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How should I share my media with you?

You may not be surprised to hear that, as a former DivX employee, I’ve often gotten the question, “How should I share my photos/videos/files with you?”  What is surprising is that in the fast-paced world of the Internet, my answer has been consistent for more than 4 years.

You should use a combination of free tools: Picasa (client and web albums) and Dropbox.  I recommend these solutions because:

  1. When your goal is to share media with friends, your goal is not to “publish” it and many services confuse these needs;
  2. When you share media, you want to preserve the quality of it for the enjoyment of your friends; and
  3. When you share media, you want to allow your friends to use the media in their preferred environments or workflows.

The distinction between “sharing” and “publishing” is an important one.  If you are “publishing,” then you are disseminating a particular expression/experience (typically to a wide audience).  Sharing, on the other hand, means that you are enabling the joint use of a resource. If what you want to do is “publish” your media, Facebook, YouTube and blogging platforms (like WordPress or tumblr) are great, but they make privacy complicated, don’t give your friends flexibility, and typically reduce the quality of the file you’re sharing.

Picasa and Dropbox resolve all of these problems elegantly, simply enough for the least technical of your friends, and with versatility.

Picasa

Picasa is primarily a photo tool, but also has some video functionality, so while I would classify it as a unitasker, I think it is one worth your time (I think even Alton Brown would agree)  The (free) desktop client (PC and Mac) is best-in-class, and has seamless integration with the web albums. The combination provides a fantastic UI for photo management, photo editing (cropping, red-eye reduction, brightness leveling, etc.), online backup, album sharing, collaboration (designated friends can add photos to your albums), stand-alone slide shows, print ordering, and of course, full-resolution download.  Kodak, Shutterfly, Snapfish and others lock you into their services once you’ve uploaded and expire your account if you haven’t ordered prints recently.  By contrast, Picasa syncs up to dozens of the top photo printing sites and is agnostic as to whether you ever order a physical print.  SmugMug actually does solve a sharing problem more effectively, and allows your friends to download full resolution photos, but this is enabled only 1 photo at a time, which can be grueling for large albums, especially where Picasa makes it easy to download a full album.  Bottom line here, “sharing” on any other service is merely publishing.

Dropbox

For any purpose other than sharing full albums of photos, Dropbox is the way to go. Dropbox is primarily an online backup/cross-device folder synchronization tool.  By installing Dropbox on multiple computers (all associated with one user account), you can automatically synchronize any file you put in your Dropbox.  Thankfully, though, Dropbox doesn’t stop there.  It includes robust sharing features, enabling anything from sharing an auto-synced sub-folder with a friend who also has Dropbox to creating a web link to a file enabling anyone with the link to download the associated file.  Like Picasa, Dropbox includes a (free) desktop app with an integrated web client.  The Dropbox desktop app installs onto your PC/Mac and appears just like any other folder on the system, so if you know how to save a file to a folder on your computer, you know how to sync/share using Dropbox.  There are competitors in this space (chief among them is Box.net), but, in large part because of the fantastic implementation of Dropbox’s native desktop client, it stands out markedly from the pack.  It is worth emphasizing that Dropbox is filetype agnostic (while it handles photos admirably, the lack of photo-specific functions leads me to stick with Picasa for photo albums), so I can recommend it for sharing virtually any media.

A Note on Google Docs

I do want to give an honorable mention to Google Docs.  Google Docs is king when it comes to version control and collaboration, and since it technically does allow download as well as robust privacy settings, it shouldn’t be considered a “publishing tool.”  Still, because it requires conversion from native files and doesn’t integrate with any third-party internet offerings, it can’t be my recommendation for sharing media.

So, please do share your media, especially when you attend events and parties and promise someone they don’t need to use their camera since you’ll “share” the photos that were taken with yours.  Perhaps Color and its progeny will fix all of this, but in the meantime, consider my advice.

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Should I Use Group Messaging?

In the wake of the tremendous amount of exposure provided to group messaging platforms during SXSW, including GroupMe, Beluga (now part of Facebook), Fast Society, etc., it is easy to think these platforms have a clear value proposition and a straight shot to broad adoption.

My friends in the “industry” are constantly asking which service I prefer.  I set out to answer the question, but instead found the better question to be, “Should I use any of these group messaging services?”

To stick with my formula of giving you quick answers, regretfully, I have to say, “No.”

In more detail, the answer is: Only if you find it fun to play with these kinds of things, or need to be up on the latest apps for your job (both apply to me), and then you should be playing with all of them.

I actually spent a good amount of time this weekend trying to move a variety of different “groups” to one of these platforms as an experiment.  What I found was that it was too hard to make it worth while.

My main justification is that these apps don’t actually make it easier for your groups to talk.  Not only are the features not materially superior to pre-existing solutions, but the switching cost of convincing people not predisposed to using new modes of communication is not worth the effort.

