Photographers sacrifice the present to remember the past in the future.
This weekend I attended a wedding where smartphones being used as cameras were everywhere. It really highlighted for me how people don’t live in the moment anymore. The idea of removing the barrier between you and the moment you are enjoying has always been a dream of mine. I resent spending time at my kids’ birthday parties watching the candles be blown out on a 4-inch screen instead of being fully immersed in my children’s happiness.
Until now there hasn’t been a potentially legit way to live in the moment AND preserve the memory. Enter Google Glass.
In my day job, I oversee the future of the product direction at Aviary. Our company mission is to democratize creativity. We provide a powerful photo editor that is relied on by thousands of companies and millions of people each day. So I’m not going to miss an opportunity to immerse myself in new photographic mediums we might need to develop for. We were one of the first in line to buy Glass at Google IO last year.
To be candid, my first hour with Glass wasn’t great. I won’t go into all the problems it has here. There are other more technical reviews for that. And to be fair, my disappointment is probably my own fault for buying into the hype. Despite the marketing, this is not a super-jet. It’s the Wright brother’s first plane. If I had looked forward to Glass as just a taste of things to come, I wouldn’t have been let down.
I decided to ignore my first impressions and forced myself to wear Glass for an entire weekend, focusing exclusively on the photography aspect of it. That’s all I really cared about after all: Could I use Glass as the solution to my inability to both live in the moment and preserve my memories? That’s what I wanted to find out.
I would set to doing all the suburban weekend father things I normally do, and see how using Glass as my exclusive camera changed my everyday life: I alternate between lugging around a DSLR and using my iPhone 5 camera to capture the recordable parts of my family life: My son’s Little League and hockey games. Playing stickball with my kids in the park. Family biking and rollerblading. My daughter’s piano practice. Eating in restaurants, with 4 kids in tow.
One of the biggest challenges with Glass is not feeling like a douchebag / nerd / show-off when you wear them in public. What was clear to me was that strangers do notice them and they do not judge you negatively at all (yet). Quite the opposite actually. Google Glass acted like a welcoming beacon for strangers to come over and make small talk (always resulting in a request to try them on). I’m a bit shy and my interests don’t often dovetail with the doctors and lawyers of suburbia, so it was pleasant to find myself talking technology with strangers. Some people may find this attention uncomfortable though. I expect it will diminish as Glass becomes more common.
Actually interacting with my children became a pleasure. I will often come back from vacations with thousands of photos (no hyperbole) in my struggle to get the “perfect shot.” And while I love taking the photos, the minimalist in me always thinks about how clean and enjoyable my life would be without the added distraction of a camera. Having an uninterrupted, undistracted catch with my son simply couldn’t happen before with a phone or camera in my hand. Watching him make a great play and not having to view it through a viewfinder means I actually get to enjoy the moment in real-life with all of my senses intact.
To be sure, there are still distractions (i.e. the voice controls in a noisy Little League game don’t work very well) and there is a learning curve to not missing key moments by spending 5 seconds navigating the voice menu to take a photo or record a video (Google smartly provides a shortcut snapshot button on the frame). You are aware it’s on your face and you can’t move it completely out of your field of view, which can be headache inducing. But as you learn to use it, these first-world problems become less relevant. You can focus on being in the moment.
Glass photography can help society too. I think about the concerts and children’s plays I go to where rude people (read: everyone) hold their phones and sometimes tablets in the air to record what’s in front of them, disrupting the experience for everyone behind them. Glass also has the potential to fix that problem.
It wasn’t until I got home and downloaded all of my photos and videos that the importance of Glass really struck me. I could easily tell which photos and video were taken by me and which were taken by my children. The impact of point of view photography is not something I had ever really thought about, though Google had hammered that point home in their original trailers.
Is that really how gigantic I look to my children? I remember adults being huge when I was a child, but I’d forgotten just how big until now. Seeing mundane photographs from the natural height and angle of their eyes gives them life and makes the photographer relatable. These photos are not artistic, but they have a human soul.
POV photography is such a natural way to return to a moment in time or momentarily slip on someone else’s body and see the world through their eyes. While pro and creative photographers will not give up their hand-held equipment in this lifetime, I am certain that this will become the standard mode of photography for the common masses sometime in the very near future.
Google Glass is an amazing idea whose time has come. Future iterations and competition will make devices like this even better for photography. I can’t wait for Aviary to be a part of this developing medium.
“Livatars,” a Portmanteau for “live avatars,” is a pretty simple concept: Take a traditional headshot and make it subtly animated so the person in it appears alive. It’s an homage to the living newspapers in Harry Potter and player popup profiles that appear on tv during sportscasts. We tried this on Aviary’s company page and have gotten great feedback on it from people who stumbled across it by accident.
I wouldn’t even call it a pattern yet, except I just noticed it has also popped up on wefollow’s company page as well. They did a more technically elegant implementation than us (if you don’t care about IE7-8 support): We used animated gifs and they used HTML5 background video with a CSS vector mask on top of it.
Benefits over a traditional headshot:
Not boring, without being too over the top or trying too hard. It will probably make the viewer smile when they notice what’s going on.
Makes the people in the photo that much more relatable.
Seeing one makes you want to see a photo yourself alive on that page as well. What better way to unconsciously recruit?
Simpler to implement than other about page easter eggs: Just record a few seconds of video of someone standing still and loop it back and forth.
The trick is to shoot for subtlety and have everyone try to stand completely still when you record them. You want the viewer to do a double take when they think a static snapshot blinks at them out of the corner of their eye as they quickly scan a page.
[We] calibrated details ranging from color shifts, saturation, and contrast, to the shape and blend of the vignettes before handing the specifications over to Aviary, a company specializing in photo editing. They applied their expertise to build the algorithms that matched our filter specs.
I’m excited to announce that Tobias Peggs has joined the Aviary flock as our new CEO!
Aviary is taking off in ways I never dreamed possible when we adjusted our strategy and launched our photo-editing SDK 15 months ago. We now have more than 25 million monthly active users of Aviary’s products, making their photos look amazing across our distribution network of 2,500 partners. We have an incredible portfolio of partners including large corporations like Yahoo!, Walgreens, