Views from Phanfare CEO and Co-founder Andrew Erlichson

Link New Album Layouts

We are pleased to introduce four new album layouts today. The layouts are Collage, Filmstrip, Journal and Proofing. They are available to all customers in addition to the Hybrid view that we had previously. We wrote a summary help article on the new album layouts but I will go over some of the more obscure changes and history of them.

Proofing layout is something we had back in 2006 but subsequently removed. The goal is to provide a view that is useful for the client of a professional photographer to specify which images she likes. The view always shows thumbs in their original aspect ratio.

We improved Proofing layout relative to its functionality in 2006. You can now choose three different sizes of thumbnail and you can choose to have the camera filename displayed under the thumbnail. In addition we now have a watermarking feature that makes this view even more useful.

The Collage layout uses technology we originally used to display a collage of your friends and family’s photos during the Phanfare 2.0 days, when we added a bunch of facebook-like social networking to Phanfare. The social networking is now all gone. If you are looking for social networking, you will find it in the facebook aisle.

The collage is dynamic and looks different each time. That means that if you don’t like, just refresh it. But it also means you can’t really plan exactly how it looks. That’s ok with me. One of the aspects of Phanfare that I have always personally liked is that we do a good job of showing your content in attractive ways with a minimum of effort on the part of the author.

Here is what the collage looks like.

Journal layout is a style that I have liked all the way back to 1993 when Phillip Greenspun used it in his Travels with Samantha series. Yeah, that dates me a bit.

Journal layout really is a blogging style, but you get all the Phanfare goodness along with your travelblog. You get our slideshows, ability to download fullsize originals and merchandise integration.

The new Filmstrip Layout optimizes your viewing experience to see big photos. That is what it is best at.

We changed the Hybrid layout in this release. We redesigned the layout to avoid having a menu on the right. This significantly improves the display size of images on laptops where you are space constrained. Instead the functionality previously in the right menu pops up over the image. Historically, we have optionally offered this type of display in the past but removed the feature at one point. Now it’s the only way of showing your images in Hybrid layout. We think it’s superior.

Hybrid layout now also offers the option of non-square thumbs. Personally, that’s not my taste, but there are those who prefer it.

iPad Support

All our new layouts have been optimized to display on the iPad. This may be quick to write but it was not quick to do. Many of our layouts include a large number of images simultaneously on the web page, sometimes even dynamically brought in. The iPad is memory constrained and we had to go back and really optimize the dynamic presentation layer to be stingy with memory usage.

Slideshow Support on iOS

We created a slideshow experience for the iPad and iPhone that runs without Flash. Again, looks easy (hey, the slideshow works again!) but was actually a rewrite of our existing Flash-based slideshow. The slideshow supports photos, sections and music but does not yet support video.

You can get to the slideshow from an iPhone. On the iPhone we have a mobile-optimized version of your site. That version has a smallish link to the HTML 5 slideshow. The slideshow displays very well on the iPhone 4, which has twice the memory of the shipping iPad.

Android devices show the Flash slideshow (with videos).

New Table of Contents Layout

We previously had two table of contents layouts: Large Thumbs and Hardcover Book (Phanfare Classic). We added new layout called “Full Width Thumbnails” that looks like large thumbs but does not have any featured images.

The release notes also reveal a few other small features.

This is a big release and we hope you like it. Let us know in the comments or join the Phanfare discussion on facebook.

Link Experiences with the TomTom GPS app for the iPhone

I have been traveling for the last week in Hawaii, using the TomTom GPS app on my iPhone 4 instead of the dedicated Garmin Nuvi our family typically uses when traveling. I have the Garmin with me, but I have not taken it out once. The TomTom app is that good.

One fear I had was that the TomTom app would require good cell service to be useful. After all, ATT can be spotty and Hawaii is a challenging cell environment with volcanos that tower thousands of feet above the shore. The TomTom app works even when there is no cell service. The entire US map set is downloaded on the device (over a GB).

But cell service does make the app better. The best and easiest way to set a destination is to search near your current location with Google from within the app. That part will only work when you have cell service. You can still enter an address or find common points of interest with no cell service, but Google makes searching much easier. In fact, searching with Google is so much more functional than entering addresses or POIs using a Garmin that often when operating the Garmin, we obtained addresses from our smart phone anyway. Integration makes sense.

