Some ideas around Flickr sets




Rion totally nails something that has been sticking in my craw for the last six months or so. Ever since the rollouts of features that vastly improved the Flickr experience, the old design of the pages for holding sets of photos is really underwhelming. Here’s what an epic set of photos taken by Jon Armstrong looks like as a set:

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 4.32.36 PM

Kind of boring right? It doesn’t reveal too much about the incredible photography contained within when you click through one of the shots:

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I think they can do a lot more with the page for showing off a set, they could obviously go for larger photos, they could change the layout to be more like the “photos from contacts” page where images automatically expand to fill the available width and get to dominate the screen. Perhaps they could also change the sizing so that amazing small sets like Jon’s above could be much larger, where a set of maybe 100 images are still larger, but not quite as large as a small set.

If I know anything about Flickr, it’s that I would bet $1,000 someone has not only redesigned the set page eons ago, but it has been through testing and is being tweaked behind the scenes and will see the light of day someday soon. I also have another idea.

Flickr should start supporting blogging

How much  more impressive would Jon’s photos from Utah be if his photo set looked more like the following mockup? (click for a larger version)

Write a title, a few short summary sentences, and then fill out the story between each photo. Yes, I know it looks a little like Medium, that’s obviously a similar kind of layout. Yahoo, post-Marrisa Mayer has been doing some interesting things and Flickr seems newly rejuvenated. I love the service to death and wish it had uptake among my friends like it once did. I really think it’s time to try some new wacky ideas on Flickr and perhaps doing something closer to something that looks like blogging, that lets people showcase their work and their prose is a way this could go.

Since Flickr doesn’t currently support this, I tend to post these sorts of things on my own blog. Last summer I took an amazing family trip across Italy and came back with loads of great photos, but here’s how they look as a Flickr set:

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And here’s how some of those photos ended up on this very site:

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I would have no qualms about publishing that same story of taking trains across Italy on Flickr instead of my own site, and in the context of the whole set’s images, it might make better sense there.

Anyway, I’d love to see more courageous moves coming out of Flickr, and one small place to start could be the sets pages.

Apple Keynote feature request: easy recording of your talks

Screen shot 2011-03-15 at 10.12.26 AM
Summary: It should be easier to film your talks when practicing at home. Not everyone can make it to a conference or meeting where you present, but it's really easy to share a video of your talk with the entire world on Vimeo or YouTube. Sal Khan has shown how one guy can change the world with some screencasts, and I'd like to see the power of that fall into the hands of anyone with a Mac. I wish Keynote made it easier, and hopefully the next version does. 


My last post linked to my SXSW talk that I recorded at home. A lot of people asked me how I did it, and it required the following steps:

– get two macs running ichat that can talk to each other (one computer was using my AIM screenname, the other my .Mac screenname). Disable all audio in/out on the second computer you don't present on.

– Start a video chat between the computers, then drag your keynote file into the lower half of the video chat window to start "iChat Theater" on the computer you will present from.

– Resize the video chat window to something around 1024×768 in size, then start screencasting software (I use ScreenFlow) to record the entire desktop and make sure to capture the computer's audio.

– Walk back to your presenting computer, give your talk.

– Walk over to your screencasting computer, hit stop. Edit out the beginning and end of walking between computers, zoom the video so only your presentation shows in the viewport, then save.

– Export video out (I used the 960×540 AppleTV size, and it took about an hour to render) then upload to Vimeo.


You can currently rehearse your talks in Keynote, but it creates a slides-only video with your recorded audio. Most macs all have iSight cameras in them, so I'd really like to see a single mac option to record a video exactly like the screenshot above, without the need for a second mac or complicated screencasting software. 

About the only change that would be necessary and is currently lacking is that I can't see my presenter notes when using iChat Theater. The presenter sees something like this:

Screen shot 2011-03-15 at 10.12.59 AM

You can collapse the small image of your current slide and just have the forward/back controls, but I really wish notes were in that panel, like so:


Overall, I think this would make a killer addition to the next version of Keynote, and let people share their knowledge much easier and to wider audiences.

