Cloud Wars

The competition to provide you with cloud storage is starting to reach a fevered pitch. It’s now possible to add excellent cloud backup to your storage system for a very reasonable cost. Some of these costs remain artificially low, and may therefore not be reliable in the long run. But we’re also seeing the big players in computing (Google and Amazon) offering really low pricing.


First, a word of caution
We’ve seen some low-cost options for years. This includes services like Carbonite and Backblaze that have claimed “unlimited” storage for prices around $50/year. This means that someone like me with a dozen terabytes of data will be a money-loser for each of these companies. I’ve always been distrustful of these plans, fearing that the companies will go the way of Digital Railroad, which shut its doors with little advance notice in 2008.

Carbonite gets around the super-user problem by limiting the cheap backup service to your internal drive. As you add external disks, the price goes up. (Let’s also take a minute to note that Carbonite does not forecast profitability anywhere on the time horizon, which is problematic.) Backblaze does allow for truly unlimited data, and explains their strategy by saying it will average out between low and high volume users. This is okay for backup, as long as you realize the service may go away someday, and it’s not your only backup.

(Note: I personally use Backblaze for my computers and for my family. I’m currently testing the unlimited storage with my own archive. You can get a discount off Backblaze by clicking my affiliate link.)

The big boys jump in
Last summer, Amazon rocked the world of online storage by offering a new cloud backup and archiving service called Amazon Glacier. The price for the service came in at 1/10th of Amazon’s regular S3 pricing. You can now store a terabyte of data in Amazon’s cloud for $10/month.  This one is a game-changer. Amazon is the 800lb gorilla in cloud service, so the prices that they set will determine what the rest of the market does.


Amazon Glacier is positioned as a real backup or deep archive solution. They say it may take up to 5 hours to access the data, so it’s definitely not a place to store stuff you expect to access frequently. But it does promise great safety and reliability from a blue-chip company.

(I’ve heard, from a very good source, that Amazon can offer this service because they are making use of some “free” capacity. In order to speed up its regular service, Amazon is using the outer rings of the hard drive platters, which deliver faster data throughput. So the inner rings were sitting on drives unused. They created Glacier to make use of this spare capacity.)

Google responds
A few weeks ago, Google matched Amazon’s bet, and even raised it. Not only did they match the $10/terabyte/month price, they made the offer on Google Drive.  This means that Google is offering the price on storage that is always on, not just a backup service.

DriveOnWhile Google will probably lose money on this specific service, it’s part of a larger strategy from the tech giant.

(Note, I’ve been slogging through Google’s Terms of Service to get an idea of exactly what rights you give to Google Drive, and it’s not totally clear to me. It does look like private data stored on Drive is private. But other stuff, like your public photos on Google+ do seem to give Google a  non-terminable license to republish.)

It’s really about “My Stuff Everywhere”
The real competition at work here is not about collecting money for storage. The real competition here is to become the universal shared storage system which can work across all your devices.

Dropbox has been the category killer for this service, seamlessly  sharing between you, your friends and coworkers, your computer(s) and your phone. It has been able to do this where Apple (and others) have failed numerous times. Dropbox has rocketed up in value, and is poised to become even more valuable.

The companies that become successful in creating a shared filesystem  are well-positioned for long-term success.  This kind of engagement is hard to pull away from, since  you build it into your collaboration and your fundamental relationship with your own media.

DAM Edition 3.0 Postcard.indd

In The DAM Book 3.0, I’ll dive into the use of cloud storage as part of a DAM strategy. This new development in pricing and strategy offers some excellent value for photographers looking for storage, backup and sharing services.

Life without a radio

Dateline SXSW – Attending SXSW without speaking Twitter is like living life without a radio – in a world where everyone else has one.  There is an invisible layer of communication that takes place, and those around you just seem to know stuff.

Krogh_140311_0553It’s nice outside, but I want inside information.

As a photographer, I follow the time honored tradition of never declining free food. Or, more accurately, seeking out free food and drink whenever possible. And at SXSW, free food and drinks are everywhere. It is laid out in hundreds of venues around town, sponsored by companies and institutions big and small, as well as states, cities and countries. And it’s frequently popping up at a moment’s notice.

