March 16, 2008

The End of Three Eras

Posted in webshots at 9:23 pm by mj

Six years is child’s play to what this baby has seen:

p1010040

She’s a keeper.

I’ve learned and grown and experienced so much these past six years.

p1010042 So to those with whom I’ve worked most closely recently–Gokhan, Anne, Bryan, Yuri, Sergey, Jim, Thomas, Larry, Chris—

and to those who’ve expanded my world over the years–Milenko, JR, Allan, Eric, David, Edgar, Joe, James, Dru, Mark, Eric, Ji, Amy, Martin, Kisung, Lauren, Corey, Belynda, Tara, John–

p1010043 and to those who must remain anonymous lest I leave off only a single name–

and to the Brownie Beer Bear and the Bowling Pin of Justice–

and to those random guys at Kate O’Brien’s Friday evening who lent their unsolicited “signatures”–

and, of course, to Andy, Nick, and Narendra–

p1010046 Fuckin’ A.

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February 4, 2007

Community-Oriented Search API Trends

Posted in alexa, api, ask.com, flickr, google, microsoft live, Search, technorati, webshots, yahoo at 2:30 pm by mj

Ever get curious about the trends in the APIs provided by web search engines and social sites with a public search? Well, I did, couldn’t find a convenient reference, spent a morning doing some research, and am sharing my data here.

I’ve only included mainstream communities with public search APIs that do not require user-level authentication. That is, it’s possible to get “whole web” or “whole site” results that match keywords/tags, and not just get back a user’s own posts/photos/etc. (which excludes del.icio.us, simpy, bloglines, tailrank, facebook, among others).

Highlights for the ADD crowd: Nearly everybody requires an API key. Most rate limit. Almost nobody supports OpenSearch. REST APIs are overwhelmingly preferred. Yahoo! (+ Flickr) wins the “easiest to work with” award (no surprise).

Read on for comparisons of eight players, presented in alphabetical order. Then, add comments with corrections or APIs that I missed.

Read the rest of this entry »

January 26, 2007

Webshots Integrates User Videos

Posted in Usability, webshots at 5:17 am by mj

Just before the holidays, Webshots launched videos. What I love about this is that videos are just another way to tell your story, and fit seamlessly into your albums. The coolest part of this, IMO, is the new slideshow.

(See an example slideshow at Webshots. *ahem* wordpress.com doesn’t yet support inlining Webshots videos or slideshows.)

While we do have a Video channel, our intent is for videos and photos to complement one-another, and to coexist on the page. Mark, our lead designer, has done a great job since mid-2006, and the natural fit of videos is one area where our August redesign is starting to pay off. (More payoffs will be apparent in the coming months.)

The one thing I think we did wrong is having a separate video search. This was a product decision made early on, with some technical ramifications. While it’s great to be able to effortlessly see the latest videos–overall, or by keyword–it’s the one area where we’re intentionally segregating photos and videos, and I’m not sure if that fits in with what our users will want. I think we should improve on that by making photos and videos searched together by default, and supporting a photo-only or video-only filter as an advanced option.

It’s interesting to note that, at launch, we supported higher resolution and better quality videos than the obvious rival YouTube. I was blown away by our team’s tests that showed the same video uploaded to each, and ours was obviously far superior.

Alas, that did not last, as many DSL connections could not support the increased bandwidth, so we had to scale back. Now, our videos have only a slightly greater encoded quality than YouTube, and our resolution is comparable. Longer term, I’d expect us to support multiple encodings/resolutions, and serve the best version that your connection will support.

November 22, 2006

Flickr Launches Camera Finder in Conjunction with Yahoo! Shopping

Posted in Excellence, flickr, webshots at 1:19 am by mj

Flickr recently launched Camera Finder, a “joint” effort with Yahoo! Shopping. Another sign that Flickr is being (slowly) integrated into the Yahoo! Family. Good coverage by Mashable and Paul Kedrosky.

I like what they’ve done. Their camera finder is everything that Webshots’ Photo Gear Guide should have been (two years ago), but wasn’t…and won’t be.

A little history: Webshots’ Photo Gear Guide (or “Tech Guide”) was the first effort at integrating into CNET, a mere months after being acquired. It had a sordid history, and it could have been much better than it is. It’s now been mostly abandoned (which explains some of the empty content for editors who’ve left CNET).

Anyhow, some observations:

First, Webshots’ Photo Gear Guide is butt ugly (and I don’t mean the butt of Grace Park). It’s a nauseating mix of yellow and grey and red. Even two years ago before our new header, it was still pretty sickening to look at. It tried to have the look of a CNET property, with the cobranding of a Webshots property. Which is what half the pages really are (more on that in a bit).

