Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

90 Minutes at iPilot Munich

Sunday, April 10th, 2016

 

Mark Zanzig at iPilot Munich

Photo: Alexandra Sabova/iPilot Germany

If you have followed the development of my site and blog you may have noticed that not only I’m a travel afficinado but also have a thing for flying: Floatplanes in Tofino (Canada) and San Francisco (USA), Cessna’s in Namibia and Botswana. At home I used to “play” with Microsoft’s Flight Simulator for more than two decades. What’s more, my father used to be a pilot – but that’s another story.

So Petra decided to give me a very cool gift for my last birthday (I won’t disclose my age here, as it’s far too embarrassing): a 90 minute flight lession on a Boeing 747 at the Munich office of iPilot. While I have some experience with FSX, I never really looked at the “big birds” of the software as these are too difficult to handle (for me) on my PC, and as a consequence I have been flying mostly Cessnas and Beavers successfully at home.

Needless to say, I went with mixed emotions to their office on a Saturday evening in April. For the lack of time (and eagerness) I did not really prepare for the session, and I felt really bad about this. I wondered: Would they really want to see a guy who has almost no clue how to handle a big plane? But after like two minutes that fear was gone entirely.

The cockpit of the simulator felt very authentic, from seats and instruments to controls, switches and lights. Alexandra, my flight instructor, explained the basics to me, and within a few minutes we were taking off from Munich airport, and I was beginning to understand how the plane reacts. Then we moved on to Hong Kong, where Alexandra and I took the short flight from the new Hong Kong International to the former one in the city center (which had been closed about seven years ago). This one is really interesting as you have all essential elements of a flight in a single session: Take-off, short flight, approach, landing. This went really well, and I could feel the vast difference between a PC simulator and a professional simulator. We did this a couple of times, and it worked better every time. (Alexandra might disagree with me on this one, hehe.)

Next were two difficult approaches – the island of Madeira, and Sint Maarten in the Caribbean. Finally we did a couple of scenic flights: Vancouver, Dubai, and Las Vegas at night.

Well, what can I say? The experience has been truly fantastic, five stars plus, and I will certainly book another session later this year. A big “Thank You!” to Alexandra and the iPilot team for an inspiring, exciting, and entertaining flight lesson!

Flickr – Still a wreck one month after relaunch

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Yahoo’s new management has done a fantastic job ruining the experience of millions of users of their formerly popular photo service called Flickr. Looking at the feedback, the site relaunch of 20/05/2013 was not welcome by the majority of members posting there. Main points of critique were the “endless scrolling” that loads new images as soon as a viewer approaches the end of the screen, the “justified view” that turns any series of photos into a wall of photos with almost zero whitespace, and the general lack of customization options for individual photographs and photo streams. Add to this the general slowness when loading photos (caused by the larger previews and the endless scrolling), and one could understand why many users were up in arms against the changes.

The consequence: 29,743 posts in the first official feedback thread, which was closed after about a week, and 11,270 posts in the second official feedback thread which has been closed last night, four weeks after the relaunch. So the management has decided that they had enough of “feedback”. No wonder, as the majority of those  41,000+ posts was in the “don’t like” camp, while the usual suspects (staff, and a tiny group of eloquent “volunteers”) were defending the changes to the last bit. They have been claiming that the critics were just a vocal minority not fond of changes, and that the new “awesome” site has been attracting much more visitors anyway, using the service happily, and silently.

Well, this seems to be not true.

Let’s take a closer look at the stats reported by Internet web analytics giant Alexa:

alexa-flickr-downturn2
Estimated percentage of global internet users who visit flickr.com, December 2012-June 2013, Source: alexa.com

Yes, there is a noticable spike following the relaunch of the site 20/05, probably caused by the media reporting around the new interface and people trying the new service. But the spike was just that – a spike, a short Blitz, the 5 days of Internet fame if you want. Traffic fell to levels even below previous levels, probably caused by senior members (like me) leaving the site, and deleting their photo streams on their way out. And thousands of other puzzled people who just don’t know how to actually use the site. Also, considering that Flickr had a reach of about 2.5% two years ago, it’s a loong way back to former success. In my opinion, the relaunch can only be called an utter failure. Or, to use Flickr language: Buggr!

Conclusion – Flickr is still a wreck after the 20/05 relaunch and back on the old path. The relaunch did not change the downward trend which is likely to accelerate over the coming months. The management has made unmistakenly clear that the “old” Flickr won’t come back. It’s history. Yahoo has decided to make Flickr a dump for smartphone kiddies, and they failed at that so far.

Flickr – R.I.P.

Flickr relaunches site, scares pro photogs away

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Flickr, the photographer community acquired years ago by Yahoo, relaunched their web site this week.