Once inside – free food and drink. Thank you, state of Georgia.

And so I followed the SXSW App, and I searched the web, and I asked around, but a huge amount of it was simply invisible to me.  I asked people how they knew where to go, and the universal response was “Twitter.” Of course that makes sense, since this is the place Twitter was introduced.  It’s their radio.

Psyche-punk group, La Femme plays at the French Tech House. How can you find this stuff out without Twitter?

I’ve been pushing my blog posts out on Twitter for a while now, but I have not been using it for my own two-way communication. And I didn’t even really know how to find information when I was looking for it. It has become clear that this needs to change.

As Facebook moves farther into pay-for-play, it is less attractive as a channel for professional communications. (And this does not even begin to address the terrible Terms of Service issues.) Twitter is much less controlled – more open. Of course this means that you need a tool to help you make sense of it – some kind of way to tune into the frequencies you want to hear (to extend the metaphor.)

Tweetdeck is one, and that’s what I’ve been using to help me make sense of the massive flood of information going through the service.  I’ve started to tune in to the invisible interchange of communication that I’ve been tossing my tweets into. It turns out that there is a world of people responding to my blog, discussing my books, and wondering about stuff I’ve been saying. Who knew?

(Of course, a bunch of you knew. As I look through the notices on Tweetdeck, it’s clear that a bunch of my friends and colleagues  have been using Twitter on a daily basis.)

Tweetdeck allows you to separate out parts of your Twitter feed so you can make sense of the constant stream of information. Notifications are showing tweets I’m mentioned in, and Messages are direct messages to individuals. You can see here I made a new friend, possibly leading to free beer. 

Not everyone will need to speak Twitter. But it’s looking like a much better bet than any other social media platform, at least for professional communications.


Beyond Pixels Unfestival

Last April, I had the pleasure of attending the Beyond Pixels Unfestival, part of the Nordic Light International Festival of Photography in Christiansund, Norway.

Our two day discussion on the future of photography covered a lot of ground, including the implications of new technologies, changing business practices, and the social relevance of photography. Over the last year, I’ve used this discussion to help me frame many of the changes coming to the art and practice of photography.

Here is a video of our group sharing some of our themes and conclusions with the rest of the festival. Leading the discussion are Mikkel Aaland and Hans Peter Brondmo. I’m joined by Severin MatusekIvan Cavero-BelaundeKnut Koivisto and Kate Jordahl.

Live Second Display

Musings on the Semiotics of Connected Photography

Dateline SXSW – Most people have heard of “Second Screen”. Typically, that refers to the practice of checking out Twitter or Facebook while watching television. It’s a type of engagement that is most common during live broadcasts like sports events or the Oscars. While some people may disparage the practice, there’s a pretty obvious value proposition there. Television does not offer two-way engagement, and people want to engage. So they naturally use what they can to make it happen.

Now I’d like to turn to those people who shoot pictures at concerts, weddings, dinners or other events. I’m not talking only about selfles. I’m also talking about the people in the crowd who pull out their cell phones and shoot outward-facing photos or videos. These folks are often dismissed as “not living in the moment” or something similar. “Why,” some ask, “can’t these people just experience the event without having to photograph everything that happens.

Same as it ever was
On an immediate and obvious level, I’d be a hypocrite to level such criticism. For nearly 40 years, I have used photography as a key to my own engagement with events. When I go to a friend’s wedding, I’ll probably shoot lots of pictures, and even get special access. I don’t just attend. I participate. I engage. By using photography.

And there is longstanding precedent for photography to validate any experience. People pay wedding photographers handsomely because the documentation of the event is a marker of value. Before photography, people hired painters. “We stand in witness of this promise, and these pictures prove it.” The role of the photographer is essential here – it is true and important participation in the process. Not only does it provide memory, it provides validation. And now, when something notable happens, up go the phones.
Krogh_140313_0939I shot this photo at the MTV Woodie awards. As soon as surprise guest Lil Wayne came onstage, a huge wave went through the crowd, and all the phones were held high, capturing the moments.

It’s not only large venues where this happens. I was at a really intimate performance of Billy Joe Shaver, a songwriting legend who plays small clubs with his band. Billy Joe is so close you could actually touch him, although that would probably not be welcome, (depending on who you are.) And so the ubiquitous phones are held high, shooting photos and videos throughout.

