New Yahoo! Weather App for iOS

Weather apps on the iPhone are a great playground for app developers. I’ve tried a few of them, but keep returning to WeatherPro from MeteoGroup – it isn’t the prettiest, but it’s got lots of data, fairly well presented. When Yahoo! released a new weather app, though, as a tie-in with Flickr, I had to try it out. And it is good.

The big selling point is the photography – the main screen is a big photo of something similar to your current weather conditions, somewhere near your current location (or the location you’re checking the forecast for).

There isn’t as much detailed data as in WeatherPro, but that can be a bit much sometimes. The basics are beautifully presented, in a nice simple, flat design, with a nice modern look, and there’s as much detail as I generally want. It also ties in with an official Flickr group, so Flickr users (like me) can add photos to the group, and they’ll be used to represent the weather at that location. It’s a weather app that looks great, presents just about the right amount of information, and that you can take a little part in yourself.

It’s become my weather app of choice for now at least.

Update: Oh, one little detail I forgot to mention originally – it’s free.

What I Want from a Photo Sharing Site

Cabot Circus Roof, Bristol Don’t get me wrong. On the whole, I’m pretty happy with Flickr. It does a decent job. But Thomas Hawk got me thinking recently with his enthusiastic (Is Thomas ever anything but enthusiastic?) promotion of 500px. It does a nice job of showing off your photos, but one of the things that’s different about it, at least for now, is the focus on top quality photography.

There’s plenty of top quality photography on Flickr. But there’s also a lot of mediocrity, and quite a lot of complete rubbish. I try not to post too much complete rubbish, but I sometimes do, because I want to show something I saw and just didn’t get a good photo of. Much of the photography I post would come under the heading of ‘mediocre’. Not bad, but not really ‘portfolio’ stuff. I’m happy posting it to Flickr, but would feel bad about uploading it to 500px. It would lower the tone of the site, and I don’t want to do that.

It would be good to have somewhere to point someone who doesn’t already know my photography, to show what I have done. The best pictures I’ve taken. Like a portfolio, rather than introducing someone to my most recent photos, which may happen to be a bit, well, crappy.

It’s certainly good to have somewhere to share the photos I’m taking day-to-day. Some are better than others, but I don’t want to only share the very best. I want to show people the reasonably decent stuff too.

I also sometimes want to share photos that really aren’t very good. I may have spent an hour trying to get a shot of a swift flying past our window, and failed, so I want to share the blurred black shape that was the best shot I managed to get, to tell the story. Maybe there was an interesting bit of street art, and I want to show it, but screwed up the one photo I took. I still want to be able to show these off, but perhaps don’t want people thinking I’m actually happy with this sort of shot.

500px is pretty good for that first category, for showing off those portfolio pieces that you’d want to show anyone while modestly saying “Well, you know, I dabble a little in photography – never really taken anything good. What these old things? Well, that’s very kind of you, but…”

Flickr is good for the second category. It doesn’t show the photos off well enough for the first category, though, and the default view is just your n most recent photos. Sometimes, my last few photos weren’t very good. It has a bit of a work-around for the final category. I’ve seen some people who will post their single best photo from a set as an actual public photo, then post several more as private photos, so other users don’t see them. They then add comments to the public photo, with small versions of the other photos. People can see all the photos if they want to, but the photostream only contains the very best. Neat trick, but only works in some circumstances, and it’s extra work. It also means people you can’t link to many of your photos, and people can’t comment on them.

For the third category, the really rather bad photos, I just upload them with the rest, but I don’t really like to.

The obvious answer would be to use 500px for what it does well, and Flickr for what it does well, and either compromise Flickr with the bad shots, or stick them somewhere else – maybe even leaving them on the hard drive, tale untold. One problem with that is that I’m lazy. I can export a batch of pics to Flickr quite easily. I can upload there directly from my iPhone for pics taken there. Adding another step to send a couple of the best each time to a different site is likely to get put off, and never done. If I also upload them to Flickr, they’ll be in more than one place, which doesn’t feel right to me. If I don’t, then the majority of people, who will only look on Flickr, won’t ever see my best photos.

I think the more practical answer for me is to keep using Flickr, and live with its faults. Maybe something will come along that beats it firmly enough to take over, but the number of users Flickr has causes a lot of momentum. Maybe Flickr will get the work put into it at some point to sort out its problems, and really bring it up to date. Unfortunately, the former is looking more likely than the latter these days.

SmugMug – After a Few Months

I switched from Flickr to using SmugMug for hosting my photos a few months ago, and it’s been a mixed experience.

The Good

  • I now have all my photos on my own domain. I’m contributing content to my own site, rather than one owned by Yahoo!.
  • I can run ads on photo pages. It doesn’t bring in a lot of money (barely anything, actually) but at least the money is coming to me.
  • I can make the photo part of the site look like it’s really part of my own site, not just a link to someone else’s site.
  • The photos are presented well, with nice big views, taking advantage of bigger screens well.
  • It’s nice to be supporting a small family-run business, rather than a division of Yahoo! that could potentially get sold again any time.

The Bad

  • It’s taken a lot of work to get things organised as I like them, and it’s still a bit odd. Every photo has to be in a gallery, and because I don’t think of photos in galleries, I’m ending up with lots of tiny galleries, often with only one or two photos in them.
  • I can set up ‘smart galleries’, which pick up on keywords, and fill themselves automatically. I’ve used this for gathering pictures of specific things, or taken in specific places, and it’s really nice and flexible. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work reliably. Photos rarely appear in the galleries they should straight away. Sometimes they never do, unless you edit the gallery settings, and save them again. It means I can’t set this stuff up then just forget about it.
  • Searching works well. Sometimes. Other times, it’s frustratingly slow. At the moment, I’m looking for a picture of a cup of coffee, but every time I search, I get a ‘gateway timeout’ error.
  • Although SmugMug does have some social features, it lags a long way behind Flickr. There aren’t as many features, there aren’t as many users to interact with, and the users there tend not to use the social aspects. Even without taking part in Flickr recently, I’ve had photos ‘favorited’, and had comments posted. Not a single photo has been given a ‘thumbs-up’ (or down) on SmugMug. I’ve had one comment, but that was just a stream of abuse that I deleted straight away.

The Ugly

  • Since ditching Flickr, they’ve released a beta version of their new photo page, and it works much better than the old one. It solves most of the problems.
  • When returning to Flickr, it’s quite startling just how quick everything is, and how it all just works.
  • Flickr is cheaper. By more than any ad revenue is ever likely to bring me.

The Conclusion

I haven’t reached one yet, but ditching SmugMug and returning to Flickr is feeling increasingly likely. I like SmugMug, and there are features there, but not on Flickr, that pros probably need. I don’t. It’s making uploading photos feel more like a chore.

I’ll probably start uploading all my recent photos to Flickr again, and see how things go from there. Unfortunately, my Mac is currently out of action, waiting for a new hard drive, so I’ll have to wait until it returns.