The app works even when the phone is sleeping or when you are using a different app and the TomTom app has been thrown to the background. This is important for battery life, since you can sleep the display. We have a car power cord that we use when navigating though.

Since we lack a dashboard or windshield mount for the iPhone 4, we are more dependent on the voice prompts, which are excellent. To be fair, since I am here with the family, we have a dedicated navigator in the passenger seat, which makes seeing the GPS as the driver less important.

My biggest gripe with the TomTom app is that there is no way that I know of to tell it to stop navigating. Hence, you have to go back to the home screen, double tap the home button to bring up the iPhone task manager, and explicitly kill the app when you are at your destination. Otherwise, the TomTom app keeps giving you directions even when the phone is back in your pocket!

Accuracy of the GPS is adequate enough that the TomTom rarely reroutes due to confusion over which road we are on. These spurious rerouting events might be due to map mistakes or GPS errors. My Garmin Nuvi seems to reroute with the same frequency.

I also have a Verizon Droid X with me and sometimes run the navigation systems side by side to see differences (don’t worry, I am not driving when doing this). The Droid X does require cell service to navigate, at least to get the initial map set over the air. But since the Verizon service is better and CDMA carries further, we did not find a single place within Maui or the Big Island where there was no Verizon service. Even at 13,000 feet on the top of Haleakala, where the iPhone 4 reported “No Service” the Droid X showed service. Hence, on Verizon, the built in over-the-air-assisted navigation may be good enough. And with Android, turn-by-turn navigation is built in, no extra app purchase required (expect Apple to address this within 12 months).

I am very pleased with the overall performance of the iPhone 4 as a GPS device. With the TomTom app I no longer need my Nuvi and with the Geocaching app, I no longer need my Garmin GPS Map 60 CSX (although still use it for longer hikes).

If you are an iPhone user and travel a lot, the TomTom app is a good value (although at $49, it is one of the most expensive apps out there) and will assure that you are never without turn by turn navigation. And you get to lighten your bag by leaving home the dedicated GPS.

Link People Tagging in Phanfare

We released People Tagging in Phanfare last week. You can label faces in your photos by pointing at them, much like in Facebook. You can enter the names directly into Phanfare or depend on your already established social graph on Facebook.

When you transfer photos from Phanfare to Facebook, the face tags are retained. On the Facebook side, the photos are tagged with the Facebook profile of the person in the photo so that Facebook’s very efficient system of notifying a person when he or she appears in a photo works as usual.

So why bother doing people tagging when Facebook already offers it? We view Facebook as being a great way to share photos and videos with your extended network. We don’t think we can do that part better.

We view Phanfare as your organizer in the sky for all your photos and videos. As such, you need good tools to organize your collection and face tagging is a terrific one.

Once your collection is on Phanfare, in full-resolution glory, we want to give you ways to use it however you please on the net. And unlike Facebook, Phanfare stores the original photos and considers you to still be the owner of your own data. Facebook, because it’s ad-supported, takes greater liberties with your data and has a terms of service that grants them a perpetual license to anything you upload.

At Phanfare, you are an owner, much like owning your blog. At Facebook, you are a renter.

Personally, I store all my photos and videos on Phanfare. I share most published albums with close friend and family (the only people who might possibly have an interest that matches my prolific production of media). Every once in a while I push some photos to Facebook to keep my larger network up to date on what’s new in our family’s life. And now when I transfer the photos, they are properly people-tagged!

Link Bulk Import of Photos and Videos is Back in Phanfare App Under iOS 4

We released a new version of the Phanfare app for iOS today. The big news is that you can once again bulk import photos and videos under iOS 4.x. We used to support this and then didn’t for a while because Apple asked us to remove the feature as we were using private frameworks to implement it. With official support for bulk import back under iOS 4.x, we have added back the functionality.

The iPad does not yet run iOS 4.x. That is coming in November according to Apple. We have already tested the features on the iOS 4 beta on an IPad. Works great.