And then I shot this photo, which really rolled up the whole concept for me. In it, the photographer reaches out and touches Billy Joe, if only on the screen. She connects with the performer, and probably her friends and family, sharing the experience, and providing real and important engagement for herself and her tribe. This provides her with an experience that is not possible, exactly, IRL. (In Real Life)

The photo illustrates to me the additional layer of importance that connected photography adds to the live experience. One one level it’s exactly the same as the photographer’s role I’ve been playing for decades. On another level, it’s a much deeper and more engaged experience. You can interact with your tribe. Or you can simply raise up a flag for the world to see, “I am here and I’m a part of this.”

So, what do we call this?
In order to understand a thing, it’s important to have a name for it, and I can’t seem to find a name for this phenomenon. We can describe Second Screen as the use of a social media device in conjunction with some kind of one-way broadcast. And selfie is well-understood as a self portrait used to document your participation in some event and then shared through social media.

But we don’t seem to have a term for “shooting photos or video at a live event as a means of engagement, sharing or documentation.” You could just call it “taking pictures”, but in the world of connected photography, I think it’s deeper than that. I think this action has meaning on multiple levels. It’s about interaction with your people, present or remote. It’s about your own personal memory-keeping. It’s about feeling as though you are actively participating in the event – processing it through your own point of view and creating something new and yours – a photograph.

So, I want a name for this thing. I titled the post Live Second Display. Live, because it’s about creating something during an event. Second because it is an auxiliary experience to the main experience. Display because that term could encompass both the event and the device you are using. And because it acronyms out nicely, if confusingly. I’m not suggesting that LSD is the right term, only that there should be a term.

I’d like a name for this. Anybody know one I’m missing? Any other suggestions? Let’s engage.

Another Drive Failure – this is getting old

I turned on my computer this morning and got a warning that my hard drive’s SMART data indicates a pending failure. Crap. Shown below is the message from SMART Utility.

SMART Utility tells you when your drive is failing before your system may alert you. In this case, the relevant numbers are the Bad Sectors. It was 0 yesterday, 16 when I booted up in the morning, and 40 after I updated by backup drive. This should be considered notice of impending failure.

This is the second time in 6 months. The first time was caused by rough treatment of the computer on my part – this one just seems to be drive malfunction. I had a full bootable clone from a week ago on a desktop drive, and another one that was on a small drive from a month or two ago. I updated the older clone, and swapped that drive into the laptop. In all, less than 90 minutes from start to finish. For those keeping score at home, these were Seagate drives. I’m looking forward to installing WD Black Squared drives my laptops soon (combo SSD and Spinning Disk!).

It’s wise to have a clone of your drive handy so that you can swap out a failing drive. Unibody Macs are very easy to work with – less than 5 minutes to swap drives and put the computer back together. You’ll also want to have another backup, like a Backblaze cloud backup or daily Chronosync backup to a local server. 

Let this be your reminder to have a fresh backup.

The Fire Hose

Dateline SXSW – I’ve written over the last year about how Instagram is creating a commercial service to supply photos for editorial and marketing purposes. The legal foundation was laid in January 2013, the service was turned on as a trickle last fall, and now it’s starting to get traction.

At SXSW, I spoke with some people who are making use of these photo streams. This includes people on the client side who are building campaigns with these services, as well as companies that help clients make sense of the photos and other data.

They have a name for it. The Fire Hose.

The analogy is obvious on one level. There are so many images coming through these services, it’s like the difference between a drinking fountain and a fire hose. These companies are excited to create engagement with their audiences by mining the millions of photos, tweets, Facebook posts and more that make up the world of User Generated Content (UGC). UGC creates a  new kind of media engagement.

And the Fire hose analogy is also useful in another way. In these arrangements, the company does not pay for the “water” (the photos), they pay for the access to the “pipe” (the API.) This allows the service to sell access to the material in a way that denies that the photos have any value. The value being charged for is the underlying access to the Fire hose and the connectvity. (See Getty).

Of course, this has profound implications for the independent creator. If you put your images on sites like Instagram that are part of the Fire hose, they may be republished widely with no money coming to you.  And use of UGC is creating a great deal of excitement for the client companies. It will take an ever larger share of the budget and attention of advertising, marketing and editorial teams.