The important question everyone asks is, “Can’t we just use email?”  The two rebuttal responses don’t hold water:

  1. Some say Email is old-school and chat feels instant:  It really isn’t true in a world of iPhones, Droids and even Blackberrys.  Those of us with smart phones are accustomed to receiving email on our devices.  Email is quick, provides OS/Launcher-level alerting and allows us to interact with any number of customized groups of people.  All of the major mobile OSes have taken great steps towards integrated messaging platforms such that it can be kinda tough to even figure out whether a message was email, txt or IM.  Email is also quickly accessible from the phone and desktop alike, has superior archive and searching functionality built-in, and is free under existing data plans (unlike txt).  No clear win for group messaging here.
  2. Others point out that group messaging, unlike email can be accessed from feature phones:  Feature phones (aka phones without app store support primarily used by Luddites, the elderly and those for whom work will only pay for the data portion of their smart phone) do make email challenging, and the ability to hit up multiple people with txts is theoretically a winning solution. Unfortunately, the practical reality leans the other way.  Those who carry feature phones have several complaints ranging from: “I don’t like fancy new apps,” to “how am I supposed to keep up with (and pay for) dozens of text messages rather than a simply email thread?”  There’s no good response in a world where texting costs $20 a month for an unlimited plan.  These folks would rather get an email and I can’t blame them.  If everyone on the smart-phone side were on board, they might feel left out of the conversation, but (see #1 above) it just doesn’t feel that way today.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some cool features on these services including: on demand conference calling; the map that allows you to see where your friends are; and the ability to create chat groups without having to share your actual phone number (FastSociety only, I believe, and used for ad-hoc communication with groups you’d rather not keep in touch with), but these features are nice-to-haves right now, not things that make adoption a no-brainer.

Ultimately, as a hack-day solution to a small problem, I think these services are awesome.  There may be times when I would find them invaluable.  But, as an everyday means of communication, the world just isn’t ready yet, and you don’t need to rush in. Maybe Facebook will make this awesome, or perhaps the AOLers out in Palo Alto can help speed things up, but for now, you’re ok sitting on the sidelines.

UPDATE: I have continued playing with these services, and can now recommend Beluga if you do decide to use these services at all.  It works much like BBM in that if you both have the app, no one gets charged for texts and when you look at it as an SMS replacement app *with* group messaging, rather than the reverse, it starts to look attractive… starts.

Yes, you should get the iPad2…

… Unless you already have a first gen iPad.

The questions I keep getting are:

  1. Should I get the iPad2 if I already have an iPad?
  2. Should I get the iPad2 or a Kindle?
  3. Should I get the 3G version?
  4. What size should I get?
  5. What about an Android tablet?

The short answer: You should get the iPad2 64GB, WiFi only.

1) You don’t need the iPad2 if you have the original iPad. The size and weight are not different enough to make an impact on your bag or your wrists.  The apps are the same and the speed isn’t being used for anything that impressive yet and probably won’t be for another year.  The cameras are great, but the reality is that you don’t really want to take photos with a tablet and people aren’t using facetime/skype on the road.  Just not different enough to get the new one.

2) Kindle vs. iPad is a false comparison; they are two TOTALLY different products.  A Kindle is a great ebook reader, but that’s all it does.  You can’t read a book on the iPad outdoors, period, the end.  If you like reading on the beach/park/backyard you need a Kindle.  If you want the best mobile internet and reading device for meetings, the couch, the airplane, etc., you need an iPad.

3) The 3G convenience is great, but the pricing on the plans is too high.  Especially if you also travel with a laptop, the better deal is to tether the iPad to a different connected device.  I like using a MiFi or OverDrive card which allows you to connect up to 5 devices, but even your iPhone4/Android device allows tethering and is likely cheaper than getting another plan if you don’t use it that often.  The iPad doesn’t really need connectivity to be a great product.  If the money isn’t an issue, by all means, get the 3G.

4) Once you have an iPad, you will want to put things on it.  The apps are actually quite small, and I find that I don’t listen to a TON of music on the ipad.  What starts to take up space are the videos.  32GB would work for most of you, but for the extra $100, the storage space is a no-brainer. Go with the 64.

5) A lot of OEMs have launched Android-based tablets recently, and many of them are cool, but the iPad is the way to go.  Video is a killer app for tablets.  You can watch back-to-back episodes of TopGear during the entire flight from San Diego to New York on one battery charge… and you want to.  I have several episodes of Sesame Street, a few Blues Clues, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and a bunch of others, plus things for me.  You want the ability to have a ton of choice in your tablet video library too. Right now, Google hasn’t launched a killer video store (soon?) and none of the Android manufacturers can come close to competing with iTunes on choice or user experience.  Until this changes, there’s no Android alternative to the iPad that matters.  

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