Little ideas that refuse to go away





Babe (1995)

Watching Babe tonight and hearing this passage reminded me of SBJ‘s new book and this post about it, and Twitter, and working on ideas that stick around.

How long until we get a babelfish iPhone app?

I think the future is awesome right now and lately I've been amazed at all the stuff I can do with my laptop on the road (like edit an image on my home desktop and upload that to a web server while on vacation in the middle of nowhere) and my iPhone (the mantra "there's an app for that" is really true) that I had an obvious idea the other day while watching a film with subtitles.

The iPhone is great for finding food and points of interest while traveling, it's been indispensable on my last few trips. While finding national parks and a place to get dinner helps out a great deal in unfamiliar territory, the language barrier is still with us. The new iPhone 3GS has a microphone and voice recognition. While I know it's a leap that current iPhone chipset performance and API may not allow, I'm hopeful that this feature is coming soon.

Where Imagine landing in a country, using your iPhone to figure out your location and find your hotel and somewhere to eat. Now imagine you need to ask for help from someone on the street so you launch a babelfish app, pick the required language and speak into your phone mic while it displays the results. Here is me asking "Where is the library?" into an imagined app.

This can't be too far off, right? Even if the recognition wasn't that good, you can get a lot of information out of a few key words and figure out what someone is asking about.

Of course, to make it work really well, it'd also need to translate answers as well, so could get english text results for the answers you get, and that might just be beyond the scope of even current high powered desktop computers.

Still, I have hope we'll see an app like this someday in the next 5-10 years that works on portable devices.


Build this: Visual TiVo for my computer

I spend hours everyday on my main desktop computer, and I come across bugs in my own code and others' code often. Today as I was trying to help a friend move a blog off, I swear I saw a status screen change an important value when an unrelated setting was changed. It was a showstopper bug but I could not reproduce it. I couldn't switch Firefox into offline mode to see it, since it already reloaded the page to show the new value on the status screen.

At that point I wished for something similar to Time Machine, but for not only what URLs I had previously loaded (already in browser history), but what the pages I'd viewed actually looked like. Even if I was crazy and the values didn't change, it would have been nice to look back and make sure some other action changed the setting. I realized it's not just websites that this might come handy for, but for any application running on my desktop.

So here is my idea: Build an app that takes a screenshot of my entire desktop every 5 seconds silently in the background. At any point I want to look back and figure out how I caused a bug in my application, I'd launch this automatic screenshotting background app and it would assemble a quicktime movie of every desktop screenshot taken in the last hour. That's exactly 720 total images, so playback at 24 frames per second would give you a 30 second movie of your last hour of using a computer in a tidy little movie.

As a programmer and designer myself, I know finding bugs is hard enough in my own stuff, but reproducing them for other programmers is much harder. Something like this kind of application could really come in handy — if you couldn't figure out how exactly to reproduce the bug, at least you'd have a nice little video of the bug in action to show a developer and visual proof of the results.

Someone build this: FlickrForwardr

Whenever I shoot photos of people doing some sort of sporting activity (like shooting surfers in Hawaii, bike riders in Portland, etc), sometimes they come up to you later and ask if you are going to post any of the photos online, because they want to see themselves in the shots. I've had odd conversations about where to find the photos later ("Yeah, it's like the word flicker but without an e, then there is a slash, then…") and I've considered getting some Moo cards made up with my flickr URL, but I was thinking someone (either Flickr themselves or a couple coders with a google appspot account) should make a domain parking spot that simply forwards to your flickr stream (or any other single URL you specify). If it was priced around $20 a year, it'd be about the same as some Moo cards and I'm sure a single developer could support thousands of customers like me and clear some profit.

I'd love to tell a surfer or cyclist that they can see shots I take at say, "mattsphotos dot com" or something to that effect and have it resolve at my flickr spot.