Even though the use of the Fire hose does not replace the use of professional photography, it will certainly divert money away from it. I believe that it will take a while for companies to understand the best way to get a proper mix of UGC and PCC (Professionally Created Content, to coin a term.)

Still lots unsettled
I can also report that much of what I have previously identified as unsettled remains unsettled. This uncertainty is what is holding back the full blast of the hose. The unsettled issues are, in my view, primarily about the legalities of the TOU agreements.

• Are the rights in these contracts really something that can be sublicensed?
• Are the liability protections in the TOU going to hold up in court?
• Does the user really forfeit the right to terminate the agreement?
• Will there be a public relations nightmare in the early days that makes this a risky tool for marketing?

As we see companies pushing the envelope, we’ll start to find the legal and moral edges of what is considered acceptable use of the Fire hose. I expect that the boundries that we settle on will give Facebook, Twitter and Google an extremely broad right to make money from the Fire hose.

If you are a professional creator, it would be smart to factor this into your business strategy and your long-term planning, carving out a viable value proposition in a world drowning in UGC.

Speaking at B&H Monday, March 17

140316_BHSince B&H has started carrying my books, I’ve scheduled a talk there Monday from 4-6. I’ll be outlining the strategy behind my new book, Organizing Your Photos. Registration is closed at the moment, but the website says that you can show up for the event 15-30 minutes early to get a spot.

The event should also be available online at the Event Space website sometime after the event. I’ll post more details as I have them.

The Engagement Layer

I love the immersive experience of SXSW. Seeing, hearing, conversing, touching and tasting* a culture is essential to getting a real understanding of it. And this place, at least for this week, is the intersection of technology, media, culture and business. Being here helps to understand the context of what I see from a greater distance in regular life.

Krogh_140310_0467What does SXSW sound like? To me, it’s the nonstop cultural mashup of Girl Talk. It all comes together as a compelling stream of youth, energy and flagrant copyright violation.

One of the things I’ve been investigating here is the ongoing battle for control of something I’m calling The Engagement Layer in mobile and internet. I’m using that term to mean the place that the user puts his attention. (Back in the olden days, we called this “Portal”) The gigantic explosion of Apps, media, social services and big data all come together in the battle for the top layer of that 3×4 inch screen (for mobile) or 10×12 inch screen (for computing).

The companies that control the Engagement Layer – for the time they hold that control – have an immediate opportunity to gather massive wealth. And every few months, some new game-changing technology is introduced that shakes up the landscape.

Note that the Engagement Layer does not necessarily refer to the main screen you log in with. There’s plenty of opportunity in building an Engagement Layer for a specific area of interest. Food, photography, music, social interaction and more can be brought together and presented to the user in subject-specific engagement.

Those who own a chunk of the Engagement Layer want to hold on to it and expand. And there are tens of thousands of startups that are tying to get into the game and either knock off the top players, or, more frequently, sew up existing services to make a new top layer. Some examples.

Twitter v. Facebook
Twitter and Facebook continue their war, but it’s become an open firefight being waged through the API. They apparently have changed the Terms of Use to forbid major broadcasters from running their content on the same screen simultaneously. (I can’t seem to find a reference to this anywhere on the internet, but the sources were very credible.) In this case, they are fighting to provide the Engagement Layer bridge between the internet and broadcast TV.

140312_MakerMaker Studios

I got to see Ynon Kreiz, CEO of Maker Studios yesterday speaking about the way are using a data-driven curation model to create an Engagement Layer on top of Youtube. I hope to do a longer post on what I saw in that session. I’ll quote my friend Emmanuel Fraysse, “That guy’s a killer.” Later in the day, Disney announced that they were in talk to buy Maker Studios.

I think the Getty move should also be seen in the context of the battle to control the Engagement Layer. It has three things that any successful player needs here. First, engagement in mobile is driven by photos, and they have a lot of photos. Engagement is also driven, under the hood, by semantic connectivity. (By this I mean, “get me from this thing I’m interested in to this other thing I’m interested in easily or automatically”.)

