MobileMe Replacements: Photosharing

 

MobileMe is dead, long live MobileMe!  Or at least as of June 30 2012, Apple is shuttering MobileMe in favor of its iCloud service.  MacWorld, MacLife and other sites have done comprehensive reviews of the new service, as well as what this means for users dependent on aspects of MobileMe that Apple is not migrating to iCloud.

Apple even has their own transition page on the topic listing what services will be available in the new service vs. MobileMe; three are not coming over: iWeb Publishing, Gallery, and iDisk.  For some folks, this will engender panic, but no worries, there are a bevy of services out there to take care of us.

iWeb Publishing

iWeb already offers the ability to publish to an FTP folder, but DropBox has got you covered (see either the story from TUAW or MacWorld on this).  Get ready to use something different as an editor in the next year, though, as Apple isn’t going to be updating iWeb anymore.  Check out http://www.apple.com/support/iweb/ for the latest on iWeb.  Hence, this post will focus on Photosharing only.  The next one will be on iDisk.

Gallery

OMG, how is my family going to see my photos anymore?! OK, hold on.  Apple is bringing PhotoStream into the iCloud service, but this only covers photos that you take with your iPhone, iPad, or import into your Mac’s iPhoto library.  They’re all sync’d between your devices, but this isn’t where Grandma goes to see your vacation from five years ago.  This is the last 1000 photos taken.  For those of us who like sharing photos and video with relatives, we’re looking for something new, hopefully something that won’t complain about copyright laws when we add background music to a HOME MOVIE. (You Tube and Vimeo currently check for this, seriously annoying how the DMCA is infringing on fair use)

So what can we do to get an online photo sharing service comparable to what MobileMe soon will have been?  There are a LOT of options, most with a “freemium” spin to their basic free services.  Let’s compare some basic features that encompass cost (monthly), getting photos uploaded, viewing photos, and security.

Your Own Blog

Do you see me trying to do that anymore? Nope.  Could I? Yeah, with some concentration.  But then when I want to make a photo book or something, I’m just uploading to one of the other services anyway…

FaceBook

We’re all on it aren’t we? It’s free.  Downsides are of course that your grandmother, once friended, may see your 2am drunk status updates (not mine, yours.  Like I do that sort of thing!)  And you can’t download full resolution photos.  And it complains about copyrighted music being added to videos.

PhotoBucket

This site offers a free program, which places some restrictions on the user.  At first glance, one can sign up using one’s facebook login.  Nifty and scary, it didn’t work all the same.  After repeated attempts.  Creating my account from scratch gave me a snapshot of my limitations: 10GB in bandwidth, unlimited storage, smallish resolution (2048×1536).  “Going Pro” at 1 year costs $24.95, with a small break for a two-year plan, and removes a lot of the limitations, though still places a 4000x3000px cap on photo resolution, so no cameras above 14Megapixel I’m guessing (and I am guessing).  Photobucket offers an iPhoto plugin that allows uploading from directly in iPhoto, and offers the ability to automatically reduce file size based on account limitations.

The iPhoto plugin also allows (and the service too) video upload, but none of the restrictions seem to apply to this.  Oh well, here we go anyway! By the way, while that progress bar goes, sharing on PB seems easy…too easy?

Too easy…it’s flash-based.  Yuck.

SmugMug

SM offers a free trial, but begins charging after a couple weeks.  $5/$8/$20/month, it looks like the middle option is the most basic one that allows unlimited HD video uploads.  It also looks like they give quite a break if you pay annually ($40/year vs. $60 for a year of month-by-month for the basic plan, similar discounts for other plans).  Smugmug immediately offered to create an album and have me upload pix, but didn’t say anything about connecting to facebook.  Honestly, you’ll probably want to upload fresh photos anyway, as facebook compresses them on upload.  Uploaded three pics and a video offered me a smart interface with progress bars…that failed on the first try.  Second try got me success! The video thumbnail showed up as a “processing image” icon, ostensibly the service is crunching and compressing it on the server end.  Yes! It automatically creates lower resolution versions (I uploaded a 1280×720 30 second clip from my GoPro) and displays them in mp4 format. And they allow embedding of slideshows OR individual photos and videos:

So far SmugMug is winning me over.

