Business Technology

Robert Scoble is wrong about analog.

I’m going to go out on a limb and flat out disagree with Robert Scoble.

In his latest post, he cites an EngadgetHD article noting that we have only two years remaining before the government-mandated shut down of analog television. The completion of this switch will lead to a more efficient, higher quality, and (most of all) more media company friendly digital signals. Scoble uses his own father as an example as to why this shutdown won’t happen.

While he raises a good point, his argument is flawed. His point is that older people vote. And they vote in large numbers. Scoble argues that when they find out we’re going to take their analog TV from them, they will come out in droves to change the laws. I’ll go on the record and agree if there is anything that would – and could –stop this switch from happening, it is the elderly voting it down. But I’m also going on the record to say it won’t happen. The transition will occur without a hitch.

I think by the time the analog switch is flipped off, very few people will notice – especially the elderly who are, demographically, less in-tune with technology. 

The main reason for this is something I’m not sure Scoble caught:
The switch doesn’t require the average consumer to upgrade their set, only their signal.

It just means that pretty much every household that wants a cable connection will have to switch from an analog receiver to a digital receiver. They don’t need to buy an HDTV or anything of the like. 

My parent’s 15-year-old TV works fine with the digital box, and probably so will Scoble’s dad’s. Most people don’t understand the difference between analog and digital, nor do they care. They just know the cable company is offering them a better deal and more channels if they switch the box on top of their TV. Most people won’t even be aware it’ is happening or that they have digital service.

Here on Long Island, it feels like the transition is pretty much over already. Cablevision, the dominant provider in the area, has made it cheaper to switch to their iO digital cable service than to keep your existing analog one. Combine that with the cheap bundles of broadband with your digital signal, and it’s pretty much insane not to. And now, more companies are getting into the game. For example, Verizon has started to penetrate the once monopolistic grip of Cablevision with its FiOS service, and it doesn’t offer analog service at all.

I think Scoble raises a good point. If it were highly publicized, I think some people would come out against the transition. But I believe it would be almost entirely based on a misunderstanding.

Even if people did band together against it, if consumer rights groups got up in arms, I’d argue you wouldn’t hear about it too much. Not to sound cynical or like a conspiracy theorist, but the media companies aren’t exactly going to publicize it when they stand to benefit from the transition, and the people who would be up in arms aren’t exactly reading technology blogs daily either.

The transition will be barely noticed when it happens. The media companies have been working on this for a while, and when the day comes, most people won’t even know it happened.

Mark my words.

Photography Technology

Mountains out of Molehills

CEO of photosharing site Zooomr, Thomas Hawk is taking Flickr to task for the changes it announced yesterday.

In his post, he uses customer complaints from Flickr’s forums to make his point that Flickr has lost its way with these changes and that it must reconsider them. After reading through the post, it seems to me like just a bunch of noise and childishness. Let’s take a look at what is actually changing here:

1. In our ongoing efforts to Make Flickr BetterTM, we’re introducing two additional limits: the new maximum number of contacts is 3,000 contacts (good luck with that), and each photo on Flickr can have a maximum of 75 tags.

Okay. Well, I could see this complaint as somewhat half valid. There are people out there who use Flickr to promote their work professionally, and they want to reach as many people as possible. Putting a limit on the number of people they can have as contacts kinda does suck. But at the same time, Flickr’s contact system is a lot different then say MySpace’s friends list system. Just because someone makes me a contact, doesn’t mean they have to be mine. Me personally I only make people contacts under a very small set of circumstances:

  1. If I know them personally.
  2. If I read their blog regularly.
  3. If I LOVE their photo work.

I think it is a safe bet if you have upwards of 2,000 contacts that you aren’t looking at everyone’s photos in that much depth. I also doubt you know all of these people personally. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that if you have that many contacts, it’s an effort to get people to add you to their contact list as self-promotion.

While that is okay, it’s a little disingenuous. As really, I doubt you care about these ‘friends’ all that much. Isn’t there enough shameless self-promotion on the web already?

Where’s the line between it and spam really? Maybe I shouldn’t cast judgment, but with their ‘Good luck with that’ comment, it certainly seems like Flickr feels the same way.

There is also a positive benefit to this; it requires people to be more mindful of the people they add to their contact list. In the end, it strengthens the community, as it encourages users to consider things more carefully. Flickr also claims it will allow their systems to run better, and I can imagine that being so. Having more than 3000 of anything in a database will bog things down. Capping people’s contacts will almost certainly improve speed and take some load off the servers. Yes, it will save them money, but they are a business, it doesn’t make their service any less awesome.

Next up: The 75 tag limit. This is also about shameless self-promotion in my eyes.

If you’re tagging your photos that heavily, you’re tagging them for the purpose solely of other people finding you, not for accurate results, and almost definitely not for easy personal organization.

Limiting tags in my eyes is also a good move for the community as it once again will require more thought put into things. And really, 75 tags? I rarely put more than 5 on something. 75 is a very high number. I doubt few people at all will be limited by this.

Oh, but it seems—with the exception of Mr. Hawk—not many users are making a big deal over these changes, it’s more about the second change.

2. On March 15th, 2007 we’ll be discontinuing the old email-based Flickr sign in system. From that point on, everyone will have to use a Yahoo! ID to sign in to Flickr.

For many, this is a big change. And like it or not, those people are by far the minority. 

Flickr has seen such a dramatic growth in users over the last year that the ‘old skool’ users are dwarfed several times over by the newer users. There are more than a few users bitter about this move, but these are mostly the same users who were skeptical when Yahoo! bought Flickr. The fear as near as I can tell is irrational. All the complaints I’ve read seem to be based on fear of change. They sound to me like angsty elitist teenagers who stop liking a band when they signed to a major label or something. It’s stupid.

In reality, what is the significant difference? The only thing this affects at all is your login and password. It does not affect people’s site address or your Flickr screen name. The change is minimal, and these users will experience no difference except having to type something different at the login screen. For example, my Flickr account is linked to my Yahoo! ID of ‘reallocalcelebrity,’ but my Flickr page address does not reflect that name: At the moment I have my username as ‘reallocalcelebrity,’ which does match my Yahoo! ID, but I can change this at any point if I want, it does not have to match my Yahoo! ID.

I thoroughly enjoy that many of the self-proclaimed ‘old skool’ users of Flickr don’t realize this. Many of the complaints reposted on Hawk’s blog relay to the misperception that they will lose their user name or be forced to change their page address, neither of which is the case.

The other complaint is that these users will be required to have a Yahoo! ID, and many feel that this will open the floodgates to them for spam and marketing emails. I kind of think this is a tad bit irrational. I have a Yahoo! ID/ Mail account, and I pretty much don’t use it, except for Flickr. Having the account has not added any spam to any of my inboxes or had any effect on anything else in my life at all. As Flickr also points out, you don’t even have to use the account for your Flickr alerts email either; you can give them another account and have them notify you at that account when someone adds you as a contact of comments your photos.

So in actuality, Flickr is making you sign up for a Yahoo! ID, but they are not making you use it for anything other than a login and password.

If you’re getting worked up over this, you need to put your world into perspective. In reality, this whole thing will blow over with little to no impact on anything, maybe a few ‘Old Skool’ users will jump ship to different services, but that’s their loss more than anything. In truth, Flickr’s going to work better and continue at its tremendous rate of growth while strengthing its community while becoming more profitable and integrated into Yahoo! The end result is more choices and features for the users. I’ve yet to see how this could be a bad thing.

(via Robert Scoble)