’s been a fair bit written in the past week about Flickr’s decline as a destination, and it’s because photographers at all levels are getting more views and feedback through Facebook, G+, and even other photo sites like 500px and Smugmug.

Adobe had a go at cloud photos with a product called Carousel that was recently renamed to Revel (why?), but that effort tried to be an entire workflow, with a desktop photo management app that had half-baked Lightroom editing tools built in. Adopting a product like that involves a complete change of tools. Good for beginners, but bad for anyone comfortable with what they have.

Everpix promises to meet us halfway. Use whatever you’re used to, and have all those photos in the cloud, with easy publishing to any and all online destinations through beautiful web and mobile apps. All publishing actions take place between Everpix’s servers and the other web service, so the user experience is simply that of instantaneous uploads. It’s the best of both worlds: backup and effective sharing.

You can tell this is an important facet of the service because one of their core features is “Auto Curation”. Click a button, and the service picks what it thinks are your best photos, with clear faces, even exposure, and other secret sauce traits. Another click, and those are shared online.

More than just disrupting Flickr, it also shows us what Apple’s iCloud Photo Stream could be, but understandably isn’t just yet. Rolling out free, unlimited storage and access to millions of iOS users would test their billion dollar war chest; the inevitable failures, their invaluable credibility. Everpix is a small startup in beta that I’ve decided to entrust with access to all my photos; I’m hoping their pricing structure, when revealed, will be reasonable enough to pay for.

In mobile photography, "Instant takes precedence over Perfect"

1:24:36 PM Ci’en Xu: Was up last night posting Berlin photos.

1:24:51 PM Ci’en Xu: Sometimes it feels like in this day and age, editing is more redundant.

1:25:03 PM Brandon Lee: How do you mean?

1:25:56 PM Ci’en Xu: I remember the days when Flickr was kinda like a big social network, and people were more obsessed about the rules of photography and how you edited them, etc.

1:26:17 PM Ci’en Xu: I guess now with mobile, instant takes precedence over “perfect”.

1:27:06 PM Brandon Lee: Yeah you’re right.

1:27:31 PM Brandon Lee: Which is why I like Mattebox… it kinda makes you feel like getting it right in-camera is important again, and maybe even enough.

1:28:02 PM Brandon Lee: When you leave everything to the phone to do automatically, there’s always the sense that you must insert yourself into the process, and that can only happen in post.

1:28:19 PM Ci’en Xu: But I still like editing, even if just to let you linger on your photos for a little while longer.

 

Smartphone usability and my parents

I just watched my mother try to take a photo with her Nokia smartphone for the first time. An orchid in the home was blooming, and it was the closest camera within reach. She only uses it as a regular phone, and as the least technically-minded member of the family, is strangely the only one not using an iPhone. Needless to say, she was baffled by the Symbian OS. A primary hardware feature on the device, and the icon was buried in a submenu. Afterwards, she asked my father where to find the file so she could email it to herself, and he couldn’t readily answer her.

His last phone before the iPhone 3GS was a Nokia E90 Communicator, a top-of-the-line Symbian workhorse business machine. He’d spent so much time understanding how it worked, that the iPhone’s simplicity initially confused him. He’d ask how to access the file system so he could manage his data. Coming around to a task-centric model (photos are always available in the Photos app; music lives in the iPod data well, managed with iTunes) took awhile, but now that he gets it, the Nokia way is unfathomable. Managing a nested file system on a mobile device is no consumer’s idea of fun.

There’s always been the image of Macs being for stupid/lazy people who can’t work “real” computers and handle complexity in the user interface. Now the iPhone has inherited that reputation in the face of competition from Android, a system that David Pogue calls “best suited for technically proficient high-end users who don’t mind poking around online to get past the hiccups” in his review of the new Droid X. This became clearer as I got older, but I don’t consider most people over the age of 40 who struggle with technology to be stupid or lazy. It comes down to privilege, familiarity, and priorities.

One of Apple’s most prominent user experience attempts at improving accessibility involves mimicking real-world interfaces, such as using a yellow notepaper background and handwriting fonts in Notes, and superfluous flipping page animations in iBooks. Marco Arment has a good post on this: Overdoing the interface metaphor. It’s a divisive strategy that works well in the early stages of familiarization, but soon becomes a hindrance as one grows more proficient/confident. One of the best metaphors I’ve ever encountered on a mobile device was the lens cover on one of my old Sony-Ericsson cameraphones. Slide it open, and the camera application started up. Along with a physical shutter button, it was perfect, and my mother would have understood it instantly. Such a design benefits even experienced users who know how to start the camera up from the main menu. It’s easy to see how a physical feature can offer that experience, but the real challenge is finding that middle ground in software.

* I ended up taking the photo with my Panasonic LX3.