Tag Archives: tumblr

The year of consolidation

An interesting year so far in terms of online services ending or merging. I don’t have a good enough memory to mention all of those that have vanished this year, but there are a number of notable examples I thought I’d highlight, mainly because I’ve used them in the past. I last did a short review of some of these consolidations about two years ago.

So where to start… well, I just read the news that drop.io has been acquired by Facebook. It’s a file-sharing service which was incredibly easy to get set up. I wrote about drop.io a couple of years ago and at the time it was an exciting service with a lot of potential, a growing developer community, and some very cool plans like location-sensitive drops, content transcoding, and so on. I guess for me its utility was rapidly eclipsed once I discovered Dropbox which I now use to sync content between 2 laptops, a netbook, a home server and my iPhone, and which my Dogear Nation co-hosts and I use to share our content (not using it yet? try this referral link). It looks like drop.io is effectively closing on December 15th.

Two notable (to me) video services are going, too. [well, OK, as I write this, one has gone, and the other one is on its way]. Seesmic – the original video version, not the microblogging / update service – is closing. This was a service which wanted to pioneer a “video Twitter” conversation concept, and it was interesting to start off with – I mentioned it in my round-up of online video services back in February 2008. For me, I enjoyed the experiment, and there are a lot of ways in which video online has grown and become an effective way of delivering content, but text has remained my major conversational medium so Seesmic didn’t work out longer term. Of course it has spawned a successful business on the back of Twitter and other sites in the form of Seesmic Web and Desktop clients (and they acquired Ping.fm as well).

Another fun and fascinating video service has gone away – 12seconds.tv has just a page of video static greeting visitors now. I loved that service, although again I struggled to make longer term use of it… but I’m often to be seen sporting my 12seconds t-shirt 🙂

In the cases of both Seesmic and 12seconds I’m left to wonder where to re-host my content… kudos to both sites for enabling me to get access to what would otherwise be lost. I suspect I will end up dumping them to YouTube since that isn’t likely to go away in a hurry. Of course the Seesmic videos, particularly the conversational ones, won’t make so much sense without the context.

Vox went the way of the dodo in 2010 as well. As an early adopter I tend to try out most services and I had a small but largely inactive blog over on Vox. I can’t say I’m too sad about its end as I’m perfectly comfortable with a blog at WordPress… it’s funny that Windows Live Spaces bloggers are being migrated to WordPress too – a sign of the times I think, as we’re seeing many of these earlier diverse networks collapse into the larger, more established networks (Vox to SixApart/Typepad, and whilst Windows Live Spaces is hardly supported by a non-established brand in Microsoft, but they are obviously refocussing just like everyone else).

The final service worth mentioning, I think, is xMarks. This is a service I only started using in the middle of the year, in an attempt to synchronise my browser content between the iPhone and other devices. The sudden announcement that it was heading for the buffers back in September led to an outpouring of despair and support from the user community, and as a result what was looking like a failure ended up being a near death experience – they initially took user donations, and have now negotiated a sale (so this is more consolidation, in a sense).

So what’s next? Well the microblogging wars seem to have died out, Twitter has won over e.g. former contenders like Jaiku and Pownce, although most online services appear to be integrating their own “updates” concept to continue to seem relevant. The big spaces where I’m personally seeing competition / overlap at the moment are in sites like Tumblr vs Posterous for general content sharing, and in online identity landing pages where about.me, chi.mp and flavors.me want my business. There are a number of fascinating new music-oriented services as well and I think some of those will start to overlap as they add features. The rest of the competition and fight for success seems to me to be in mobile apps and between runtimes on the handhelds. Just a personal point-in-time observation as 2010 starts to draw to a close.

The circle of life played out on the Internet – early innovation and excitement, a plateau of limited success leading to, possibly, monetisation (and/or an explosion of copycats), and a quiet death disappointing a small user community, or heady growth and unlimited stock prices. It’s an interesting space to continue to watch for us early adopters…

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140 characters – the perfect size

This post will be longer than 140 characters in length

That’s OK though, because it’s a blog post. It’s not a tweet, an SMS, or a status update. It’s designed to be something longer and more in-depth. It’s a place where you the reader, and I as the author, can explore some thoughts in more detail.

