Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Photo Hosting Options

It is with considerable regret that I find myself looking, probably, for a new family photo hosting service.  For little more than a year, I've used the Phanfare service, which I absolutely adore.  The problem is that their business model hasn't worked out, and they recently announced they will undergo significant changes.  Much of what was so great will still be there, but other important things will be lost.

What will still be good is their software, which makes creating albums and uploading images easier than anything else I've ever used.  Also, they allow absolute privacy over your albums, so you can post everything knowing that only your friends and relatives will ever see it.  Indeed, in the new version, this will be a default.  You can also post full-size images, which get automatically resized, and they create slideshows and other features automatically.  They even allow video uploads of up to (I think) 10 minutes, which are automatically converted into flash for viewing simplicity.  as a real bonus, it acts as a backup, because you can get a DVD withh all of your images (for a fee) at any time.  It is absolutely a fantastic service and it's a shame it never caught on.  They charge for this wonderful service, and currently have no free version beyond a limited time trial.

The changes are various, and only a couple bother me.  Starting with the ones I don't care about:  It will be hard to create a public website of photos, and all existing links will be broken.  They are also increasing the Phanfare brand presence on your site, and users can no longer control whether viewers can download full-size originals.  The parts that cause me concern involve the experience of my visitors.  Until now, I could give people a password that allowed access to my albums.  That password was specific to my subdomain at Phanfare, and did not require that anybody register with Phanfare.  That is now changing.  Once the new system is implemented, everybody  will have to register with Phanfare to view my photos.  What's more, once I invite them, Phanfre will automatically generate notification emails whenever I update or create a new album, and I will have no control over this.  Individual users will be able to control whether they receive these emails, but why should they have to bother?  I have no interest in spamming my friends and family this way.  

Basically, Phanfare is embracing a photo-based  social networking model.  Everyone who registers will also get 1 gig of free photo storage, and we'll all get notifications of each others new photos.  Obviously they hope that people will upgrade to the paid service.  They are also trying to discourage professional users, who were never their core target customer, and who are almost certainly less profitable for them.  

While they've had some missteps in announcing and explaining the new service, they've really tried hard, and even allowed users to create an "Alternative to Phanfare" topic on the Phanfare user forum.  They also allowed a considerable amount of venting and harsh words on the forum from disappointed customers.  I'm one who posted some harsh items about the new registration process, about which I have considerable concerns, but I also recognize that they can't continue with a business model that won't work.  The new system is currently in beta, and should go public soon.  Meanwhile, they will allow folks like me to stay on the old system until next June.  I'm hoping things will either be better than I fear, or the worst aspects will be modified before then.

If not, I'll be looking for a new service.  The forum thread I linked above is a very good start.  If anybody knows of additional resources or services, I'd love to hear about them in the comments.  
I'm also cross-posting this at my Working File blog.


So Jobu got a PS3, and the mg household was brought a Wii by Santa Clause.  All I can do is confirm everything you've probably already read.  It's fun, physical (for a video game), great for families, usable by little children, and basically different from every other video game system you've ever experienced.  The system came with Wii Sports, which most but not all packages include.  Santa also brought Wii Play, which had 8 other fun games and also comes with an extra remote, which helps when you have more than one child.  Santa also brought a Barbie Island Princess game for our 2 girls, and we're all loving it.  Even the 3-year old can participate.  We recommend it highly, if you can get your hands on one.

Alternative Take on Flat Screen HD TV

Reading Jobu's posts on his new Panasonic TV, I'm struck by the difference in our buying experience and preparation.  Reading this blog generally, it's apparent that Jobu and I have developed some significantly different interests and tastes, but one thing we generally share is the research and preparation we put into a major purchase.  For me, my first flat screen HD TV was a significant exception.

I think I'm still of the mindset that televisions are the same simple appliance I grew up with. That's obviously not true, but I was unwilling to spend the time and effort to fully educate myself about everything new.  I ended up getting the Samsung HLT5687S, and ended up very pleased.  

But Jobu discusses things such as "black levels" when discussing his Panasonic, and I don't even know what that is.  After I bought the Samsung, I found some reviews, like this one, with references to hot spots, and the lack of a rainbow effect (which is apparently good, and rare in DLPs).  I don't know what those are, either.  I also never ever contemplated the possibility that one would use a DVD to calibrate a television, until I read Jobu discuss it.  And I'm guessing this is pretty basic stuff.

For me, my research basically meant determining that rear projection come in bigger sizes for less money than flat panel plasma or LCD.  You also apparently lose some level of picture wonderfulness, which I'm OK with.    Since our TV room setup is such that hanging the TV on the wall is not an option, I also didn't much care about the fact that the rear projection is thicker.  It is still much, much thinner and lighter than old-style rear projection TVs.  Also, at 56 inches, we are pushing the edge of size for our viewing distance, with no eye fatigue anybody is aware of.

Once I decided on rear projection, size, and price range, what pushed me to buy the model I did was an article in the business section of the Sunday NY Times.  Now, as an off-topic aside, I'm finding the Times increasingly irrelevant, but in this instance it proved really useful.  The article pointed out a new technology that Samsung is using in its DLP televisions, replacing bulbs as a light source with L.E.D.s.  You can read the article for the advantages this brings, but I'm pretty sure it is responsible for most of the good things you'll ready in any review of this model, especially as compared to other DLP models.

I'm not alone in loving this model, as of the date of this post, the model has a 4.5 star rating at Amazon, and is near to pushing 5.  I also bought it at Amazon,which was a superb buying experience.  Although it wasn't eligible for the Amazon Prime free 2-day shipping, Amazon was offering free delivery when I bought, and the entire process was simple and smooth.

Finally, I'm more than pleased with the result.  The picture is fantastic, in my admittedly uneducated opinion.  The only flaw I've noticed is a bit of fuzziness in people's skin on close-ups, even under Hi-Def.  I think this is not a flaw in the television, however, as I'm pretty sure I've never seen it on a DVD (I haven't even ventured into HD-DVD or Blu-Ray).  We use Direct TV for our television service.  Right now it has about a few dozen more HD channels than any of its competitors, but it is using some compression to do so.  It's not clear how much, it appears that information is nearly impossible to obtain with any certainty, but I'm guessing that it is the cause of the fuzziness I've noticed.