Views from Phanfare CEO and Co-founder Andrew Erlichson

Link Our cool new photo books

We just introduced a photo book product that we are pretty proud of both in terms of the quality of the book itself and the software that is used to configure it. We are selling 8×8 and 12×12 inch books on 100 weight glossy paper, with wrapped photo covers. The binding is side stitched (sewn), not glued as many of the more mainstream print/book players provide.

The Phanfare book builder (on the web) enables you to create a book in under a few minutes or dig deep down and configure just about every aspect.

To celebrate the introduction of our new book product, we are offering 25% off until this sunday. No special code needed, just complete your book before sunday.

Link Why do we take photos and videos

David Pogue of the NY times tackled a subject near and dear to my heart recently: Why do we shoot photos and videos. I come out approximately where he did. That you do it for yourself, and the hope that maybe somebody might be interested in seeing the media in the future.

And it is because that inevitably the media is most valuable to the shooter that it makes sense that if you want to preserve it, you will have to pay. Personal photos and videos have a small audience, and hence advertising can not monetize their storage. To make money on advertising, people need to look at the media. If the media is only interesting to the author and a small group of friends and family, it has little advertising value.

This is something that Shutterfly, Snapfish and Kodak Easyshare Gallery know all too well. They store your media for free, depending on the purchase of prints and gifts to amortize the cost of storage of that media for perpetuity. But since most purchases of prints and gifts come right after the shooting, in the long term, they are left with this huge liability of photos and videos with no clear revenue stream associated with them.

Snapfish and Kodak both impose the rule that you must make at least one purchase per year for them to continue to store your stuff. I know the economics of this industry well enough to tell you that one purchase won’t pay for the average users’s lifetime of photos and videos.

I predict that longterm, the big 3 “print to share” sites will all impose fees on users or delete all their stuff; that is if they don’t go out of business all together. Long term, it is likely that prints and gifts will be a declining business with the electronic display and presentation of media being the area of greater interest. Hence, their primary business will be cannibalized by technology; fairly ironic given that those companies were founded to capitalize on the explosion of digital photography, which replaced analog photography.

Link Outage post-mortem

A module on an network switch connecting our servers to the internet failed at 950pm EST. After several attempts to get the switch to operate normally, the switch module was replaced. Phanfare was available at 10:59pm,

Upon analysis, we could have avoided downtown by further replicating some of our network and firewall infrastructure to provide for multiple network paths through redundancy. We are evaluating the cost effectiveness of adding the required hardware to avoid this type of outage in the future.

To give some perspective, being down one hour per month provides us with 99.86% uptime, not the 99.999 that Ma Bell used to provide, but pretty good. It is believed that Amazon, for example, strives for 99.99% uptime for their systems.

Sorry for the disruption in service!

Link Phanfare Phacts

We had an outage tonight for about an hour. We don’t yet know exactly what went on, but it looks like a network outage at the datacenter level at our Somerset, NJ datacenter.

Technically, Phanfare was not down; the servers were just hard to reach – as in, impossible. ;-) On the bright side, they were fast and responsive during that time period, if you had a laptop and a parka (its pretty cold in the datacenter, which is where your laptop would need to be plugged in to reach the servers).

We should know more soon and will figure out how to avoid this in the future.

Next topic: some of you *may* have noticed two strange phanfare phacts in the last two days:

  • Video conversion is kinda slow. We realized at the beginning of this week that videos converted last week were converted in a way that prevented them from playing on the iPhone. So, we are reconverting all the videos from the archival renditions that we maintain, forever and ever, amen. That is slowing the queue a bit. Should be over in a few days
  • You may be seeing some really old albums on your dashbaord in the section on the left that usually shows recently modified albums (using a recently-modified date that is otherwise invisible to you). Since this is glasnost November, we are also fixing a bunch of small problems with image renditions from old bugs. Problems like, some images had height and with of zero in our database. Again, because we have the original images, we get a second bite at the apple and fix stuff like this.

