500px isn’t quite Flickr yet

Since the big changes to Flickr last week I’ve been mulling over the idea of switching to a different photo sharing site. 500px had caught my eye in the past as being a very similar concept to Flickr. It has social aspects like Flickr does, maybe even more so as it supports the notion of “liking” a photo as well as making it a “favourite”. They seem to target the more professional photographer (yes Marissa Mayer, there really is still such a thing) and the curated photos that show up through their main photos section shows that. Frankly it’s a little off-putting since my photos don’t even come close to that level, but the same can be said for Flickr’s similar sections so I guess it’s not that big of a deal. So I took a day or two to upload some of my photos, put 500px through its paces and see how it measures up to Flickr. I’ve built up a fairly specific workflow for my photo uploading and I’m measuring against that so what might be show-stoppers for me may not affect others.

Ultimately if you can’t be bothered to read the details I found that 500px is a nice enough photo site and while visually it may look better than Flickr right now it is missing much of the functionality that I find important.

Basic organisation

500px lets you organise your photos similarly to Flickr. You have your photo library and you can put your photos into sets. The main difference is that while in Flickr your full library is generally visible to everyone, on 500px it isn’t. Instead the main photos you see for a person are those put into the “public photos” area, which just appears to be a special set. This is a little odd. If I want to see someone’s photos I have to click through all their sets, Flickr just lets me browse their photostream. Stranger still, sometimes photos randomly end up in the public photos set without me putting them there. I don’t know if this was something the website did or the plugin I used to upload, but after uploading two sets which overlapped all the photos that appeared in both sets were suddenly in the public photos set too.

Browsing through photos is hard on 500px. On Flickr if I go to a photo I can see which sets it appears in and easily move back and forward through any of those sets or the photostream. 500px only shows you thumbnails for the set you got to the photo through, it makes finding similar things from the same photographer more difficult. 500px also supports tags of course, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to show all the photos from a photographer with a particular tag. There doesn’t even seem to be a way to see a full-size version of a photo, just the 900px wide version on the main photo page.

Uploading

I’m not the sort to trust online sites to be the place where I store and manage my photos. I keep everything managed locally in Lightroom and rely on Jeffrey Friedl’s excellent plugin to then mirror that to Flickr, so I wanted to do the same with 500px. They have a Lightroom plugin too. Excitingly for me it is open source so while I found problems here it could be possible for me to improve it myself. 500px’s plugin is in a word “basic”. It can upload your photos tag them and name them but that is about it. It is remarkably slow to do that too. For some reason it does the upload in two passes, the first pass eats up my CPU and seemingly does nothing (maybe rendering the photos to disk somewhere?) then it goes ahead and does the upload. This is frustrating since you have no way to guess how long it might take. Probably not a problem for small uploads though. The other big problem for me is that it uploads the photos in a random order. I like my photos to be in the order I shot them but there doesn’t seem to be any way to do this at upload time with 500px’s plugin. Just the lack of options in their plugin mean I’d be spending a long time trying to make this plugin do what I really wanted, things like tagging based on rating, stripping certain metadata from photos etc.

Organisation

Once you have your photos in Flickr you can use their excellent organiser to put things into sets and arrange things how you like. As I mentioned I prefer to do this in Lightroom and just mirror that, but that doesn’t work for things like the order that photos appear in sets. Flickr makes that pretty easy, you can reorder a set manually or by various attributes like capture time. After uploading to 500px put all my photos out of order I figured I could just correct this online. Sadly the 500px equivalent is extremely basic. You can reorder manually … and that’s it. For a set of a few hundred photos that just doesn’t cut it.

Portfolios

One feature that 500px has that Flickr doesn’t is portfolios. They are effectively a custom website to show your photos off on, no 500px branding, very clean layouts that just show your photos off. They’re a little oddly implemented to my tastes, you have to create custom sets to appear in your portfolio, and those sets don’t show on the main 500px site. Want the same set in both? You have to duplicate it. I wasn’t a fan of any of the available layouts either but that is just my taste. Apparently you can go in and edit the layout and styles directly so you can probably do better things with this. Ultimately I don’t think it’s a very useful feature for me, and if I wanted it I could just use Flickr’s API to build something similar on my own site.

Stats

One of the things that scares me about Flickr dropping Pro membership is that they are probably going to be phasing out their stats. I like to be able to see how many people are looking at my photos and where they are coming from and while Flickr’s stats offering was always simplistic to say the least I could at least use it to find sites that were linking back to my photos. 500px boasts “Advanced Statistics” for the paid tiers, but I’m sad to say that this claim is pretty laughable. Flickr’s stats are poor, 500px’s stats are even worse. They track the social aspects (likes, faves, comments) over time but not the photo views which is what actually interests me. You can see the total views for each photo, but not over time. And that’s about the total of all the stats you get. 500px’s highest tier also boasts Google Analytics. Don’t be fooled though. This only extends to your portfolio views, not views of your photos through the main 500px site.

Summary

There is a recurring theme throughout this post. 500px has the basic functionality that you need for putting your photos online but not much beyond that and has nowhere near the functionality. There is another problem too that affects any site that isn’t Flickr. Flickr was the first big site in the game and has a great API. They are the Facebook of photo hosting. Almost any application or tool that does anything with photos boasts some level of integration with Flickr, support for other sites is random at best.

All of this is not terribly surprising. 500px launched just 4 years ago, Flickr has has more than twice that time to develop its feature set, user base and developer base. Maybe 500px will improve in the future but for now it just doesn’t have the features and support that I need and Flickr provides. Maybe I’ll continue looking at other options but if it comes down to Flickr or 500px, right now I’ll stick with Flickr.

