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Path

As many of you have pointed out to me, the mobile social network, Path, has launched a new version of their App that features many of the photographs you know and love from here on 50ft. I am excited for the opportunity and flattered that they have chosen my photographs to be part of the feel of the amazing new GUI within the App.

For those of you who may not be familiar, Path is a social network built around the idea that you don’t need to have hundreds of “friends” to enjoy its services. It takes a more humble approach and allows a maximum of 150 friends within your personal network. It’s a fascinating approach that I find I really love. Its nice to know that there is a service that does not encourage the endless thirst to achieve the greatest number of followers. With Path, you have more of a personal Journal showing where you are, what friends you are with, and what you are up to, as a way to share rather than impress. You do this by posting photos, videos, location check ins, written thoughts, music, and even when you sleep and wake. The information is then folded into your main timeline and shared with others in your network in a beautiful way that encourages interaction. It’s the perfect place to share with closer friends and family in a more intimate way than other social networks. I will share some of my thoughts and feelings on thisin just a bit.

Before I get too far away from my reason for writing today, I would like to discuss what everyone out there seems to be chattering about above all else when it comes to Path 2.0, the UI. It’s an old saying, and common knowledge at this point in our technology driven lives, that the best kind of interface is one that does not get in the way of you accomplishing your goals and this is an area where Path excels.

It is highly refined, beautiful, incredibly fluid and nearly effortless in that most needs are only a couple of taps away from your fingertips. It’s not every day a group of designers manage to create something truly forward thinking but that is exactly what they have done. Clearly a lot of time went into this update and it shows.

As I mentioned above, the guys over at Path have included many of my photographs as the default imagery within the app’s updated timeline. The space at the top of your home page, which they have brilliantly decided to call the cover image, is where you will discover one of my images when first using the app. This of course can be customised to your own personal photo but as of now you are not able to go back to any of the built in images. After a mail or two with the founders of the company, I have discovered that a future update will include the ability to specify which of my images you would like to use for your cover rather than its current automatic decision. (see note on this in the Path FAQ here) This choice would of course be in addition to the existing choice to pick one of your own images. Many of you have asked me about this ability so I am happy to be able to say that it is on their list of future features.

I find it hard to express how greatful I am to be part of this great new UI design, even in such a subtle way. I am not a part of the team at Path nor am I affiliated with the company in any way, just so you know. My thoughts in this article are strictly my own feelings and have not been written to sell the idea of the app. To be honest, I discovered my images inclusion at the same time everyone else did. While they did write to ask for permission to use them within a future update it was a surprise to me when I saw them used in such a natural way within the apps layout. It’s exciting to know my work is able to reach a wider audience and hopefully be at least a tiny factor in that, ‘wow’, moment upon toying around with the interface for the first time. A big part of why I share my photos the way I do is because of the happiness I hope they can bring others so this is a natural extension of that desire.

For me, personally, I feel Path will be a great tool to fill the hole Gowalla left behind when they completely uprooted and changed direction. I only ever used it for personal use or to share with friends anyhow so Path is going to become a natural evolution of that habit for me. Having a private network with such information is a nice thing to have among family and friends in my life. The addition to version 2.0 of being able to add entries as private notes which are not shared with others is also nice because it elevates its potential as a journal for moments in life I don’t want to forget but also may not want to share. All that said, please don’t be offended if I don’t add you as a friend within the network as I plan to stick with people I have at least a casual friendship with that I feel comfortable letting see closer into my day to day life.

Many seem to be a bit confused by what benefits Path offers over existing ones. The main reason for this seems to be because you are able to take photos using filters in a way similar to Instagram. Well let me tell you now, this is not at all Instagram. Instagram has an abysmal social side and sort of halfway encourages you to share or interact with others. Just look at the “Popular” page, in my opinion, its embarrassing for the service in general and I can only hope they have plans to clean up that side of what they do.Their last update was nice and all but felt like they are just plugging holes rather than polishing things more overall. Of course it does do one thing well and has given many a chance to share and enjoy photography with a simple approach that anyone can enjoy and I have had a lot of fun with it and will continue to do so.