Bottom line, all weblog apps suck in some way

I spent most of the weekend elbow-deep in weblog archives and templates, trying to update my site to MT 4.01 and WP 2.3.2 (the former required the latter to export/import). After several hours, I started looking at Expression Engine and Tumblr and even considered Blogger to run this site. After getting fed up with shortcomings, I thought I’d describe my dream weblog engine instead.

For anyone that designs and builds a blog app or CMS, consider the following as typical use cases and design technology around these experiences. As a user, it feels like blog app design is instead about picking technology first and asking users to design their usage around that.

Admin Backend

When you’re working on a blog post or setting up a blog, the backend of the application should be as close to the database as possible. A blog backend is almost by definition very low-traffic (especially with a single author) and there should be no impediments between having a thought and pushing a publish button. Most every app I’ve used is too slow in this regard, so even if you have to use another technology or application design from your blog publishing core functions, keep the backend as fast as possible.

Here’s a design goal: writing a sentence, pressing publish, and seeing it live on the site should take a handful of seconds. Writers should never have to stare at a spinning graphic for a minute as they wait for the publishing engine.


Here’s how most designers interact with templates: They work on a layout for a day or two (in photoshop and/or plain HTML/CSS), implement in whatever blog code the system requires, then they tweak it 100s of times over a few hours until it is done. Then it stays the same for anywhere from three to twelve months until a new theme/design inspiration comes along.

I personally like tweaking templates in a text editor, directly interacting with files on the server (as opposed to within a web app window, having to regenerate to see changes). I also prefer not to see the guts and/or technology of the blog CMS. Abstract it with output tags that don’t require knowledge of programming languages. Keep application logic out of the layout whenever possible, and allow minor tweaks in simplified tools (clicking options in a widget editor) instead of requiring template changes.

Simplicity is golden. The fewer templates, the better. Blogger wins in this regard by allowing an entire site to be laid out with a single template file and some CSS. MT4 is kind of a nightmare in this regard with seemingly dozens of templates, sub-templates, and sub-sub-templates that can be tweaked.

My ideal template engine would be as simple as possible and allow me one general template to control layout, maybe a few specific templates for specialized output (an entry with comments is different than a list of archived posts), and allow for fast tweaks until the design is done. When a template is “done” convert it into some stable package the CMS can use and that I can share with others easily as an archive.


There really should be a standard of some sort that blog CMS companies can agree on for export and import. Users of blog engines shouldn’t be hostages to their applications. Data exit and entry is problematic in everything I’ve used and it’s a shame. Blogging is supposed to be fun and I prefer to be agnostic about what tools I’m using, so it’d be nice if I could change blog engines every three months without too much friction. I won’t even go into how every engine has its own URL scheme — it’d be nice if I could keep my permalinks forever, even as I change blogging apps.


Every blog engine seems to suffer not only from poor documentation, but also extensions, template designs, and tutorials are almost always spread out across multiple sites (often out-of-date). If I download a blog CMS from Site A, plugins for it are on Site B, but they link to Site C where you can download things (but documentation for the plugin is back on Site B). Every blog engine seems to also have internal battles between “here are the free tools for your blog” and “here are our professional services for your blog” that leaves me wondering where to find more info or extensions after I download. Then there are random people that just setup galleries of plugins and templates that often rival or surpass the blog engine company’s version of the same. It’d be nice if there was a way to find those as well.

My ideal blog engine company would hire some seasoned blogger and technical writer to be a documentation czar, keeping docs up to date when new versions are launched, produce screencasts for introductory users, and provide complete documentation at a stable URL that applies to every version of the product. If an outside site does a better job of collecting and offering templates, a documentation leader should recognize that and link to them in highly visible places. There doesn’t seem to be anyone internal at these companies fighting for the users to make sure they can keep being informed about how to best use the product.