Embedded slideshow of a gallery:

Argh, it just links to the gallery.  Which allows you to play a FLASH-based slideshow.  Let’s see if it’s smart enough to detect when I browse to it on the iPad.  It is!!!  If a video is in a slideshow, it doesn’t play though.

ZangZing

http://www.zangzing.com/ gives one a free 2GB account, then starts charging above and beyond that.  25/50/100GB for $5/$10/$20 a month with discounts on annual plans.  It immediately connected to my facebook account, and imported everything.  Nifty.  Oh, but it doesn’t do video (yet; customer support says it’s on their list of to-dos).  Boo.

SnapFish

Snapfish offers a video upload subscription for $3/month or $25/year (30 day free trial no cc requried).  It connected immediately with my facebook account and offered to import album-by-album (rather than Zangzing’s bucket dump).  It appears their basic account is free, they just pimp out their printing services to make money.  Uploading an album from fb worked fine, and then sharing offers you to email a link, or share with a link, or post to one of the many social networks available.  No video uploads.  No embedded slide shows.  Nope.

Shutterfly

Shutterfly  has a similar upload screen to snapfish (think archaic quicken register), but also lists an iPhoto exporter plugin, which I downloaded.  Nifty!  The plugin wasn’t available right away from iPhoto’s export menu, but quitting and restarting the program let it show up.  I logged in to the preferences area, chose three (3) photos for upload, set it on “fastest” just to see how it worked and let it rip.  The upload even brought in my titles and comments/description.  The interface is still from y2K though, and the slideshow is flash-based (no html5 or ajax here).  Ick.  No embedded slide shows in my blog.  Sharing is limited to emailing a link or facebooking a link.  It does do video, but…I can’t stomach it.

Flickr

Flickr had me a few years ago, until I actually tried to show off the photos I was uploading.  I even had a pro account ($25/year) for a couple years.  There are some limitations to free accounts.  Their user interface hasn’t changed, but it appears their sharing ability has.  Check out this embedded slideshow:

Ugh, it’s flash too. But it looks like Flickr knows if I”m on an iPad, and allows me to view a slideshow w/o flash.  Very cool.

Here’s an embedded video:

 

Kodak Gallery

Kodak Gallery has a recently released iPhone app (sorry, no iPad-specific version as yet), and so I gave it a try.  The webpage offered to let me connect using my facebook account (yay for fewer logins and less privacy?), which worked just fine.  It even offered me some free prints for joining.  Let’s upload some photos!  Oh wait, the IOS app doesn’t have a facebook connect and that’s how I joined.  Hold on…ok, wait the web page is offering to upload from fb or my computer.  Let’s just get an album up there and then deal with the iPhone thing.  OK…no wait, now the album is empty even though I just told it to import a 90-photo album.  OK, second try worked.  Now for the iOS thing…ah ha, it needs me to create a password.  Enter email, check.  OK, it sent me an email.  Now it says the password has been reset and I need to create a new one by clicking on the link…done.  New password created, I go back to the iPhone…and I’m signed in! Wait, it shows that I have 180 photos in my album.  I guess it imported them twice? Refreshing the web page now also shows 180 photos.  OK, I need to delete duplicates.  It has no way of checking for dupes.  I have to check 90 photos to delete.  OK, wait, does this even do videos?  NOOOOOO.  I’ve just wasted 15 minutes.

OK, so thus far, the tried and true Flickr has seemingly revamped its ability to display stuff, and smugmug is seriously slick and configurable.  I know that there have historically been some good flickr plugins for wordpress as well.  So here’s how they stack up.

Photo Sharing Service Comparison
Flickr SmugMug
Cost (month/year) $1.67/$24.95 $5-$8-$20/$40-$60-$150
full res downloads? Yep Yep
embedded sharing? videos, photos (flash) videos, photos (non-playing link)
desktop integration? paid iphoto plugin,
free desktop uploader
web uploader, various ancient third-party uploaders
iOS integration? various viewers, uploaders Camera Awesome, (free uploader), iPad app (free, but doesn’t recognize fb connect)
map data? oh yeah, it does hmm, this too

The services look nearly identical in spec, let’s get the magnifying glass out.