Instagram became the default place to snap photos and share them in so many minds because of its hype, much in the same way Twitter grew so suddenly. These types of social networks (including Facebook and countless others) have one thing in common, they are all designed for you to have a place to not only share but to show off. To fudge the truth just enough to feel like you can be anyone. While it’s true that not everyone has the end goal of accumulating as many followers as possible, the semi anonymous nature in most social networks is something that Path has done a brilliant job in avoiding and it would seem this confuses a lot of journalists and those trying to figure out what to make of it. This is not to say that networks like Twitter or Instagram don’t have their place, it’s just that Path has managed to build something really wonderful in the social network space. Something more personal, a space where you can feel safe in sharing where you are, or who you are with.

I see those online acting jaded and apathetic toward the idea of another social network but I’m not exactly sure why. I understand the initial reaction to some degree but to automatically dismiss something without knowing more about it seems rash. Why bother saying anything at all? I for one am sick of so much cynicism online. Anyways, sometimes it feels as though most everyone is on Facebook by default except for a few, such as myself, who choose not to participate in that madness and I think there are a lot of people out there that are growing weary of such outlandish widespread sharing of their personal life. It’s your choice what networks you decide to be a part of and I believe there is room for more than one. Twitter, Instagram, and  even Tumblr have proven that. Facebook is the huge bloated monster that it is simply because it tries to do everything and as soon as the non-tech savvy members of the world caught on it reached its tipping point and flooded our every day lives so it was bound to reach a point where many start to pull away from it.

This is why networks like Twitter, Instagram, Path, Stamped, and others have been able to make their place and show that the ‘do one thing well’ space is starting to catch on. Surely most of us understand the benefits of a focused effort being a more enjoyable experience than a swiss army knife service that gives us a multitude of tools which just get in the way of each other when we want to accomplish anything more specific. WIth Path, what we have been given is a simplified place place to be more at ease within than other, wider reaching networks.

With Path I don’t have to feel guilty about posting a note about how my car has been fixed at a lower cost than I thought it would be, or how I thought my dinner was delicious while posting a photo of it, because I know that the people that I am sharing it with are those who I consider to be trusted and closer to me and would be more interested to know such things. There is no one I would follow that I would not be willing or able to invite to my own home or meet with in person. If I started using Twitter in a way that many used to make fun of it for and start tweeting about overly personal bits of my life I would be annoying many of those who choose to follow me. The landscape of social media is quickly changing and I feel Path is a brilliant move in the right direction.

As for Path having overlapping functionality with other networks, I feel many are looking at the service and scratching their heads because they don’t want to post the same moment in two or three different places and that is totally understandable. But remember my point above, think about how we have begun to use the different social networks that are in place. Many, if not most, of us have turned our life online into a business of sorts. Sharing has become less about sharing and more about flexing muscles. It only makes sense things would have evolved in this direction and its great that we are all now capable of having a voice and being heard, but this does not seem to be what Path is for. When you post a photo or a thought to Path you don’t have to let the idea that hundreds of people may be reading burden you. It’s here to share yourself and your life, not to exploit and spread your grand ideas and statements with the world.

Here is one real world example of what I consider to be a good use of the app. There is a person I like to follow on Instagram who is a reader of 50ft and I have enjoyed his photography and spoken with him casually here and there over the past year or so and I chose to follow him on Instagram because I enjoy his photographic work. Trouble is, he LOVES to share moments through his day with photos and ends up sharing a lot of what seem to be more personal moments with friends and little inside jokes and things that would really only interest those in his inner circle of friends who he seems to love and is around often and that is wonderful. Instagram became a quick way for him to share these moments with his friends but at the cost of a casual follower like myself having to sift through dozens of personal snapshots from him rather than just a few more curated moments that could draw more of a broad interest. Sure, the easy solution would be for me to not follow him any longer but I really do enjoy following his photos when they are not just snapshots of his friends or his new wardrobe. I of course mean no disrespect here, but I feel I could suggest to him and his other close friends to give Path a go as a viable alternative for sharing these moments with each other and save Instagram for those moments he would like to share with his extended network of friends and followers. Of course, it is totally up to him how he uses the service but it is exactly this type of user that Path is perfect for.