Using a camera connection kit you can import photos and videos to your iPad, bulk import them into Phanfare and then organize right from your iPad. In the background the fullsize original images and videos are synched to the Phanfare service. Imagine being on vacation with nothing but your iPad and being able to dump your SD camera to your iPad and then back up and publish your photos through Phanfare while on the go.

This new iOS release has some other features that we think you will really like:

  • Secure mode. To make any changes to your account, your password is required. I call this Kid Mode. You can hand your phone or iPad to your kid and not worry about them deleting or editing your photos.
  • Multiple songs per slideshow. Add more than one song to a slideshow. This has long been supported within Phanfare but not from the iOS app.
  • Tap & hold to move a photo within an album on the iPad.
  • Better laid out controls in full-screen image detail mode. You can swipe through your photos and hide and unhide photos directly from the full-screen mode.
  • Transfer to flickr and facebook from iPad. This feature has been in the iPhone version for a while.

Let us know what you think of the new version of the app. We think it gets you one step closer to being able to primarily manage your photo and video collection from your mobile device.

Link Nice Little Phanfare Update Out Today

We released a new version of Phanfare today that polishes out some some burrs within Phanfare.

We now properly detect and warn you when you are trying to upload photos or videos that are already uploaded. This is nice little feature. It means that when an upload fails or you need to restart it, you can just select everything again and we will sort out what remains to be uploaded.

Uploading was also made more robust. We detect a variety of errors and automatically retry. Overall, the uploading experience should be better.

Duplicate detection is implemented for the Flash (MyComputer) and Java uploader.

We also enhanced the slideshow music uploader for the Phanfare web organizer. It allows sorting and searching your current collection. Before, you needed to tediously scroll through the whole list to find stuff.

We now support music collections that are not on you main drive. This was a long-standing annoyance.

Aside from those features, we fixed a variety of other nits and bugs.

Link Join the Phanfare Team

We are looking for a super-star technical support representative to work fulltime in our downtown Princeton, NJ office. Full job listing here. Ideal candidate already knows Phanfare in and out ;-)

Link Smartphone Adoption Among Phanfare Customers

In our recent customer survey, 67% of Phanfare customers reported carrying a smartphone, which we defined as a sophisticated cell phone with a required data plan, like a Blackberry or iPhone, that allows you to read email and surf the web from your phone.

That’s at least four times the world-wide average for smartphone adoption and points to Phanfare customers generally being better educated and having higher household incomes than the average consumer.

We asked Phanfare customers to tell us what type of smartphone they carry. The iPhone was more popular than the RIM Blackberry and Android devices combined, with 49% of Phanfare customers reporting they carry an iPhone. This does not even include the number of Phanfare customers who carry non-cellular iOS devices like the iPod Touch, or the iPad, which we excluded in our definition above.

Android and RIM Blackberry were tied at 20%. Palm WebOS (Pre) had a dismal 3%. Symbian barely registered at 1%, probably showing the US bias in our customer base.

Note that Windows Mobile is stuck in other. Windows Mobile deserves its own category but they have so little mindshare in our heads that when we created the survey, we forgot to add them as a named category!

Our intuition has been that the Phanfare demographic was the exact group of people who buy and like Apple’s high end products. This data would seem to confirm that, with the caveat that our bias toward supporting iOS might cause some self-selection in terms of who our customers are.

The iPhone is more than twice as popular as Android or RIM with the iPhone only available through AT&T in the US. Imagine what the statistics would be if there was a Verizon iPhone.

Link September is Double Referral Month at Phanfare

Our standard referral program offers a 20% discount off the first year to your friends when they signup for Phanfare and the same amount to you in the form of credit. The Phanfare credit can be used on merchandise or for subscription renewals.

All this month, we are doubling that offer to 40%. Hence, if you refer a friend to Phanfare Premium, the friend gets a discount of $39.60 off their first year subscription of $99 and you get $39.60 in Phanfare credit.

If you refer a friend to Phanfare Pro, the friend gets $79.60 off their first year subscription of $199 and you get $79.60 in Phanfare credit.

There is no limit to how much credit you can earn.

The fine print: Your friend must sign-up for our free trial in September 2010. To give you the credit, your friend must enter your email or your special referral code at signup or payment.

