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Facebook Buys Instagram: Should Users “Like” This Status Update?

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instagram facebook Today, Facebook overlord Mark Zuckerberg announced the company has acquired the user-friendly smartphone picture app Instagram, which made news last week when it (finally) came to Android. The purchase price? A whopping ONE BILLION DOLLARS. But all things considered, that might be a bargain for Facebook, depending on user reaction.

And I think users are still awe-struck by the news, which was kept pretty quiet until today’s announcement. But the question on their minds, is this: Should I like this change? Or should I run for my life?

As of writing this post, Zuckerberg’s status has been liked by 86,391 people, and it’s only been about an hour. Of course, there’s no dislike button on Facebook, which might tell another tale if it were available. But that made people liking a status so quickly means that the company does have some support – and I’m an optimist. Personally, there are several things about Facebook and their policies that I do not like, but I think this acquisition is going to be awesome for both companies.

Instagram and the Little Engine that Could

You all know the story about the little engine that could, right? Basically, it’s the kid’s tale of a engine who is faced with going up a huge mountain carrying a heavy load. He repeats, “I think I can, I think I can” over and over to stay motivated and make it to the peak, even when others find it an impossibly daunting task for such a small train. Instagram has been that little engine.

The company has…or, well, had…only 13 employees, and less funding from investors than you’d think, given their popularity. I’m assuming that one of the reasons it did take so long for them to come to Android was lack of resources. There’s such cool potential with Instagram, but being a small start-up isn’t easy.

Now, they’ve got no excuse. If I was CEO Kevin Systrom, I would be tempted to fill my office with money and roll around in it. More money allows you to give customers a better user experience, expand the project to be available to more people, get creative with your offerings, and more. Having an investor like Facebook makes it possible for Instagram to get even better – and that’s a good thing for users.

The Dark Shadow Cast by Facebook

Of course, the downside is that the person paying the bills pretty much gets to call the shots. Facebook has already said that they plan to keep the company as it’s own brand, rather than absorbing it into Facebook. I imagine that it will be similar to Google and YouTube – the companies will heavily work together, but Instagram isn’t going to just disappear before our eyes.

At least, that’s my hope. Again, I’m an optimist.

But I think Facebook is maturing as a company, and they realize that changing Instagram to be something exclusively for Facebook users is not a good direction for the company. In his announcement, Zuckerberg wrote:

We think the fact that Instagram is connected to other services beyond Facebook is an important part of the experience. We plan on keeping features like the ability to post to other social networks, the ability to not share your Instagrams on Facebook if you want, and the ability to have followers and follow people separately from your friends on Facebook.

In other words, Facebook has a cool new kickball, but they are going to share it on the playground with all the other kids so everyone can play kickball together. They just get to be pitcher.

Still, I think it’s something we need to keep an eye on as users. My hope is that Facebook will use this acquisition to make their own photo-sharing offerings stronger for Facebook users, but without mucking it up for current Instagram users who don’t want to be forced to use Facebook or change the way they use Instagram drastically. That might not be what happens in reality.

I do think, though, that we need to give Facebook and Instagram a chance.

And a final thought: What say you, Google+? For a network that has been competing with Facebook, this is a pretty big blow. I bet smaller networks like Pinterest and even Twitter have just gotten juicier-looking to Google!

Your turn to weigh in! What do you think of the Facebook-Instagram deal?

New Lightbox App Feature – Your Photo Journal

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Lightbox app 01

The social photo app for Android, Lightbox, unveiled a new app today with a new feature – The Photo Journal – which allows others to follow your updates, as well as like, comment and share. The fantastic thing about this new photo journal is it requires no extra work on your part. Just update the app and you’re good to go.

The previous URL Lightbox users were given has now been turned into their very own photo blog, where the photos are automatically organized. Here’s a description of The Photo Journal from the Lightbox app page:

YOUR PHOTO JOURNAL:Lightbox is a place to capture, enhance, and share your moments. Photos you post are automatically organized into a timeline of postcards on Lightbox.com. Keep them private or selectively share them with friends, family, or the entire Lightbox community.

MANAGE YOUR PHOTOS ONLINE:
All the photos you take with the Lightbox app are automatically uploaded to Lightbox.com for safe storage. So if you lose your phone, you won’t lose your memories.

As you can see in the screenshots of the app above, each user is given a follow button. When you hover over their photo, you’re given the opportunity to “like” that particular photo. And just like the blogs we are all familiar with, you can comment, Tweet, Facebook or add to Google+ each individual photo page.

The Lightbox app update was already added to the Android market this morning.

So Android users, what do you think of the new photo journal feature to Lightbox?

