Food, Media Mind, Photography, Product Thoughts

I’m keeping my Instagram account: here’s why.


If you opened a web browser and saw the news today, you’d see outrage at the proposed changes to the Instagram Terms of Service, a response from the Instagram team, many people on many social networks vowing to move, archive, or otherwise change their photos in response.

I’m not sure what your assumption was all along when you started using this free service. My assumption was that when I posted the information to Instagram’s servers that I was trading utility (hey, isn’t it fun to post cool pictures that can be seen and shared by other people) for control (because I pay nothing for this service, I expect that it could go away at any moment.) The basic idea is that “If You’re Not Paying For It, You Become The Product” (you can read the original discussion here.)

“Move to Flickr!” some say – cool, I’m there too, and I’ve paid for a subscription to Flickr since 2006 because I understand that if I pay for a service, I have better contractual rights and have the opportunity to have my voice heard. I also know that Flickr is not the only place that I can post my photographs (some of which are whimsically styled food pictures) and that the vast distribution universe of Instagram gives me a much better way to share content with a large potential user base than does the combination of marketing my own Flickr site. (Let’s shelve for a moment the question of whether Flickr should’ve or could’ve created Instagram, because it’s now a laggard or fast follower, depending upon which view you take.)

I’m keeping my Instagram account because I like the combination of fast image cropping, imaginative filtering, and the dopamine “ping” of getting a photo liked. I get some of those things from Flickr, and I’ll definitely be using their new iOS app more (note to Instagram: the focus and zoom on the Flickr camera app is outstanding). Ultimately, I’ll continue to use a mix of free and paid services because it’s always fun to try new stuff. Some of the paid services (and some of the free ones, too) will fall by the way side, and nothing has come along yet that’s 10x better than Instagram. So, find me on Flickr and on Instagram, and I hope to share great images in both places.

Innovation, Photography

Go to the River

Quick – stop what you’re doing and go to the river. (Yes, you might need to make plans, but make sure they’re not too complicated. You should just go.)

Yep, you’re busy – you probably need a pause, and if you don’t have a river nearby then you should find the equivalent quiet place away from your electronic devices to take a pause. (Really, it’ll be fine. If a recovering electronic device addict like me can put down the phone for a few hours or a whole day so can you.)

Once you do that, cannonball into a high-bank deep river and just enjoy. (Especially the feeling of sand squishing between your toes.)

Ok, you can go back now. But wait a few minutes and think about the space that was created and the feeling and calm that existed while you weren’t finding out what else was going on in the world.

Generous, Photography, Productivity

It doesn’t take much to give back

A newly painted foursquare court at Bryant Elementary in San Francisco

Who wouldn’t like to have fun in a playground game where the playground looks like this?

This week I had the opportunity to participate in a community event courtesy of the folks at the foundation and my team at In the span of half a day (and with the help of the folks at Playworks, we transformed a dull-looking outdoor playground into a vibrant place where kids can have fun.

Yep, you say – kids can have fun anywhere – and that’s true. Yet there’s something different about an environment where school kids see grownups kneeling on the blacktop, taking the time to make their playground cool, and having fun doing it. For us, this was just a day in the sun having a good time where we learned more about our teammates and did some painting.

And it was a bit more too, because when the staff of the school walked by and said “Thank you – this looks great” and the kids ran by, stopped, and said “Thank you!” we realized we were doing something more than just painting. We were giving a little bit of ourselves to this school, and the people who work and go to school there every day noticed and appreciated our effort.

So thank you to the team, the foundation, and to the facilitators. I feel grateful for being able to make this playground a bit more colorful. It’s a great reminder to all of us to spend more of our time engaging offline with real people in person as well as sharing our thoughts, photos, and ideas online.

Innovation, Marketing Strategy, Media Mind, Photography, Productivity, Social Networking

Pinterest is brilliant because it solves the tagging problem and makes it mainstream


Source: via Greg on Pinterest

For a couple of weeks now I’ve been hearing about Pinterest. The references have run the gamut from fawning tech portrayals of the service (“Fastest to 10 million users in history”) to shares from Facebook friends about how they start Pinning and just can’t stop until hours later. Clearly, Pinterest has become an important site to many people, but why? And what does it mean for the larger trend of how we characterize, organized, and build information?

Pinterest is brilliant because it turns a geeky process – arranging like things by using “tags”, “word clouds”, “memes” and word names – into a visual process that anyone can do easily. Pinterest allows you to visually tag well, anything. This is cool both because many people (and mostly, so far, women) are clearly interested in sharing chocolate hacks, cute DIY pillows, and new fashion looks, and not as interested as categorizing for a system that these might be posts about food recipes, home crafts, and fashion trends. All of these represent a gold mine for retailers and interest graph mappers of all kinds.

Pinterest also is very cool because it’s taken a social process (I have an interest and want to share it) and combined with social distribution (it’s easy to share through Facebook, Twitter, and of course, through Pinterest) and made it very very very easy to use. This means that UX designers in particular should consider using a visual matching process in favor of a “pick this item from a list” display in the future to get better user adoption.

Retailers (especially those who sell products that you can see and touch) should be especially excited about Pinterest because it gives them a way to access a community starved for mix-and-match looks. In the same way that companies and brands have started to build communities on Instagram with photos of their ideas and products, I think it’s likely that “community ambassadors” and brand champions will emerge as design superstars from the Pinterest community (if it hasn’t happened already.) Does this mean that Pinterest replaces existing brand outlets on Twitter, Facebook, etc? I don’t think so – I think it’s just another way for the customer to own and shape the brand experience.

And this leads me to the inevitable “what’s next” question: will people get tired of Pinterest? (who knows – I don’t think it’s super-important at the moment.) The real “a-ha” here is that people like to categorize information visually. Call it “micro-scrapbooking,” “pinning”, or just arranging the things you like together – the people at Pinterest have come up with a dynamite model for gathering, organizing, and sharing like visual information. It will be particularly interesting to see if Pinboards emerge as a model for organizing metaconcepts like “Customer Service” or “Branding” – and turn into de facto micro-blogs or distribution networks for other content -or whether they stay individually focused on the interests of the Pinners.

Career, Generous, Innovation, Photography

The Power of a Pause

At first glance, it seems like any other beach scene you’ve ever noticed. And then – right when you’re not expecting it – there is a strange and wonderful pattern in the water right in front of you. You only see it when you’ve unfocused a bit, and it’s only there for a minute – and then it’s gone.

What do you get when you breathe?

Alex Bard, one of the founders of Assistly, talks about the importance of taking time off from work as key to his success at finding the parts of his business that provide the most value, and of his success in maintaining his family. Whether your definition of success is building a successful company or simply finding marvelous, unexpected images like the one above, what are you doing to pause, wait, and see what happens?

It’s Ok, Work Will Be There When You Return

It’s easy to think that the world will fall down if you’re not there to do your job. And it’s true that if that happens when people are expecting you to excel, you might not succeed. But you can’t succeed without also taking more than a few moments (on a regular basis) to unplug, look around you, and see what you’ve got.

This photo is a good metaphor for that ability that Alex describes to identify and capture great moments – the current was the result of a number of forces coming together (only for a moment) and I happened to be lucky enough to be there at that moment and skilled and practiced enough to take a shot that turned out like I wanted it to resolve. There’s one in a row.



Photography, Product Thoughts, Social Networking

Does sharing pictures make you a better photographer?

Regular portraits become windows on a world

Chris Brogan asked the question “Does Instagram Make You a Better Photographer?” today which got me thinking about the underlying question of practice. No, I don’t believe Instagram makes you a better photographer. Yes, I do believe that the practice of making and sharing photographs does make you a better photographer. And the internet makes it easier than ever.

Sharing pictures makes you a better photographer because the act of sharing forces you to think about composition, about the “sharability” of the image or idea, and about how you’re going to share it.

Forced Composition is Good.

The neat thing about Instagram and other photo applications on smartphones in particular is that they remove many of the choices that you need to make if you were talking photographs in a manual setting. (Professional and “pro-sumer” photographer friends – bear with me for a moment – I know you like to twiddle with the settings and dials.) For the 80% (or more) of photographs most people will typically take without ever thinking about the light, the aperture, or the shutter speed, having a compositional tool like a square or a filter makes it so that the image itself is the focus.

And because you’re not looking through the lens itself, there is an interesting warping of the scene that happens with the simultaneous changing and cropping of the scene. Add in a filter or an image process and you can get an extraordinary, surprising shot from an everyday walk.

Hidden Bog

Should I share it, or not?

We all take pictures that are purely for ourselves or for our families. Yet the immediate “shareability” of social photo-sharing services makes it such that once we share it, we’re actually publishing these photos to the world at large (or at least to the world at large that cares to view our photos.) Thinking about to whom and how you might share an image helps you to think about whether the image is good, appropriate, or “shareable” in general. In effect, it’s like preparing work for a critique or a mini-show every time you publish or click the “Share to Facebook” or “Share to Instagram” button.

Where should I publish it?

There are a myriad of services to which you can publish your photographs – some intended to be public, some intended to be private, and some a weird hybrid. The truth is that once your photograph is out there in the public eye it’s extremely difficult to control where it goes, who sees it, and when it will disappear. So treat this as a freeing event: decide what you’d like to share with the world, put it out there, and find more people who like and appreciate your photos. When you get great feedback from your photos, you’ll know you’re sharing them in a place that works for you.




Looking for perspective? Visit a big volcano

It's bigger than you think

Seriously, go look at a Volcano. Ok, some people might not have the privilege (or the unfortunate nearness) of living near a mountain like Mt. St. Helens, but the next time you are nearby, you should go. But why?

Geologic Time is Long

In the era of “internet time”, where everything changes in nanosecords and it’s tough to remember what you ate for breakfast much less what happened yesterday, visiting a volcano (a still active volcano) like Mt. St. Helens reminds you that our lifespans are very very short in the face of geologic time. The last major eruption of this volcano happened around 1500. The 1980 eruption (which some of us remember) was a blip. Looking at the geologic record provides us with some interesting clues and encourages us to think in much different ways. If you’re interested in thinking about time for the long haul, you might want to check out the 10,000 year clock project.

Nature Doesn’t Care What You Want

Although we clearly influence and change the scape of the planet, the sheer scope, scale, and speed of the changes that can happen in the face of an eruption like the one at Mt. St. Helens dwarf any changes that you or I might try to make on the planet’s course. That doesn’t mean we should give up on our individual efforts – but what it does mean is that the planet can be fickle. In the 1980 eruption, enough material was displaced to fill almost three quarters of a cubic mile. That’s a lot of stuff. See more details about the 1980 eruption here.

It’s Awesome

The sheer scale of the mountain is amazing. You can see Mt. St. Helens for miles on the approach to the Johnson Ridge Observatory (accessed from WA state 504), and yet it still is an incredible site to see. The photo above was taken a Johnson Ridge, about 5 and a half miles away from the Volcano and at an elevation of about 4200 feet (the mountain is around 8,000 feet in height.) Looking at Mt. St. Helens from that distance, you feel as if you’re facing it square on, yet can see the vast influence the mountain had on the surrounding valley when it erupted 31 short years ago.

Of course, Mt. St. Helens isn’t the only interesting natural wonder out there. But it’s a pretty cool one, and I’m amazed to think that I hadn’t been there and had driven past the general area tens or hundreds of times before I decided to go. And I’m glad I did.