There were good reasons for this relaunch: Over time, the site had lost a lot of its appeal. It looked outdated, and it did not attract as many people as it used to. Take a look at these Alexa stats for the past two years:

Alexa Stats For Flickr.com Daily ReachEstimated percentage of global internet users who visit flickr.com,
May 2011-May 2013. Source: Alexa.com

According to this chart, their reach on the Internet decreased from about 2.5% of the users in spring 2011 to about 1% at the time of writing, i.e. they lost about 60% of their daily users. During that period, their “Alexa Traffic Rank” – which indicates importance on the web – dropped from position # 32 to # 86. Interestingly, pageviews per user (and average time spent on the site) remained flat, so that they probably just lost users faster than they could sign up new users.

These figures could be due to the old-fashioned design, a change in user demographics or user behavior (especially considering the rise of mobile devices), or new sites that are more attractive to users (e.g., Facebook), or a combination of all of this. Losing such a big chunk of the audience (and traffic) must have been unacceptable for Yahoo top management. Looking at these stats, it is clear that Yahoo had a problem with Flickr. If they wanted to stay relevant, they had to do something about this, and quick. So they decided for a redesign.

You see, site relaunches are not bad per se. Done right, they add features previously unavailable, that were demanded by their active user base. A relaunch may re-engage inactive users, increasing usage and revenue. In this case, however, the relaunch was a major failure, at least when you look through the 25,000+ comments that have been posted by Flickr users in the official help forum (and to date without sufficient reply from Flickr). Most of the comments are negative and ask for the changes to be taken back partly, or completely; for example, it has been widely criticized that the new design does not take into consideration users with slow connections who use the service via dial-up or slow ADSL in the countryside. Icons and links were renamed, functionality removed, and the pricing plans were changed as well. Apparently, the changes have been made with mobile users in mind, reflecting the fact that the three most active “cameras” on Flickr are Apple iPhones today.

In this situation it does not help that Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, apparently thinks very little of professional photographers. During a Yahoo event she said:

[...] today, with cameras as pervasive as they are, there is no such thing really as professional photographers, when there’s everything is professional photographers.

(Well, dear Mrs. Mayer, next time when you open a newspaper, or a magazine – even if only on an iPad – please do not look at the photos, as most of them have been taken by professional photographers. Also, just tell your friends who get married that you could take the pictures with your iPhone, for free.)

So, I have been thinking about this for a while. I came to the conclusion that Flickr – or rather: the company that steered Flickr over the cliff, i.e. Yahoo – is not worth it any longer.

How can I possibly place professional photos on a site that is managed so unprofessionally? On a site that belongs to a company whose CEO openly states that they do not see the value of professionalism in their user base. Not in the photos they want users to post, not in the way they plan a site relaunch, and not in the way dealing with critics? This can only mean that they don’t want me and my work on their site, or my colleagues and their work.

Which is fine for me. I’m not angry about this. I’m not getting very emotional over this. This is the decision of the site owners, not mine. They can do whatever they want with their site. Sure, it leaves a bad taste how they treat paying customers, but heck – we’re not talking about a lot of money, and they seem to offer a refund policy for “pro users” who cancel their account.

An interesting question is whether Yahoo will take back the changes. At least, many users in the official help forum hope for this. I think Yahoo won’t revert back, regardless of the complaints, and not just because they’ve said so already. That’s why they do not react in the forums; there is no point in discussing this. Three reasons: First, they would soon be facing the problem of the original design again (loss of users and relevance). Second, they certainly have planned for a certain amount of users cancelling their memberships in reaction to the changes. Unless the loss of users becomes very very obvious, everything goes according to plan. Third, they would have to admit that they made a fundamental mistake. As with politicans, this is rarely seen in companies. They simply do not want to be the laughing stock of the internet. (In many ways, they are already, but that’s a different story.)

Yahoo! should not be astonished that professionals like me pull their photos, creating space for all the other “photos” from the people they want to address – those who snap away happily with their smartphones. So I deleted 970 photos from my photo stream, leaving just 2 photos, and moved from paid “pro membership” to free. Which is sad in a way, but hey, I don’t care whether Yahoo’s business model crumbles. I. Just. Do. Not. Care.

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P.S.: For those Flickr users who want to download their images to their hard disk, I recommend a look at the free FlickrEdit, or at the more sophisticated Shareware Bulkr. Once done, give Flickr the boot, just as I did.

Adobe Is In The Clouds

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

I have been a user of Adobe Photoshop since version 3.0 (introduced in November 1994). I had purchased the Aldus Software Collection earlier that year (containing  PageMaker, FreeHand, PhotoStyler, and Persuasion) but Aldus was aquired by Adobe, and they decided to migrate all existing customers to Photoshop. Which was fine for me as Photoshop was far more powerful than Photostyler at the time.

I upgraded Photoshop every now and then, usually when new and cool features where introduced – for example “Editable Type” with version 5.0, “Healing Brush” with version 7.0. I did also upgrade when I moved to RAW processing (CS2), and when I upgraded to a 64 bit system (CS5). All-in-all I probably purchased four or five updates.