If you are a Phanfare customer, you special referral code is shown here.

Link Introducing Fast Search

Today we introduced fast search of individual Phanfare accounts. We have long had search, but it has been fairly slow, especially within large accounts.

With our new search, you can quickly get a filtered list of albums, sections, and images that contain search terms. It’s full text search. We search all the Phanfare metadata including image captions, image filenames, album descriptions, and section descriptions. As we add metadata, we will include it.

The new search functionality is right at the top of your web organizer. It looks like this:

The Phanfare PC client and the Phanfare iPhone client also benefit from the fast search.

Fast search involves background periodic indexing of your account. Hence, it takes a little while before content you add in any given session will appear in search. The exception to that rule is the PC client, which does a local search backed up by a serviced-based search.

Phanfare web abums also benefit from fast search. The search box is in the top right hand corner under the little magnifying glass of each Phanfare site. We never emphasized it previously because frankly it was too slow to be useful on large accounts. No longer. Now it’s very speedy.

Also, it’s important to mention that our search does not return results across Phanfare accounts. With Phanfare, you have a private collection and a personal website. Each Phanfare site has its own search, and each Phanfare library has its own search.

Link Google Needs Apple to Innovate in TV

Apparently Google is having trouble getting TV content providers and distributors on board with Google TV. No surprise there. Traditional cable companies and other players have little incentive to give up control to Google, whom they view more as a competitor than a partner.

Android was accepted by incumbents precisely because the carriers and handset manufacturers were afraid of Apple’s momentum. Motorola, Samsung, and LG needed to figure out how they were going to respond to the iPhone. Google offered their Android OS for free and offered ad-split revenue to carriers and the deal was done. But it was a deal with the devil because the Android handset manufacturers as a group are not making much money. Apple took their profits.

What Google needs right now is for Apple (or someone else) to innovate in TV. Then, maybe, the incumbents will be receptive to Google’s advances. Apple is working on such innovation with their rumored new iTV box, which will provide an application platform that will likely run existing iOS apps. Nevertheless, as Tim Cook has said, Apple believes all these efforts might be marginal until the technology is integrated into the TV set itself, something he claims Apple does not want to do (until the day they do it).

Traditional disruption, described in the Innovator’s Dilemma, is about a cheaper technology sneaking up on incumbent players who are focused on serving their best customers – customers who find the performance of the cheaper new technology to be unacceptable. As time progresses, the new technology matures to the point where it performs acceptably for the mass market, and the market moves to the disrupter.

TV is ripe to be disrupted. It’s expensive for consumers. But you have to remember that you can’t make TV better. According to Nielsen, Americans already watch more than 35 hours per week of it. Watching HD TV over FIOS with a Tivo on a 52 inch Samsung LCD TV is near nirvana. You can only make TV cheaper.

It’s not likely that Apple will disrupt TV by making it cheaper. As the premium provider, they nearly always focus on making things better, not cheaper. Apple did not disrupt cell phones in the traditional sense by making them cheaper. What they did is introduce such a compelling innovation from a user experience standpoint that the least price sensitive, most profitable part of the market moved to the new technology. And then Google’s Android offered a low-cost good-enough alternative to feature phones that offered similar benefits. That’s par for the course in the technology world. What is unique about the iPhone story is just how fast the market is transitioning to smart phones and how rapidly all the profits moved to the early leader in that technology.

Long story short, Google is not going to have much luck with Google TV unless they can offer TV for less for consumers. I think Boxee has the better approach there. That’s traditional disruption. Boxee is a mediocre experience at best today compared to FIOS attached to a Tivo with an HDTV, but it’s free.

Cablevision’s best customers are not asking for low-def TV with fewer channels, constantly shifting line-ups and mediocre picture quality. And even if Cablevision sees the Boxee threat, they don’t want to give up their rich subscription revenue business to answer it. But each year Boxee will get better. And if Joe sixpack walks into a Best Buy and is told that the Boxee integrated Vizio TV in the corner does not require a cable subscription and will save him $1200/year, he will likely take the offer even if that TV offers a slightly worse experience. And that will be the end of the TV franchise as we know it.

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