And, of course, Getty has a lot of users, which is often what companies are really paying for in an acquisition. (Facebook paid $19 billion to purchase WhatsApp – a half-million dollars worth of code and 400 million users.)

All of the other discussions I saw in the last few days – including those involving Amazon, Mental Floss, Atavist, Twitter, Dropbox, and a couple dozen other companies I’ve never heard of – all of these discussions could be best understood in the context of a battle for control of some piece of the Engagement Layer.

*In case you were wondering. It tastes like bacon fried rice, with a Monster Energy Drink and Vodka.


Getty did what?

GettyGetty images are now free.

Okay, so I’m trolling. They are not “free.” But editorial and academic uses of unwatermarked images on blogs can now be done for free, as long as the images are embedded in the blog, rather than uploaded to the blog. That looks a lot like free to a lot of people who publish blogs. Including widely-read blogs. Here’s the link.

At right is my chat tonight with a Getty representative. Relevant passage at the bottom of this page.

So what’s going on here?  This is not particularly surprising to me. I’ll outline it here as succinctly as I can. Let me say that this is opinion, including a fair amount of speculation. I wish I had inside information about what they are up to, but I don’t.

On any other day, the photos on my blog are mine. But today, we make an exception, and I’m using photos from the Getty embed service.

Private equity
The first thing to look at, as we consider the new Getty business strategy, is the ownership of the company. They are owned by the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm. While there are plenty of ongoing ventures owned by private equity, it’s pretty common for private equity firms to buy a company, and then sell it for the parts. (As long as the parts are worth more than the purchase price.)

I’m working under the assumption that Carlyle does not want to be operating a stock photo agency in 20 years, or even 10 years.  At minimum, I don’t see them wanting to operate a stock agency that is in partnership with photographers.  2011 revenue was $900 million. If they made 10% profit, that would be $90m, good for you and me, but a pretty tiny return for Carlyle’s 3.3 billion purchase price. And they have a $1.2 billion loan due in 2016. Sometime between now and then, it would be smart for them to sell this thing off and cash out.

I just don’t think that Getty looks like a buy-and-hold for Carlyle. So what would they sell? I don’t think it’s a souped-up old-school Getty. It’s something different.

And keep in mind we’re in a world where Instagram has opened up the spigot for usage of its 20 billion image collection through the API.

Picscout is image recognition technology that Getty bought for $20 million. It was developed to help photographers find infringing uses of their photos on the web. It does a very good job of scouring the web and finding multiple instances of the same photo. Getty has built an enforcement department that collects some royalties for these infringements, but this is a lot of work for a small amount of money (again, in their context).

And it only works for pictures that Getty owns outright. If Getty has a non-exclusive right to license a photo, then it can’t go around demanding money from anyone using the photo. The user might have a valid license obtained from the photographer or another stock agent.  This takes all the automation out of the process, and turns it into a high-cost, low-reward endeavor. This business absolutely does not scale in the way Carlyle needs.

Last year, people were scratching their heads over a deal Getty made with Pinterest. Getty is using Picscout technology to indentify images on the social media site and provides permission to use the photos.  But they are not licensing the photos, exactly. Getty agreed to license metadata. On one level, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on. Getty is not obligated to pay photographers for metadata, so that makes sense (if you’re Getty.)

And on another level it works even better. Getty gets to build and deploy some really interesting new technology that provides licensable connectivity between different copies of an image. So you can connect that cute dress photo on Pinterest to the online catalog is was pulled from. It allows Pinterest to say they are working on a rights solution, while not setting  a precedent for actually paying for photos (which could come back to bite).

Getty makes money it does not have to share. The private equity firm that bought Getty gets a great sandbox to build the business, and Pinterest gets some safe-harbor cred when it tries to be bought or go IPO.

The valuable technology here is not photo licensing or license enforcement. The valuable technology is a semantic understanding of the visual web. Getty is building the technology to tie photos to each other, to the places they are published and how they are shared, and to provide an underlying commerce engine.

(From here out, I’m going to call this “the database”. While it has more elements than a simple database, at the core, like Google, it’s a set of related data.) This database has the potential, in my opinion, to be worth far more than the picture licensing business ever will be, at least in our current hyper-inflated tech bubble.