Using Flickr Groups For Engagement & Content

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Last October at BlogWorld & New Media Expo, Kris Krüg and I spoke about using photography to improve your blog. One of the suggestions I gave was to offer a way for your readers to submit photos that might become part of your blog’s community. While this won’t make sense for everyone, for some types of blogs it’s a natural fit. If your blog has a geographical focus, readers could offer photos of the city, neighborhood, or region that you cover. Perhaps you blog about a product or brand; I’m sure it would be great to see how folks would capture that in pictures.

The idea is great, but setting up and managing the infrastructure for reader-contributed photos could be a lot of work. Here’s an easy solution: use a Flickr group.

Netting under a trapeze at Emerald City Trapeze

The primary feature of a Flickr group is the photo gallery. You can configure it such that members can post photos and optionally set restrictions on the number of photos that a member may post in a given period of time. Flickr groups may optionally have a discussion board, or you might choose to direct your community to participate in discussions elsewhere if you’d rather have those conversations in your blog’s comments or forum. Anyone may join Flickr for free and you can configure your Flickr group to allow open membership or be moderated.

Your reader’s photos can provide a good source of material for your blog as long as you’re up front about using them. When I ran the Flickr group for OurPDX (a now-defunct group blog focused on the Portland area), we indicated to members that by posting photos posted to the group, they were granting OurPDX a license to use that photo on our website. One of the options in a Flickr group is to present a set of “rules” to a user upon joining; we included this in the rules as well as in the description of the Flickr group.

Once you have a set of photos from readers, use those as a point of engagement. You might pull photos from the Flickr group into your blog’s sidebar, or perhaps you’ll want to occasionally pull one of the photos in as the focus of an article on your site. Behind the scenes, you might find someone with some photo talent that might become a great resource for other contributions to the site.

To create a Flickr group, head over to the Flickr groups page and click the “Create your own group” link in the upper right. It doesn’t take long to set up a group, seed it with a few photos, and then announce it to your audience!

The Best Place to Host Photos For Your Blog

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You’ve probably heard that including images in your blog posts is a great way to keep readers interested as well as spice up the visual appeal of your site. A few months ago I provided tips on using Creative Commons images on your site, but another option that’s even better is to use your own photos.

If you have a photo that’s directly related to your topic that’s ideal, but abstract photos often add a bit of flair to an article without having a topical restriction. If you’re going to use your own photos, one question comes to mind: where should you host the photos you’re using on your blog? Let’s take a look at a couple options.

Host Photos on Your Site

The canopy over the passenger loading area at PDXBlog platforms such as WordPress (both the .com and .org variety), Blogger, and SquareSpace all allow for bloggers to upload and embed images than end up stored on the blog’s server. The advantage to this option is that you control the environment and your photos live where your blog lives. With a platform like WordPress, using the built-in media gallery features means that many themes have automatic hooks for things like post thumbnails. I see three downsides in self-hosting your photos. The first is that if you want to use those photos elsewhere, it’s not super-easy to embed a link to the file. Blog software (naturally) features photo galleries for use on the site itself. A second disadvantage is that the photo upload and manipulation features with WordPress and other blog software are pretty limited, especially if you want to prepare several images at once. The third disadvantage is that photos embedded into your blog from your own host can’t easily be shared on their own by your readers. Perhaps this is an advantage if you don’t want this happening, but if someone finds a photo great, I’d like to make it as easy as possible for them to tweet it out or share it with their Facebook friends.

Host Photos via a Photo Hosting Service (Flickr, SmugMug, etc)

The other option is to store your images on a service optimized for photo hosting and then embed those images into your blog posts. Flickr is the big player here although recent rockiness at Yahoo and questions about the future of the service have some folks looking elsewhere. I’m a big fan and happy customer of SmugMug. Either one of these sites will allow you to create galleries of photos and allow viewers to browse those photos by gallery, keyword, or other metadata. Flickr and SmugMug both offer options to grab embeddable HTML code for a particular image that you can drop into your favorite blog editor – it’ll show the photo on your blog and allow a viewer to click through to see the image larger on the photo hosting site. The advantages are that the photo hosting sites generally present your photo in a visually pleasing way, allow it to be used elsewhere easily, and can facilitiate viewer photo sharing. On the downside, the photo now lives separately from your blog, which means there are more moving pieces to your blog’s infrastructure when it comes to troubleshooting or portability.

Which is Right for You?

I’m a photographer so I tend to lean towards hosting my photos on photo hosting sites mainly so that I can present them as a collection of work. I then embed them into blog posts as needed. That said, if you’re not looking to present your photos on their own and you don’t mind the limitations noted above with self-hosting, it makes sense to utilize the photo abilities of your blog platform to embed an image or two per post. If you move your site to a new web host or want to take advantage of tightly-integrated theme options, the self-hosted photos will be easiest.

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