By contrast, Flickr’s Camera Finder pages look exactly like any other Flickr page. The same prominent colors (even in the graphs!). The same kind of navigation.

Second, there is no original content on Webshots’ Photo Gear Guide. All the editors stuff and specs come from CNET Reviews, which is fine. But most of the links send you off to cobranded pages that aren’t even hosted by Webshots (and are even uglier–and now still have the old Webshots header). There is absolutely nothing to tie that content into the Webshots community. Nothing.

Flickr’s Camera Finder, on the other hand, has graphs of the popularity of cameras over time within the Flickr community. When you drill down into the cameras, you see photo search results of Flickr photos taken with each camera, sortable in several dimensions. It feels like another way to browse Flickr photos, and also a way to compare cameras.

Finally, Camera Finder makes you feel like you’re actually learning something. With PGG, you get editor reviews and specs and “best buys” based on price vs performance tradeoffs. All well and good, and I have no doubt that CNET’s reviewers do a better job than Yahoo’s Shopping editors.

But–because you’re not engaged within the Webshots community, you don’t really know how accurate those reviews are, or which camera is probably right for you. By utilizing Flickr’s community, you get a much better sense of not only the quality of photos produced by a camera, but also what kind of photographers are using which models. Find people like yourself. See what they’re using.

Of course, Webshots did not detect cameras two years ago (we do now, and it’s on every photo page unless the owner chooses not to display that information). I seem to recall that Nick and Narendra’s vision for the photo gear guide was exactly what Flickr produced. If you answer the question, “Why did it never quite materialize?” you’ll probably find the core of what’s been missing at Webshots the last several years.

With that said, I’m not sure Flickr’s Camera Finder will see significantly more page views than Webshots’ Photo Gear Guide. It’s very much a niche audience, that likely sees surges during the holiday season and maybe again in late spring. One way to counter this is to meaningfully link to the data from photo and member pages.

It will probably generate more revenue for Yahoo!, since they’re linking directly to Yahoo! Shopping and Yahoo! will get a cut of any sales (unlike CNET). Which partly explains why they put more effort into getting it right.

Anyway, a thumbs-up from me. The more you can leverage the interaction and personal choices made by your members, the better your community will be.

September 17, 2006

Responding to Your Users: How Does Webshots Fare?

Posted in Blogging, webshots, Work at 2:01 pm by mj

The recent Facebook controversy brought out a few more good posts on how to engage, learn from, and respond to your users.

Teresa Valdez Klein at Blog Business Summit reiterates the standard advice: ask what your customers want, admit when you screw up, and, most important, don’t sneak back into your shell once the immediate crisis is over.

As usual, Robert Scoble has the best advice on corporate blogging. He takes it all several steps further: publish a video blog, meet with a cross-section of your users in person, link to blogger criticisms “out there”, and post responses on others’ blogs.

That’s quite a bit to take in for any business.

I am happy to say that Webshots has been improving on its communications.

The Webshots blog has been a growing source of communication between members and staff. Anne, Amy and Jessica have been doing a great job.

Anne put together an invited group of members on a separate blog, with whom we communicate about new ideas, demonstrate new features, and so on. It’s quite a different kind of feeling.

We also have a staff picks blog, which, while not truly a communications avenue, is a volunteer-run blog of Webshots employees who pick and write about our great members. It’s also a different kind of feeling, and puts even more of a personal touch on things.

Gone are the days when Webshots shunned communicating with its users, and avoided catering to the tech-savvy crowd. We’re now open with our failings, and when we do something wrong, Anne and Amy take a lot of flak so that we engineers don’t have to. 🙂 (Which isn’t usually fair to them.)

Going back to Scoble’s advice, probably the biggest struggle we’ve had is putting together a true cross-section of our users with whom to interact. Every group thinks they’re the target audience. And why not? Without a site that individualizes the content it features to each member, everybody has a claim. That’s a problem with pushing the same content to 20M+ members.

After reading Scoble’s post, I realize how far we have left to go. Webshots never links to other blogs (I don’t think it’s a policy, maybe just an oversight or unspoken fear). And we’re never officially commenting on others’ blogs, or promoting Webshots in our own blogs.

The latter point merits some extra thinking. Posting on others’ blogs in discussions about your employer blurs the line between “offcial company activity” and “personal opinion.” The opportunities for screwing up are pretty numerous. It’s easier if you’re the CEO.

Even this post blurs the line. (Obviously it’s all personal opinion and my employer will disavow just about everything I write. But the average reader might not see it that way.)

Is it good if your employees are blogging about you, even if they sometimes say stupid things, or criticise your management, or leave for a competitor? It’s been good for Scoble. Does it work for everyone?