140chars

In the past couple of months I’ve detected a number of debates around the “140 character limit” imposed by microblogging. In fact, this “limit” was pretty much invented / pioneered by the darling site of the moment, Twitter.

A few weeks ago, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey spoke at IBM Research in Almaden. During the talk, he described how they arrived at the infamous number of characters in a tweet… I’m paraphrasing here, but feel free to check the video for his exact words:

The maximum in an SMS message is 160 characters before breaking the message, so we took 15 characters for the username, 5 characters for formatting or whatever, and ended up at 140 characters… we wanted to appeal to the lowest common denominator, the cheap $20 Nokia prepay cellphone…

With the runaway success of Twitter, and indeed with the increasing use of cellphones and mobile devices to access websites, the past few years have seen the proliferation of the 140 character status update. There are conferences dedicated to realtime microblogging (and, more specifically, to Twitter) which bear the magic number in their titles. We’ve become used to a more condensed form of communication, cutting out unnecessary words and letters from our online communications, and shortening our URLs.

However, one hundred and forty characters are not enough for everybody.

My friend Andrew frequently complains about the limit. Karl has been known to comment on the restrictions of shorter communications. Luis was famous for his thoughts which often used to run across 3 or 4 separate tweets – I unfollowed him for a while as a result, since he was breaking my preferred “rules”, but he’s better these days… I think he was suffering from email withdrawal 🙂

Personally, I think 140 characters is the ideal length for microblog-style status updates.

Readability

For one thing, I’ve found that I’ve become accustomed to scanning realtime feeds from sites like FriendFeed and Facebook, and the short, sharp updates are very easy to read and digest. Almost accidentally, it seems as though @ev and @jack hit upon a length of update which is naturally easy to scan and absorb, without having to really stop, pause, and read. As Stowe Boyd noted back at the Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin last year (and again, I’m paraphrasing), the realtime web is like a continuous river of information, and blogs are becoming the rocks in that river, the places where more considered thoughts can be written and conversations held. Twitter, Friendfeed or whatever else provide, aggregate and prioritise the links and hooks out to the larger chunks of content. The fact that I barely have to pay attention to the stream but can quickly absorb the things that catch my eye enables Ambient Intimacy.

Write-ability

Sending a short status update is quick and easy – it barely takes a moment to type something of that length, and anything longer than 140 can be painful on a smaller mobile device, so it seems to strike a nice balance there. As Ben and Willie have pointed out, learning and adapting to the size constraint can have beneficial effects on the way we communicate in other media, too (my emails have become shorter and crisper, or more often have been replaced by quick IM updates).

On the other hand, there are some downsides to our newly-enforced brevity. Two areas of particular concern to me are the glut of URL shorteners (which may make URLs easier to exchange, but break one of the principles of the web,in my opinion); and the difficulty of archiving and preserving conversations. I wonder whether Google Wave will have an impact on either of those issues. Anyone at Google want to get me on the beta so I can give me opinion on that? 😉

Flexibility

We’ve basically standardised the length of text updates to a whole bunch of online RESTful web services, making the convergence of clients to support those services much simpler. The mixture of content that can be shared over bite-sized streams of this kind has proven to be remarkable – from newsflashes, location updates, short links to larger articles or image snapshots, to IRC-style conversations and simple status information, and also to automated systems and pinging information between applications. I’ve often wondered whether Twitter is, in fact, the new nervous system of the Internet… and, according to Techcrunch, so have the company’s employees.

Why not make it longer?

The 140 debate became a bit sharper recently, where I commented on some internal tools at work that were using status updates of slightly longer lengths… say, 250 or 500 characters. The argument in favour of those lengths goes that 140 characters is just too short, sometimes. OK, but how is any other arbitrary limit any better? I’d argue that once you get to the 250 character size, I struggle to be able to simply scan through something. I’d also suggest that at 500 characters, you’re at the point of writing a short blog post.

I remember that at the genesis of one of the tools in question, a friend of mine argued for more characters to be allowed so that he could embed HTML tags in his updates. Strange how the huge variety of Twitter clients have managed to evolve rich hyperlinking features without having embedded HTML syntax in the updates, then.