Hello new Flickr, goodbye social

To say that it was a shock to find Flickr had released a massive revamp of their site is something of an understatement. Ever since Yahoo took over the reigns the site has received minimal attention leading many to believe that it wouldn’t be long before they gave up altogether. Every time Yahoo announced another set of web properties that they were discontinuing users breathed a sigh of relief to see that Flickr wasn’t on the list … yet. Now those days may be over. Love them or hate them it is clear that Yahoo have invested a lot of time and thought into the changes that they released earlier this week.

The thing that strikes me as really odd about the changes though is what they seem to be doing their best to hide, the social aspect of the site. Flickr was possibly the first social photo sharing service. Many other sites have always existed that allow you to put your photos online and show off your portfolio. Flickr though was always aimed at also making connections and discussing each others photos. You have contacts, comments, favourites not to mention information about where and how each photo was taken right alongside each shot. It seems remarkable that in this time when everyone seems to be trying to build social sites that Yahoo have decided that the social aspect is less important. When you look at a photo’s page now you see a giant version of the photo. All of the information about the photo and comments people have left are hidden below the fold. The front page suffers equally. Where before I would see a list of recent comments on my photos and thumbnails of what my contacts have uploaded recently my current page shows me one and a half pictures from my contacts.

Yahoo seem to have decided that the photo is all that is really important. I disagree, the photo is of course very important but the information about the photo and how people react to it is very important too, far too important to hide.

Hey Dreamhost, we use tabs now

I’ll be honest, this post isn’t about Mozilla or even really anything Mozilla related (beyond the fact that it is about a poor web application). However I know that lots of people in the Mozilla community use Dreamhost as their webhost and I figure some of them might want to know to watch out for this and avoid getting into the same mess that I did so I’ll include it in planet feed anyway.

The problem is with Dreamhost’s Web Panel, the service that customers use to administer their web hosting packages. It turns out that certain parts of this panel can’t cope with the idea of you accessing it from multiple tabs or windows at the same time. If you try opening the web hosting settings for more than one domain in different tabs, only the last one you opened will actually work as you expect. Yep, they are remembering, server side, which domain you are editing the settings for.

This wouldn’t normally be the end of the world. I could accept it if there was some error message or it just failed to save the settings for one of the domains it wasn’t expecting. Sadly the panel is not that clever. Instead, no matter which domain’s settings you try to save it always overwrites the domain that was last opened. The panel does subsequently tell you the real domain that it saved the settings for (with a nice green tick to emphasise that everything is fine!) if you are careful enough to read the full message but of course by then the domain’s old settings are gone.

I discovered this when trying to make a change to one of my domains blew away the settings for my secure server, including the ssl keys. Thankfully they were recovered but this sort of thing really shouldn’t happen at all. It seems pretty absurd to me that a modern web application can exist that doesn’t seem to take tabs into account at all.

It’s a shame really because for the most part Dreamhost are the best webhosts I’ve ever used and their panel is very easy to use. Dreamhost’s support team have told me that this is a limitation of the web panel and it should only be used in one window, though there don’t seem to be any warnings about this anywhere. I hate to make sweeping statements like “Surely it would be easy to…” because it bugs me whenever anyone says the same about Firefox, but happily overwriting your settings (and calling it a success) seems like something that should be avoided at all costs.

Daylight robbery

It wasn’t long ago that I was responsible for developing and maintaining a large number of websites. Like everyone in this role I needed a domain registrar I could trust to be cheap, efficient and most of all keep me updated about upcoming renewals. At the time I had a lot of love for Freeparking. They didn’t (and still don’t) look like much, but at the time I started using them they were all these things. No surprise I carried on using them after I left my last job when registering some personal domains.

Imagine my horror today then when someone else emails me to notify my that the registration for oxymoronical.com had expired the day before. Freeparking hadn’t so much as whispered on the subject and would you look at that, I now have to pay a late registration fee.

To say I feel let down is an understatement. Not only have they over the years failed to even update their website beyond its only-just-working state but now they seem to be actively trying to rip people off. It’s a shame but I guess it is the push I need to move all my registrations to Dreamhost who have been nothing short of excellent when it comes to my hosting. Sadly of course I still have to renew the domain first, then wait 60 days before I can move it.

I particularly like how their support form has “I was not informed of an imminent renewal” as one of the options to choose from. Clearly this comes up quite a lot for them.

Practice what you Preach

One of the main parts of my work for Mozilla at the moment is about securing add-on updates. The spec is now pretty near complete and the implementation is also pretty much complete so hopefully we can start pushing out the necessary tools to add-on authors real soon then land the work shortly after.

Of course it wouldn’t be right for me to push this out without first making my own extensions comply with the new requirements. So today I am rolling out updates to all of them, mostly just changing the update url to an SSL one, though a couple of the extensions (Nightly Tester Tools and /Find Bar/) have some additional updates.

Using SSL really will be the easiest way of hosting secure updates for your extensions and I urge you to use it. Assuming you have a sensible hosting package, adding SSL is really not as expensive as many expect. Godaddy offer SSL certificates for $18 per year (minimum of 2 years) and if you are like me and hosting open source extensions then you can get the first year for free (though that seems to take a few weeks longer than if you pay). It’s also pretty simple to set up assuming you have a decent webhost, Dreamhost just has one form to fill in.

It turns out that the hardest part of getting SSL was fixing the bugs in my CMS since it’s current version had never been used in an SSL environment before ;)