You can see, i am a little punchy tonight.

Link Phanfare iPhone app now allows you to manage your collection

We just released a new version of the Phanfare iPhone app that brings rudimentary album and image management to the palm of your hand. From the app you can now:

  • Edit the album name, description and sharing settings
  • Add or edit image captions
  • Save a photo to the iPhone camera roll
  • assign a photo to someone in your iPhone address book
  • Email a photo
  • Delete a photo

With the iPhone app you can take your entire photo and video collection on the go, wirelessly synchronized to your iPhone. You can also shoot photos with the iPhone and upload them in the background to your Phanfare site.

The Phanfare iPhone app works on the iPod touch as well as the iPhone. On the touch you can’t shoot photos, since there is no camera, but the viewing experience is just as good.

Once your photos and videos are wirelessly synchronized to your iPhone, you can show them even when there is no network connection present.

Link Phanfare iPhone app now wirelessly synchronizes all your stuff

We are thrilled to announce a new version of the Phanfare iPhone app that improves upon the viewing experience by wirelessly synchronizing and caching your recent albums right on the phone. The viewing experience is buttery smooth, includes videos, and works (for photos) even when the iPhone is in airplane mode.

New photos you take on your iPhone are integrated directly into your collection. With this new version your iPhone is transformed into a managed wireless digital camera. Your whole collection appears on the camera and new content is automatically uploaded to your account in the background.

This new version of the Phanfare iPhone app is available for the iPod Touch as well. While the touch lacks a camera, you can still view your photo and video collection via the app.

For many shooters, the iPhone is only one of the many devices they use in their photographic life. Phanfare brings all the content together, viewable from the web and on the iPhone. We also support TV viewing via our media server software combined with the PS III and Xbox 360. We would love to be in TVs directly (if you manufacturer TVs, contact us – we would be happy to provide API keys).

Link Photography apps on the Apple iPhone

Apple recently lifted the NDA that prevented us from commenting on the iPhone platform. Practically speaking, that prevented us from saying anything negative. We have already said lots of positive things about the iPhone platform.

Overall, the platform lives up to the hype. The touch interface is ground breaking and the UI sets the bar to a new level for mobile devices.

Our goal with the iPhone is to transform it into a full-featured wireless camera. Most of that is just a small matter of programming. But there is one area where we and every other photography app is hobbled, and that is in the camera controller.

If you use the built in camera on the iPhone, it has a shot to shot time of about 3 seconds. This is not groundbreaking compared to a point and shoot camera from Nikon or Canon, but it is tolerable for many situations. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to use the same camera controller that Apple uses for its built in camera. Instead, we are forced to use a different camera controller class (this is all software) that calls the real camera controller behind the scenes. The result is awful.

Compared to the native camera controller, the one we must use has a shot to shot time of 14 seconds. You can background some of that and get it down to 9 seconds, but do that at your own peril because the camera controller also uses a lot of memory and as any iPhone developer knows, if you run out of memory, the operating system kills the app.

The shot to shot latency is not the only issue. We are also forced into an “official” workflow for the digital camera that involves a common interface that says “use photo” and “retake” after each photo. The built in camera app that Apple wrote that uses the native camera controller skips that annoying step. We can’t skip it.

The solution is to let developers use the native camera controller. Sure there is no default shutter effect or shutter sound, but that is fine with us. We can innovate there and have our own unique experience.

The iPhone is the first smartphone with a UI so good that it could possibly replace the point and shoot camera for many situations. But to realize the full potential of the platform we must be allowed to use the native camera controller libraries.

Link Tinkering with market forces is rarely a good idea

In economics 101 you learn that when you interfere with market forces, you disturb the delicate balance of the market. Rent price control creates shortages and diminishes the incentives to renovation apartments; the careful control of the number of medallion taxes and the prices they can charge creates imbalances where there are sometimes a slew of taxis and other times insufficient numbers.