Server Load

I’ll admit I like simple, live code editing of my template files (as described above) when I’m tweaking a design, and I love fast admin screens that let me post instantly, but once a post is up, it’s just text on a web server and should exist as a flat file. I’ve clicked through way too many digg links and popular links only to end up at database connection errors or too many user errors on servers that can’t handle the load. I know building a perfect cache is hard to do, but failure of your site at the most visible and important time for you should never happen.

Anyone got any other ideas of how to build the perfect blog application?

The Future of the Music Business

In the age of the mp3, label musicians and the labels themselves are fighting for survival. As the cost of music is driven down to near zero, they’re doing everything they can to reverse that trend — and yet, the trend continues. I’ve been thinking about music costing effectively nothing and the future of the business and my musician friends for the past few weeks, and some half-assed ideas popped into my head.

Classical Music. Classical music is our future so take some time to consider it.

1. People rarely spend money on classical music itself. I bought a Bach or Mozart CD once when I was 19 when I needed background sound while studying. For the last few years, whenever I want to hear some classical, I just put on the one radio station that plays it or I pick any random classical listing in iTunes’ streaming music area and let it play. It’s basically free and plentiful.

2. Old classical music has no copyright, anyone can cover anything by Beethoven and not owe anyone a cut. You can remix sheetmusic from the 1700s all you want and call it your own. If you’ve got access to an orchestra and a recording device you can go nuts making music and never need a lawyer for any of it. Everything before 1923 is in the public domain: it’s like a Creative Commons wet dream.

3. Classical music fans are tech savvy and embrace the internet. The majority of them rip music, and a sizable chunk own iPods and pay for downloads.

Despite these doomsday notions, classical music remains an industry and there are tens of thousands of professional classical musicians worldwide that make a living from it. It’s not all glitz and glamor, but there are classical music labels that are doing alright and plenty of live events generate a decent amount of revenue even in modest-sized cities. There may not be crazy millionaire Kanye West platinum sellers (aside from maybe Yo Yo Ma?) in the classical set, but they’re not all starving artists.

The popular music industry of the future isn’t going to be anything like it is today, but if you’re an indie rocker in 2007 worried about what the future might bring, don’t listen to what the labels are saying, think more about the 2nd chair clarinet in the Berlin orchestra.

update: Andy was kind enough to send more evidence along: NYTimes, NPR, and The New Yorker all on how despite being plentiful and free like I mentioned, classical was the fastest growing segment of music sales last year, thanks in part to the tech savvy listeners paying for downloaded music.

Dwell as economic indicator

While walking back from the mailbox today, I was reminded of the old “number of pages in WIRED closely matches the NASDAQ” thing as I heaved the latest Dwell magazine back to my house. I have about three or four years of back issues in my new bookshelf and just looking at the spines, it appears that the magazine has gone from ~75 pages to about 300 in each issue. That kind of bloat can’t go on forever and I know they’re becoming a popular brand but I have a feeling there’s a direct relationship between how well people are doing financially and how much they care about how modern their house looks.

My new site: fortuitous

leaf logo When I came back from Austin, I mentioned that I wanted to do a new site focused on business type advice. After a month or so of the idea gelling in my head, I wrote down about 30 ideas for essays I’d like to write, I banged out a mockup, and I looked up a bunch of goofy domains. A couple more weeks passed and thanks to the CSS coding of Ryan Gantz, editing skills of Anil Dash, and the nice fellow that sold me the domain cheap, I give you: fortuitous.

It’s a new essay every Monday about some aspect of business that I’ve learned while running the MetaFilter/PVRblog/etc empire. Nothing too earth shattering, but it’s a fun outlet and I think it’ll help a lot of people in a similar situation out. Subscribe to the feed and follow along.

(btw, the design of the bottom frame CSS hack thing is totally cribbed from NorthTemple and it does display funny if you scroll your mousewheel like mad. It was also the first thing I’ve ever built using Coda as the IDE and it was fantastic, with a little more polish/features it’ll replace Textmate as my editor of choice)