One last thought that sprang into mind is this. Path could also be highly simplified as far as how many followers you choose to add is concerned. It could be used specifically for your eyes only with no other friends added to it at all. The beautiful interface would work wonderfully as a simple Journal app for your own personal needs while sharing only specific moments through its connection to Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, and now Tumblr. You certainly can’t argue with a free Journal app that automatically saves all your info for you. Alternatively, you could use it with one other person, it could be a direct connection to your significant other or one or two of your closest of friends. The way you use it is up to you, I’m just thinking out loud.

Speaking of sharing only specific entries on path through another service. While writing this article I posted a quick snapshot of the iPad I am writing this on through Twitter. The shortlink it shared directed others to a web based Path page where you could see the post and photo attached as well as leave a comment on the post. It is a perfect solution that uses the web as a back door to combine the strengths of both services. This makes for a beautifully simple way to branch out thoughts posted within Path with a wider audience via the other shared services they offer to connect to. A brilliant move that I am surprised to see no one has brought up yet among other discussions online and makes it even more functional for me from day to day.

Great thing is that it will only get better with future updates (iPad support anyone?) so what are you waiting for? If you have an iPhone or Android phone head over to your app store and check it out for yourself and tell your smartphone wielding friends. All of the hype it has been getting seems to be very much deserved. I for one am getting more and more excited about having this service available to me and continuing to explore it and I have a feeling that if you give it a chance, you will too.

For anyone interested, I have created a wallpaper of the image above which you can access using the links below. Also, feel free to share your thoughts on Path or social networks in general within the comments. I know opinions run thick with this sort of thing so use your best judgement when sharing if you would.

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The iPad, A Year Later

I was asked a number of times recently to write about my experiences with the iPad. I set out to write a short something on what it has done for me since having one around and how that use has evolved over time but the writing sort of took off without me. For such a simple device it certainly took a fair amount of thought to focus in on what has made it great. I decided to also use this space to go ahead and talk some about the apps that see the most use.

There are many who still find the iPad to be relatively weak as far as it’s usefulness is concerned. I can admit that when the iPad was first introduced I was drawn to it not because it seemed like an important or useful device but because it looked like a wonderfully fun gadget to have around in my day to day life. By the time I actually ended up investing in one I had come to the conclusion that it would hopefully become a perfect way for me to have access to important information while traveling or simply away from home. I hoped to be able to leave my laptop behind and go about my day as usual with this new, lighter, easier to access device to help me continue to be functional at work as well have a quick way to stay connected to the never ending Internet.

A couple of months into this new foray into iPad living I fought myself still lugging around my laptop everyday as I always had before but not because the iPad was not as useful as I thought it would be but because I failed to realize just how much I rely on tools like Aperture, and other work related needs that simply didn’t really exist yet on touch screen devices. There Was a period of time that I found the iPad rarely seeing any action as my laptop was simply a more viable way to get done what I needed to get done through the day.

Then, I’m not sure what it was that triggered it exactly, but I discovered that I had the iPad out a lot more often than I once did. Somewhere along the line I realized that the applications built for the device were starting to aid the iPad in becoming a much more useful tool. I was able to print out PDF tech riders for concerts I was working as well as store them locally in iBooks. I found myself using the iPad more and more to write distraction free as I am right now using the great writing app iA Writer. More and more apps that I enjoyed but didn’t use often because it was such a pain to get information on and off the iPad were becoming useful as they started to use dropbox as an amazingly simple way to keep things in sync. Now I use it so much that I actually have days where I may find myself with a 30 percent battery life at the end of a busy day which is amazing considering the battery life really is as good as you hear it is.