Another of my colleagues suggested that you “need” more than 140 characters for some discussions. OK, but for those discussions you could either turn to IM (for one-to-one conversations) or a blog post, possibly linked to from a microblogging site, for a debate with comments. By the way, those blog posts and comments are likely to be indexed and retained by Google, whereas immediate and more generalised discussions held on a realtime service are still not effectively indexed. If you’re not satisfied with Twitter’s ability to thread and group conversations, there are other tools out there of a similar nature which do have some of those features. Also, if you want to go halfway towards a blog post, but have something to post which is a bit more than a status update, you might consider Tumblr or Posterous.

That was a lot more than 140 characters. Darn it.

(thanks to the always-excellent Geek & Poke for the cartoon used above, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

Simple photo publishing – a new site

iSnapshotter is live.

It’s a really simple Tumblr-based site with a custom domain name. I intend to use the Tumblr app on the iPhone to post my more interesting snapshots there… typically these get edited on the phone using Photogene, CameraBag and Autostitch.

I wanted to keep iPhone shots largely separate from Flickr, and the new capabilities in the 3GS make it much nicer for taking snapshots on the road. It was pretty trivial to create… add a new tumblelog on my existing Tumblr account, snap up a custom domain via UK2.net, choose a nice photo-centric theme, download the Tumblr iPhone app, and I’m good to go. Now all I’d like is the ability to queue posts from the iPhone so I can spread them out a bit more.

Filtering photos from a feed

I sometimes use my Tumblelog to post the odd photo from my iPhone. Generally I don’t want to post iPhone images to Flickr (typically these are spur-of-the-moment snapshots and low quality). There are actually two very nice free apps for the iPhone that let me post directly to Tumblr (called, imaginatively, Tumble and TheTumbler – I’m still trying to decide which one I prefer).

The problem is that I also feed my blog titles and my del.icio.us links to Tumblr, and my Flickr images, and sometimes I will also post a text note there too. Tumblr does not provide feeds on a per-item-type basis, it only gives an aggregated feed containing all the stuff you’ve uploaded there, or pulled in from other sources. Plus, if you then add that to FriendFeed, you get duplicates, even though FF can now work that out to some extent and roll them up into single entries.

Anyway… I put together a quick Yahoo Pipe which filters just the photos that were uploaded directly to Tumblr (ignoring Flickr images, for example). Feel free to clone and re-use, you can just enter your own Tumblr feed URL in the entry box at the top.

Update: well, shoot. It doesn’t ignore the Flickr images at all, does it? Gah. Apparently they are imported to Tumblr as images… which makes me suspect that even when I remove photos from Flickr they will stay on Tumblr. How annoying. And the more I look at the way that the Tumblr feed is constructed, the more I don’t like it at all.

Some other online presences – Seesmic, YouTube, Tumblr

I’ve become aware that I’m increasingly using a bunch of other online services, but that I don’t have very visible links to them on my blog, which is something that needs to be fixed. I need to tackle the About page very soon, along with that blogroll over on the right-hand side, too.

Seesmic

I’ve mentioned before that I’m trying out Seesmic, which is kind of like video Twittering.

I still don’t find it very intuitive or easy to use. The first problem is that it requires far more time and attention than something like Twitter, and thus I might comment in a conversation thread but rapidly run out of temporal bandwidth for watching all of the responses.

More importantly though, it is written in Flash and there are no URLs to profiles for individuals, so I can’t give you a direct link to my Seesmic page… and if you do have an ID there, you’ll just have to look for one of my posts to pop up in the public timeline in order to find me (or search for me using egowhore). They need to fix this.

Seesmic is pretty interesting though, and I’m giving it a go as much as possible.

YouTube

In keeping with the video theme, I also now have a YouTube profile. This is just an FYI in case you’re a YouTube fan… I’ve been thinking about the available online video services and may blog further about this soon. Feel free to connect with me over there.

Tumblr

My tumblelog has been quietly collecting my del.icio.us links and stuff for a while but I’ve started to occasionally post photo and video links over there too. I noticed recently that Tumblr’s functionality has significantly improved and there are far more options for customisation, a dashboard, and other nice things to play around with, so I’ve become more interested in using that again.

Tumblr is really a lot nicer than Suprglu, which I wrote about nearly two years ago but which clearly hasn’t had the investment that Tumblr has benefited from. My Suprglu page is still there, but I can’t see me actively doing anything with it.