It’s like what Google can provide, but different. Google Maps is extensible underlying technology. It can be used by nearly any application, business or individual in the world to help them understand context and connection in nearly anything, as long as there is a geolocation component. Imagine if you could do that for photos. Technologies like this are extremely valuable, on many different levels.

This is a photo of Betty, the lady who runs the internet.

It’s about connectivity

Ultimately, the strategy for leveraging Picscout technology is all about connectivity. The database provides connections between images, which enables an understanding of the context of images in a semantic way, a behavioral way, as well as a commercial way. As images become a new language and central to most forms of interpersonal and cultural communication, it’s ever more valuable to understand them in these contexts.

The more robust, ubiquitous, and intelligent the database, the more valuable it is.

So an important part of the business plan is the connectivity enabled by Picscout. But you can get connectivity another way. Embedding images is the ultimate connectivity. The existence of the photo is utterly dependent on the connection between the server and the user remaining intact. This means that the website using the photo is beholden to the service offering the photo. If the hosting stops, the photo disappears. All the photos on this page, for instance.

(This is at the very core of API World. More on that another time).

But even more important, connected web objects like these embedded photos are a means to gather tremendous amounts of information. You can know who sees the photo, who clicks on it, how many times it’s served, to what countries, what times of day, where the viewer came from and where they exit to (to name just a few details).

And if you allow for in-object links, the image can even become a platform for commerce. (Read the snippet from Getty website at the bottom of this page). One day, Getty could decide that  photos of VWs will carry a link to an Amazon store that offers vintage VW parts. They can turn it on, and be in millions of places instantly. The technology to do that is already in HTML 5 and does not require plug-ins or updates by users or anything else. (Check out Stipple if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

So if the really valuable thing that Getty owns is this connectivity and the semantic understanding of our visual media, what about the stock photo licensing business? It’s certainly a really useful tool for building the database – it offers a whole bunch of useful assets: a lot of images to test on, negotiating power with any social media entity, legal cover for social media companies and official agency for many people in the industry, which allows Getty to implement the database without being bombarded by lawsuits from image creators.

Getty has chosen a strategy (give it away for free, become core service) that is tried and true for company flipping, but much less successful as a long term strategy. To me this speaks very clearly.

When it comes time to sell Getty, the stock photo licensing business – the one where the company partners with photographers and other image makers and does traditional RM or RF or even subscription licensing – will probably be second-fiddle to the technology company. In that context, the most important issue is not screwing up the bigger, more valuable deal. Maybe their image collection is central to the business model, or maybe the far larger set of images outside their collection is more monetizable. The disposition of Getty’s stock photo business is a question mark. They may need to keep and nurture it, spin it off to make a few bucks, or kill it if it’s getting in the way of the bigger deal.

In the end, I think the traditional partnership-based stock business is probably roadkill in this equation, at least from Getty’s perspective. Stock photo partnership is going to be flattened by a truck rolling down the highway that is 100 times larger. Inflated tech money is starting to roll into media and content in a big way. I think we a sale or some other recapitalization of the company before the end of 2016. I’ve actually been waiting for this to start in earnest, and here it is.

Or maybe they just decided to give away the photos for free.


Embed Terms:

Embedded Viewer

Where enabled, you may embed Getty Images Content on a website, blog or social media platform using the embedded viewer (the “Embedded Viewer”). Not all Getty Images Content will be available for embedded use, and availability may change without notice. Getty Images reserves the right in its sole discretion to remove Getty Images Content from the Embedded Viewer. Upon request, you agree to take prompt action to stop using the Embedded Viewer and/or Getty Images Content. You may only use embedded Getty Images Content for editorial purposes (meaning relating to events that are newsworthy or of public interest). Embedded Getty Images Content may not be used: (a) for any commercial purpose (for example, in advertising, promotions or merchandising) or to suggest endorsement or sponsorship; (b) in violation of any stated restriction; (c) in a defamatory, pornographic or otherwise unlawful manner; or (d) outside of the context of the Embedded Viewer.

Getty Images (or third parties acting on its behalf) may collect data related to use of the Embedded Viewer and embedded Getty Images Content, and reserves the right to place advertisements in the Embedded Viewer or otherwise monetize its use without any compensation to you.

(Editor’s note: Or the photographer)