I discovered I was replacing much of what I was doing with the laptop with my iPad and it feels good to finally feel as though it has caught up to my needs almost fully at this point. I have a simple Manhattan Portage messenger bag with a space that perfectly fits my iPad and it’s lovely cushy sleeve that I wrote about here before and it makes it so very easy to pull out my iPad and instantly be checking my mail, opening up a tech manual for a new piece of gear at work, catching up on the latest news, or sharing a few photos quickly and easily on the big screen. This kind of casual quick approach computing isn’t as accessible on a laptop. Well, maybe on one of those tiny little MacBook airs to an extent but not in the same way.

I think a big part of why I started using the iPad gradually more through the time I have owned it is not just because the apps have become more capable but also because I have grown accustomed to using the simplified approach of using a touch screen device to access and manipulate information. It is largely a single task device and while it really is quite simple to jump between apps I find it does take time to get used to using the iPad after coming off years of laptop and desktop use. It takes a slightly altered mindset to approach it and make it work for you in your own personal workflow from day to day but once its usefulness clicks you won’t look back. I was trying to think of a good real world example of a time when the iPad stood out as being extra ordinary and I think I have a perfect instance.

A few months ago I was hired to shoot individual portraits of a team of employees at an international company whose headquarters are located here in town and the client was willing to take the photos on the campus surrounding the buisness which is a beautiful area surrounded by woods. One by one a team member would come out to a predetermined location where I would have a few minutes with them to capture a handful of images. The iPad came into play when I finished each individual shoot. Using the camera connect kit I pulled off photos between sessions to double check results and gather them all into one place.

The best part of this came when the sessions were over and I could step back into the offices to share the images with those who I took photos of. The iPad excels at this because I am able to put the photos on this big wonderful screen and put them right in their hands. I could then easily transfer the images from the iPad into Aperture in full RAW resolutions.

While I am eagerly waiting for iPhoto to appear on the iPad to allow better on device organization of photos this was still an easy process that made for a great presentation tool while out shooting. Sure, I could have just as easily used a laptop but the personal touch of showing photos this way can add a lot of personality and intimacy to a presentation.

I do have a complaint to lodge as some of you may know already, connecting devices to the USB camera port is fairly limited because apple decided to limit the amount of power the dock connector is able to supply to a device. This really annoyed me when I discovered that I could not use my flash card reader any longer. While I have not tested this under the new iOS update I don’t doubt there is still this limitation in place and its something to be aware of. Connecting to a camera directly works like a charm but it’s a slower process.

Speaking of using the iPad for showing off photos, it makes for a wonderful place to keep a portfolio. I highly recommend an app called minimal folio for this. As soon as they added simple dropbox support it ended up being a fantastic way to showcase images on the iPad.

Of course showing off photos is not at all the core use for my iPad. There are a handful of other apps that see very regular use these days. The built in mail app, while not perfect, is certainly a great way to catch up with new mails and fire off simple replies. One thing that I wish it could do is easily re-size photos from my photo library but it’s not a pressing need, this and it would be nice to be able to flag emails. I know there are some power email users out there that have very strange and specific ways of working and may need something more powerful but for me it’s more than adequate.

Another app that is a daily fixture for me is what I consider to be the best RSS experience anywhere on any device and that is Reeder. Is a brilliantly simple approach and allows me to quickly navigate through my news feeds with ease through the day. If I had one request for this app to improve I would ask that feeds be manageable from within the application. I really hate having to use the web interface for google reader, it’s just a mess. I have tried a number of other RSS apps but they have always come up short of my expectations.

Next up is twitter. It is currently the only official twitter app that I like to use. While at first I didn’t really see the appeal it has since grown on me and I greatly appreciate it’s layered approach to seeking out content featured in any message as well as following conversations. It takes the mess that Twitter has become and turns it into something a bit more logical and easy to follow.

Then there is Instapaper. I think there is nothing but universal praise for the concept and I love it too, now with readability around as well feeding back to the content makers I can’t think of a reason not to use such a service. I tend to simply read a lot straight in reeder but Instapaper provides me with a great way to come back to articles I want to examine closer.