SmugMug: photos are 50MB in size max, shouldn’t be an issue.  Videos are 20 minutes in length max and they specify 1080p (for the “power” and “Pro” levels).  They complain about users infringing on copyright though, so the whole thing may be moot.

Flickr: photos are 20MB in size max, shouldn’t be an issue…yet.  Videos are 90 SECONDS in length or 500MB.  Ack.  Can’t publish using this spec.  And it’s only 720p.  And they appear to be checking for licensed content, which rules out bg music in videos.

I may be just hosting here…in the meantime, I’m downloading some creative commons “music-video-safe” tracks: http://creativecommons.org/legalmusicforvideos

Backup: managing your data

It’s happened to all of us. One day, for some reason, our hard drive dies, or our computer gets stolen, and we’re up a creek. If you have a little foresight, you know that it’s not a matter of if, but when you’ll have a hard drive or computer loss.

Form a plan

Adam Christianson of The MacCast periodically re-emphasizes the importance of backup and does a good job.
First, focus on the critical. Plan on backing up this data in multiple places, and frequently. Second, focus on non-critical data. Cross this plan with worst-case scenarios; what would happen if…theft, natural disaster, simple drive failure should all be featured here.

Backup Destinations

Thumb Drive

You get these if you open a checking account these days. Just get one. Look on some place like www.dealmac.com for an $8 thumb drive. Get a waterproof one if possible.

Local Direct Connect Drive (USB/FireWire/Thunderbolt)

Available in stunningly massive capacities, you can hook this up to your desktop and forget about it, or connect when convenient to your notebook. Make sure to get a “bus-powered” drive if you don’t want to depend on nearby power.

Local Network Drive

Something like an Apple Time Capsule or Promise/LaCie network drive can greatly simplify backup for one or multiple computers, and remove the headache of remembering to plug in your backup drive. As long as your computer(s) is on the network, backup can happen automatically.

Cloud Storage

This oft-used term means some random company on the net storing a few gigabytes of data for free, prices going up from there. Good for critical data at a minimum, but don’t use just one provider!
iCloud: http://www.icloud.com/
Mozy: http://mozy.com/
DropBox: www.dropbox.com
SugarSync: http://www.sugarsync.com/
Backjack: www.backjack.com
SkyDrive: www.skydrive.com
*For those photo-inclined, also consider backing up full-size photos to Picassa, Flickr, SmugMug, Nikon’s Photo Town, Kodak’s online gallery, Photo Bucket, or ANY of the bazillion online photo sharing services.

Off-site

This can mean anything from a hard drive at your neighbor’s house (do you have a neighborhood “backup buddy?”) or drive under the seat of your car, to one in a safety deposit box…in another country! While companies might have a service for dealing with this, individuals or families have to be creative.

Data Types

Critical Data

This might mean different things to different people, but think hard.
• Finances (Quicken files, PDF’s of web purchases, tax records from turbotax, etc)
• passwords
• software license information
• Medical receipts and records
• Legal paperwork
• Photographs, Videos, Music
• bookmarks, email

Replaceable Data

This type of information is like applications that can be reinstalled or re-downloaded, your operating system that you have on disc, that sort of thing.

Executing on your Plan

Now that you’ve identified what needs backing up and where you can do it, let’s begin! This is primarily geared towards Mac users, but I’m sure you windows folks can follow along and find parallel solutions.

Apple provides an excellent method for automatic backup from your Mac – Time Machine. Simply plug in a drive, and away you go. This also works with network-connected drives like Apple’s own Time Capsule. This works fine for your entire system backup, but don’t forget about the thumb drive, cloud and offsite storage. Sizes are available in multiple terabytes!

To get another backup, something less-oft revised, but just as important, get ANOTHER direct-connected drive and using Time Machine, change your backup destination to it. Store this in your car, in a gobag, or in a safety deposit box between tours. You might not get to update it as often, but if all else is literally lost, you’ll have something that is a few months old.

