Another Reminder of the Downside of Free

View From The Dugout

To the marketing departments of the photographic industry, I am classified as an “enthusiast”. Someone who buys a DSLR camera, a couple of steps above a point-and-shoot, without trying to make money with it. If you’ve seen the occasional Photo Posts on this site, you’ll understand why I’m in that “not making any money” category.

In addition to posting images here, I’ve also been a member of the photo sharing site Flickr since 2005, an eternity in Internet time. Once the king of photo sharing, they have been eclipsed in recent times by Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, and other services.

It is from these two perspectives that I’ve been very interested in reactions to recent announcements from Flickr’s new owners about how they plan to change things.

Spoiler alert: people get very upset when a company cuts back on the features of their “free” product in order to make a sustainable business.

The company that bought Flickr1 plans to limit free accounts to storage and display of only 1000 images. Which is a substantial drop from the one terabyte of storage Flickr began offering five years ago. Pro users, those of us who pay $50 a year for the service (up from the grandfathered rate of $25 for old-timers), will get “unlimited”2 storage, plus no ads and other benefits.

In the age of everyone carrying a smartphone with a lot of memory, one thousand photos is not a lot. You probably have at least half that many on your device right now. Your kids are likely storing many more. But how many of those pictures are worth displaying? Be honest. How many are actually good enough to show the world, not just your relatives and friends?3

Anyway, it will be interesting to see what happens to Flickr going forward. More than anything I would like to see more and better activity in their communities. There are a couple worth an occasional visit but most I’ve seen have been inactive or full of spam for years.

However, even if you don’t use or care about Flickr, this should serve as another of your increasingly frequent reminders that free is not a valid business model. Someone has to pay for the bandwidth, lots of equipment, and all the people supporting it (and you).

Almost always, at the “free” level of any web service, your cost is going to be limited functionality and a whole lot of uncertainty.


Image is one of my more than one thousand images in my Flickr account, a view of Nationals Park in DC from the home team’s dugout.

1. Who bought it from Verizon, which obtained it as part of buying the remains of Yahoo. Both owners largely neglected both the site and its community.

2. I’m always a little suspicious of anyone offering unlimited anything. Just read the fine print on your phone company’s “unlimited” data plan to see the limits on unlimited.

3. Who probably don’t want to see them either but are too polite to tell you. :)

Photo Post – New Orleans

Earlier this month, some friends and I did a short trip to New Orleans. Just because it’s an interesting city.

Here are a few of my favorite shots. More are in this gallery and you can see Kathy’s images from the trip in her gallery.

Shattered Tablet

Every New Orleans visitor guide says to visit a cemetery or two. This shattered tablet is from Lafayette Cemetery #1.

Rue Royale

A postcard shot of Rue Royale, one of the main streets through the French Quarter.

Clown

This rather creepy clown was in the window of a French Quarter art gallery. Imagine putting that in your house.

The King

One of the many items in Mardi Gras World, the company that builds floats and other structures for the many, many celebrations in New Orleans and other parts of the world.

Good Citizenship, Digital or Otherwise

The Art of Social Media

Last week was Digital Citizenship week, something anyone associated with a school was likely well aware of. Even those of us with only a tenuous connection had some idea the – do we call it an “event”? – was happening.

The overly-large school district for which I used to work and our local high school sent several messages to let us in the community know that they were right on top of teaching kids to be good digital citizens. During that week. I wonder what the focus is this week.

Anyway, ignoring my usual cynicism regarding the longevity of focus on issues like these in schools, I’ve always found the concept of “digital” citizenship rather odd. How is the behavior of someone considered a good citizen different in the digital world than it is in the physical world? Has the concept of a “good” citizen changed since the internet?

According to the district webpage1, digital citizenship incorporates a collection of nine topics, most of which are hardly exclusive to online activities.

Creative Credit and Copyright2
Cyberbullying
Digital Footprint and Reputation
Information Literacy
Internet Safety
Privacy and Security
Self-Image and Identity
Social Networking

I would argue that being a good citizen in the digital age is no different from someone who lived in the previous century. Or the one before that.

Certainly the means of communications is different. With instant publishing platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest of social media, it’s far easier and faster to threaten someone or for students (and teachers) to foul their reputation.