Last but not least in my short list of most used apps is iA Writer. I have had this for quite a while now but only just recently started to put it to good use. The last few things I have posted were written here in Writer synced over to my laptop with dropbox then formatted and posted with mars edit on my laptop. I tried pairing a bluetooth keyboard with this app and found it was a great environment to write in. It left me to focus on nothing more than the text. No casual trips to the dock to check my mail or twitter like on my Mac. My favorite things about the app are the additional typing tools above the keyboard letting you have access to arrows to skip through text and quick access to punctuation. This and the fact that hiding the keyboard turns what I have written into a book of sorts while in portrait view and makes for a great casual editing environment.

As for the subject of games on the iPad, I love a good game here and there and gaming on my iDevices has pretty much become my sole source for gaming outside of my Wii or old playstation 2 heh, maybe because I don’t own a TV anymore. So as for games on the ipad, I find ones that I enjoy most are ones who’s control structure works well on the iPad. Not all iPhone games work well on the iPad due to the size of the thing. I find that I usually have one game that I come back to for a few weeks and keep closer to the front page of my apps. At the moment that game is Land-a Panda and sometimes an old casual favorite, Sneezies. Simple but a good distraction here and there when I need a break.

All in all, the usefulness of the iPad, for me, has boiled down to the apps available for it. I think its a fairly obvious deduction if you follow the apple world at all but its true. I have written a couple of posts focusing on iPhone photo apps but I am considering starting these back up again with other types of apps as well in the future. A year after its introduction and I feel like the platform is just starting to take shape. There is still a lot of growth left to do. Just look at how the ipads smaller sibling started off. I remember seeing the iPhone rotating in a little glass tube in front of me at Macworld years ago when it was introduced with its meager built in app offerings. Who knew what kind of crazy revolution it would spark in our daily lives. Whether that is for better or for worse is up for interpretation and ill leave that for another day, the simple fact remains that the iPad has been a great addition to my daily life and at this point there is no turning back.

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White

I have seen a lot of chatter about the white versus the black iPad 2’s and after a good amount of messing about with both models side by side in an Apple store I drew up my own conclusions on the mildly controversial white iPad and the fact that some seem to think it feels more toy like than the black model.

I feel part of the reason for this is because the white surface takes on the color of the light surrounding the device so the overall feel of the device is altered greatly in different environments. I was trying to think of another product like the white iPad that uses a combination of a glass surface with a white backing but can’t come up with many. Typically when you think of shiny white things you imagine polished, shiny plastic. Largely because of Apples own product line in the past. The soft round bezel on the edges of the new iPad simply add to the mental idea that it is a curvy piece of plastic but it’s all in the mind. This is certainly new territory they are breaking into and I feel it messes a bit with our perception.

The black iPad seems to be preferred for many because of the idea that it feels more like you are simply holding a screen, there is nothing else to distract you from the content there in front of you. Not to mention black is the classic geek chic color of choice and to many back means classy. I feel as though black electronics like this have this feeling because of the emotional nature of the color in our minds. The deep black of space, it is a color that consumes light, not one that adds to it. Psychologically, a black iPad appears to be stronger and more solid because of this simple fact. The same goes for the idea that black is somehow less distracting, that it blends into the environment around you. This is a largely circumstantial argument, however and totally boils down to ones own taste.

Then there is the argument that the screen feels further away from the glass which is not actually true at all but you want to think that because of the way the light falls onto the white bezel, it tends to bend in a different way because of the light reflecting back up from the white on the back of the glass giving you the feeling that the content on the scene is further away from you.

There is also a black edge around the content of the screen. This is most likely unavoidable. The screen would have had to be pressed up against the glass to be rid of such a gap. This or the bezel would have to overlap the edge of the screen not unlike the bleed used in print design but this would result in a glowing bezel and lost pixels. I find that the black gap is not as much about the distance from the edge of the bezel to the edge of the first pixel on the screen as it is simply the illusion of a larger gap because of your perspective looking down into the dark behind the bezel or maybe thats just me.