It is not hard to reason that our creation of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, with their implied government guarantees, created an incentive to originate loans that were more risky than what the market would normally tolerate. The result was an increase in asset prices (more money chasing real estate) and an eventual collapse.

In a sense, we got what we designed. Our goal was lofty enough: to enable widespread home ownership. Nobody can argue with the social goal. But the price to pay is exactly what is happening here.

Our solution is to bail out all parties involved. The risk is that we are once again changing the incentive structures to the market-based system. If I know that I when I win I win and when I lose, I win, then I play a different game. We got the current disaster when the investment banks did not know that the federal government would bail them out. Imagine how they would play the game if the knew it was impossible to lose.

Only in cases where the social consequences are clearly undesirable should we impose regulation. Labor working conditions, environmental laws, are areas were regulation is desirable. But even there, it is better to use a market based approach. For example, polluting the environment has a societal cost and to do it, you should pay a high price that reflects your overall consumption of global resources. A market for carbon credits can work.

In addition, I like to pay along the way for my regulation versus all at once. While a minimum wage law certainly has economic consequences, but we can see them along the way. The implied guarantee of a the federal government on trillions of dollars of mortgage assets is exactly the type of ticking time bomb that creates increased volatility and occasional castotrophic collapses.

I agree that we should think very carefully before we use taxpayer money to bail out private companies from their bad decisions.

Link My iPhone 3G finally arrived!

After months of carrying around an iPhone 3G with the 3G turned off because the battery only lasted until 2pm, I eagerly installed the 2.1 iPhone firmware on friday hoping that the tantalizing tidbit in the release notes that battery life might be increased for “some users” would apply to me.

Since then, I have had the 3G network turned on and I am happy to report that the battery life is much better.

At the same time, as I waited nearly 3 hours for my phone to back itself up while tethered to my Thinkpad on friday, I could not help but think that this was a painful transition for a new product with high consumer volume. Updating firmware on my electronic equipment is like breathing to me, but for most people, this would be considered a major hassle.

Nevertheless, the iPhone 3G with the 2.1 firmware is awesome and Phanfare runs great on it. Now if Apple could just give me a universal search feature on the phone…

Link Geotagging comes to Phanfare

We are pleased to announce the introduction of Geotagging support within Phanfare so that you know where photos were taken.

Phanfare records the GPS coordinates of any photo with GPS information in the EXIF header. The process is fully automatic and compatible with cameras that support geotagging of images (such as the iPhone) and with the Eye-Fi Wi-fi enabled SD memory cards that geotag images automatically.

We automatically geotag any photos sent from the iPhone with the Phanfare iPhone app. On the web, you can click on “View Map” when viewing photos to see the location on a Google Map. On the iPhone within Safari click on the little globe in the upper right hand corner of the image.

We plan to do other things with the geodata over time. Here is the fine print on the new geotagging feature:

  • Showing location is enabled for new albums but not existing albums. This is for privacy reasons. You can turn on geotagging support for older albums on an album by album basis.
  • You can turn off showing map location on a per album basis. Click on album options within the web client.
  • You can control whether new albums are created with geo tagging support enabled within settings
  • We have been recording the GPS info from iPhoto images for at least a month so if you have older iPhone photos, they are geotagged. You just need to enable showing the info for the album.
  • You can view the location of a photo on an iPhone as well.
  • You can’t set the coordinates of a photo from within Phanfare. The photo has to have been tagged outside of Phanfare.

We released a few other features yesterday as well:

  • A new table of contents design that handles large accounts much better and pages in albums. This design is turned off by default for existing users so you will need to enable it manually in settings
  • You can now post a comment or send a message to the author when viewing photos and videos on your iPhone
  • We fixed the Phanfare facebook app to work properly with the new facebook. You can even move the Phanfare widget from your Boxes page to your main profile page.

There are also numerous small bug fixes in this release. Let us know how you like it.

© 2007-8 Phanfare, Inc.