Thumb drives are getting bigger and cheaper, just like hard drives. Your critical data, if not your entire user folder, can sit on this drive. Some drives even look like keys, so you can store this on your keychain. You can use Time Machine to set this up, but it might be just as easy to drag and drop some key folders onto the drive. Thumb Drive Backup, Check!

One left to go. This could be a life-saver. Most services provide a free “lite” version these days comprising 2 – 10GB of storage, more than enough for critical data. Each service can be customized to automatically and regularly back up data, and many services offer an iPhone, Android and/or Blackberry app to allow you to access this data. Just think if you’re evacuated from your country (recent Japan earthquake anyone?) or your house burns down…and you can still get to that critical data on your phone.
Choose one or more services, download and install the client on your computer, choose your data, and off you go.

Maintaining your Plan

You’re all done, right? No. Set yourself a reminder in iCal to update your off-site backup, your thumb drive backups, etc. If you manually plug in your local backup, set your self a reminder for that as well. How often should you do this? It really depends on how much data you can afford to lose.

Lastly, since backups are also prone to failure, do a test restore every once in a while. If this backup is absolutely critical, restore from your time machine backup to a spare hard drive, and/or make sure you can open those quicken files from your drive.

Questions? email eddyer@me.com and good luck!

 

Family Tech Support on Mac: CD to Audiobook file conversion

I love audiobooks. If you have your own audio book collection on cassette or CD, and want to listen to a track in iTunes or on your iOS device without having to start at the beginning (having just ripped it straight into iTunes), it’s possible. If you have a series of cassettes, you might be better off find them in an alternate format…in any case the conversion is a relatively easy, if not somewhat drawn-out process. Why not just rip the CD’s and go? Here’s why not:
-Audiobooks remember their place. What happens with 30 CD’s and umpteen tracks per CD if you’re driving, gardening or otherwise? You lose your place if you don’t have an audiobook file.
-Audiobook files make it easier for you to sync to devices, and scroll through your music library.
-Audiobook files take up gigabytes less space than full-quality ripped CD files. And so…

First, “rip” your CDs. Not in the literal sense of course, but insert the first CD into your Mac (ignoring other OS users here, sorry folks) and if iTunes is not already importing it (converting to MP3/MP4, etc) then do-so. You might even take this opportunity to change iTunes’ behavior to automatically import and spit out the CD when it’s done. Audio-books are usually comprised of 10-30 CDs, so this is a time-saving step.

Second, once you’ve ripped your CD’s, it’s time to make a playlist. Choose “recently added” from the left side of iTunes and find at least the last CD’s worth of audio. If you want to shift-click the whole stack, great! If you want to make a smart playlist based on some distinguishing factor (album, author, title snippet, etc), then that works too. You want to get all the tracks on all the CDs into this playlist.
Analyze this playlist. Is it more than 13 hours of audio? (see the bottom of iTunes). If so, take note and choose a break-point to make two or more parts. Remember this. Also, make sure the tracks are in correct order, or at least near to it. You can reorder or sort based on clicking columns…

The third step is to download and launch “Join Together”, an excellent, free, applescript application from Doug Adams.
Get it here: http://dougscripts.com/itunes/itinfo/jointogether.php

While it’s downloading, go back to iTunes and select the tracks you want to put in your audiobook, or at least the first part. With these tracks selected, move the Join Together application to your Applications folder. Launch it.*
*QuickTime 7 MUST be installed. Leopard users, this is not a problem, but if you have a newer system, Join Together will instruct you on what to do.

Click “get tracks from iTunes” in Join Together. After a few seconds your tracks will pop into the window and you can even drag them to re-order if necessary. If your audio book is destined to be longer than 13 hours, Join Together will give you a warning. (There is a bug in QuickTime that prevents more than 13 hours of continuous playback. In 1995, this wasn’t really a consideration).

With the defaults chosen, go ahead and create your audiobook. Go have lunch or something. You may want to check out the tricks and tips on the Join Together web page, and tweak your settings, but only after your first go around.

Fourth and lastly, you may delete the original unchapterized, full-sized files from iTunes. If you made a playlist (regular, not smart), you should be able to delete them, but make sure not to delete your new book! That file should appear in the “books” section to the left in iTunes.

Good luck! (Questions? eddyer@me.com)