To some this may be a troubling distraction but honestly I think that, like the comfortable feel of black, it is also a matter of what you are used to seeing. What you see as a distraction may simply be your mind wanting to push against something you are not used to seeing, our instincts evolve quickly sometimes and its important to pay attention to the reasoning behind why we make the decisions we make. I feel that with a few days of use that thin black edge would never be noticed again and simply be seen as a border to the screen. It makes for good tech writing to discover things that could be seen as wrong with a new devices design and while things like this do warrant being pointed out I always find it troubling when its not really investigated or thought through well enough before jumping into the group think mentality that leads to assumptions and misguided opinions. Perhaps I am making an assumption myself in saying this, who knows.

Whats my personal taste leaning towards? While after a year of using my first gen iPad with its deep black screen I still feel as though the thick black bezel feels heavy around my screen. I understand the functionality of having a bezel large enough to hold in my hand though, which is a functional compromise for the better in my opinion.

There is also the emotion involved within a color choice. We are all emotional beings after all and so its hard not to bring emotion into the conversation while talking about a device that could end up being so closely intertwined in your every day life.

I find that I like the peacefulness of having lighter colors around me while I work and live my life or at least a nice balance of color. So for that reason alone, the airy lightness of a white iPad seems more appealing than yet another black monolith laying around on my desk. I feel like I have had enough black for now. The white border hardly feels distracting to me personally and in fact feels more natural and welcoming if it’s possible to say such a thing about an electronic device. This, of course, is simply my opinion, and many of you may prefer black for the same reasons I prefer white.

I have really loved having the iPad around and I have discovered that I have been using it more and more as applications continue to progress into new levels of functionality and appeal. I will explore this a bit more in another post soon. The reason for writing this was simply to mention my opinion on the ongoing discussion of the white and black iPads which seemed to vary somewhat from what I have read elsewhere. Funny thing me writing about a product I don’t own though. Thats what opinion articles are about though then aren’t they? What do you think?

OmmWriter

ommwriter

While digging through endless bookmarks and links trying to track down an old forgotten website I came across an amazing application for mac OSX that creates a simple, beautiful, responsive environment for writing. I know there has been a rash of minimal writing applications lately but none have taken things to this level. The app not only creates a minimal writing surface free of distraction but goes the extra mile and adds audio and visual elements to create an experience unlike any other I have seen in a word processing app. It’s absolutely refreshing to write in this space. The customizable workspace is fantastic and a clear, concise set of tools appear only when you need them to be there. I can easily see myself using this often as I sit down to focus on a post for the site or any other writing needs.

 

One of the nicest things about the app is the fact that it has a full featured version that is totally free of charge. An additional version appears to be available as well which contains even more options to customize the experience. In fact that is exactly what OmmWriter does, it creates a full tangible experience for your writing. I can safely say this will end up living in my dock as a go to app when I need to sit down and focus on writing and I highly recommend anyone in need of a great writing experience to take a few minutes and have a look at what its all about.

 

More information can be found on the official site for the app www.ommwriter.com.

 

Update: the application is now available on the Mac App store as well. You can access it though this link.

 

My Mac Setup

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Fellow blogger Shawn Blanc asked me to participate in his ongoing series of Sweet Mac Setups where he asks fellow mac users in the mac/design community to talk some about their mac setups and take a few photos of their workspace. The series does not focus only on people with fancy, perfect, expensive setups. It seems to be more about the relationship between the user and how they use their setups to work creatively with what they have. Its a fun series to look through if you want find interesting ways other creatives use their computer setups, both hardware and software, to work creatively. Its a great idea for a series of article/interviews and I was happy to take part in them.

You can see my entry in the series over on shawnblanc.net by clicking here.

Update: Some readers have been asking for a wallpaper of the above image so I cropped it down into wallpaper resolutions for everyone interested. Download the zip here.

To whom it may concern,

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fiftyfootshadows.net

fiftyfootshadows@gmail.com