But a large part of that list for being a good member of a civil society still comes down to making sure your public actions and statements represent the best of what you can be. As mother used to say, think before you speak.

So, do we still teach ethics and appropriate behavior in school, other than during Digital Citizenship Week? I’m sure some of that remains in elementary schools, just from the need to create a working community among kids who are new to the idea.

I’m not so sure it continues into secondary schools, outside of the usual collection of rules that every student gets during the first week of every year. And there is tremendous evidence to believe that ethics has been completely eliminated from business and law schools.

Anyway, the problem with setting aside one week out of the year to emphasize the traits of being a good citizen, digital or otherwise, is that the issue is minimized or ignored the other 51 weeks. It also sends a message, to both students and adults, that the idea is something we pushed last week. This week we’re worrying about something different.

There’s that cynicism about lack of focus coming through again.


Image: The Art of Social Media. Posted to Flickr by mkhmarketing and used under a Creative Commons license.

1. Which is not essentially different from many other district and organizational approaches to digital citizenship.

2. I have several issues with the way copyright is usually explained to students and the approach taken here is especially odd. But that’s a rant for another day.

There’s Nothing Wrong With Ignorance

Everyone is ignorant. At some point in our lives, and about some, probably many, subjects.

Learning is about reducing that ignorance. It’s why we have schools and teachers and mentors and books.

And if we are not interested in learning about a particular topic, that’s ok too.

The problem comes when we form an opinion on a particular topic while still largely ignorant about that topic.

It gets even worse when someone is in a position to make public policy decisions around that topic while still largely ignorant about it.

This is why we have experts. Traditionally, society asks select people who have studied a subject in depth to then explain it to the rest of us. We trust them to be complete and accurate. We have to.

For example, I certainly have never studied climate science. I took some 101-type science classes in high school and college. But my basic understanding of how climate works is based on reading works by scientists (more often, science explainers) who know much more than I do.

As a result, I rely on the fact that the work of an overwhelming number of experts in this field say climate change is happening, it will be a serious threat to the world, and there are things that can be done to at least slow it down.

However, at the moment our country is being led by people who are ignorant of basic scientific principles. Who express a mistrust for scientists, reject their expertise, and make policy based instead on “common sense” and “gut feelings”.1

And it doesn’t stop with climate science.

The political party currently in control of the US government is built around the economic “faith” that cutting taxes for the rich will “trickle down” to the rest of us. Despite a half century or more of evidence to the contrary. Their leaders also propose legislation based on dubious claims about immigration, public education, poverty, voter fraud, and more with little or no supporting data.

Now, I have no issue with people holding their own private misunderstanding of the world and accepting all kinds of conspiracies. Those who think the world is flat can talk to each other all they like. If you want to believe aliens built the pyramids, so be it.

But personal ignorance is one thing. Turning that ignorance into public policy harms everyone, even the ignorant.

November 6, two weeks from today, is your next opportunity to push back against ignorance.

Removing legislators, at all levels, who want to make laws based on their personal ignorance is one of the best reasons I can think of to vote.

Do it!


Image: a sign at the March for Science, Melbourne, Australia, April 22, 2017. Photograph by John Englart, linked from Wikipedia Commons, and used under a Creative Commons license.

1. Which is possibly me being generous in ascribing their motives. It could be simple fear of change or complex greed.

Photo Post – Photowalking

On the first Saturday of October, photowalks are held all over the world under the umbrella of KelbyOne, a photo training organization. This year I was the co-leader for a walk from the Rosslyn area of Arlington across the Key Bridge and across the Georgetown waterfront.

It was a fun morning and below are a few of my favorite shots from the walk. More are in this gallery and for another perspective, check out the set from my co-leader Kathy. Her image are probably better.

Georgetown Waterfront

The Georgetown waterfront, looking across the Potomac River from the Rosslyn side of the Key Bridge.

Crew 2

Most Saturday mornings in good weather (and sometimes bad), you can watch college and high school crew teams practicing on the Potomac between the Kennedy Center and the Key Bridge.

Chair

Looking down at the strangely green water in the C&O Canal in Georgetown. The color and the chair caught my eye.

Scarlet

Detail of a sculpture called Scarlet on the Georgetown waterfront. Looks like a collection of stuff that washed up from the River to me.