In my view, Photoshop was complete with CS2, but I am a happy camper with the 64-bit version of CS5. I looked at upgrading to CS6 but decided that the lack of innovation is not worth the investment. Also, after 18 years with Adobe, I realized that they are increasingly unable to build reliable, solid software. Upgrades always introduced new features – and new bugs. Their introduction of Lightroom was a complete mess, at least from a technical point-of-view. Version 1.0 of Lightroom contained so many awful bugs that it still surprises me how Adobe could get away with it.

Anyway, last week Adobe announced that they will discontinue “perpetual licences” and offer just “subscriptions” for many of their products, including their flagship creative products Photoshop, InDesign, Premiere, and Illustrator. So instead of paying a moderate one-time fee for a software upgrade that introduces new features that you can continue to use as long as you want, Adobe charges a monthly fee to be able to use their software. There is A LOT wrong with this approach, even if Photoshop CC (that’s the name for the subscription service) seems to be at a similar price level as before.

Let’s do the math: Over the past 18 years I purchased 5 updates – that’s one update about every 43 months (or 3.6 years). Let’s assume the update to cost $300 (it’s been more because I had to order from the European Adobe Store at unreasonable high cost), so it boils down to an average cost of 5*$300/18=$83 per year. Now Adobe will charge $20 per month for just Photoshop CC. In the shop, it is not apparent that there are discounts for existing Photoshop customers. So, under the new pricing scheme, for 4 years of usage I have to pay 4x12x$20=$960. Compare that to the cost of 4x$83=$333 (over 4 years) I would have to pay under the old regime model – that’s an incredible price increase. (Of course, if you purchase each and every update, the calculation is not as dramatic, but still significant. Just ask yourself whether you spent $480 every other year for a Photoshop upgrade.)

And who came up with their Euro pricing? For an identical product they charge 24.59 Euro, which at the time of writing converts to $31.72. That’s a massive 58% premium for a copy downloaded to Germany. OK, they have to cover localizations and provide (some) local support, but 58% surcharge? I’d be happy to work with a plain US version and refrain to use any of their customer services – if only they offered me the US pricing. But they don’t, and this makes their bizarre pricing even more unattractive.

But it’s not just the pricing that is wrong. It’s the legal terms associated with the contract. Macperformanceguide.com has published a beautiful review that actually reveals all the hooks in the contract. To summarize: You have very few rights, and Adobe have very few obligations. They can basically do what they want. Not good.

Are they insane?

No, they are certainly not insane; after all, they have been a pretty successful software company so far. There must be something I am missing. There must be a simple reason for their actions.

Here’s my take: They realized that not just the photo editing software has reached (near-) perfection, but also the photo equipment itself. Clearly, there has come an end to the pixel mania of the past. You can only put so many pixels on a full frame sensor, and who needs these giant images anyway? These require just faster hardware and bigger hard disks without adding genuine value to photographers, or their customers. Print publications are slowly dying, but they were the only ones demanding very high resolutions. And of course those customers who do super-sized photo prints. Most customers are happy with the resolutions that are available today (16 to 32 megapixels), and photographers are happy as well with the status quo. They do not need to upgrade their hardware any longer, and they do not need to upgrade their software any longer. But if they want to significantly improve their  image quality – they will consider investing in new, faster lenses that offer built-in image stabilizers and dramatically reduced distortions.

All this is very bad news for Adobe. They know that they can not continue to invent new, cool features for their software to keep up demand. Their software has reached near perfection long ago, and each new version will find fewer and fewer customers willing to shell out the money for that specific upgrade. If they continue to run the business like that, it would mean the end of the business UNLESS they are able to replace the expected missing income by some other, new, steady revenue stream. Which is why they now force Photoshop CC upon all their customers.

On top, Adobe will see dramatically reduced cost:

  • They have to manage just one codebase (instead of one codebase per version)
  • They do not need to produce physical boxes
  • They do not need to distribute these boxes and pay distributors
  • They have little pressure to upgrade the product and can reduce their development efforts

Add the hefty price increase, and you see how they might alienate from many of their existing customers.

The photographer community has reacted with a previously unseen backlash. Dpreview has run a poll on this. Do yourself a favor and skip to the comments of that post. It is no surprise that photographers do not share Adobe’s concept. They experience an industry in heavy weather, with some markets reducing their spending for images dramatically (e.g. print publications and even news agencies). In such a situation, photographers do not want to take on additional fixed monthly cost. Rather they want to keep earning money to get through the crisis with their existing hard- and software and upgrade only for essential features required by their customers. As such features are not in sight, most photographers postpone the upgrades, waiting for better times.

Meanwhile Adobe’s competitors are gearing up. They feel for the first time in years a chance to compete with the big dinosaur that used to provide the de-facto standard oin photo editing. Corel, GIMP, and many others will be happy to see new users. It remains to be seen whether Adobe has correctly predicted the adoption rate of their subscription service, but it’s clear already that many photographers would like to see the giant tumble.

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P.S.: Here is a must-read article on The Register.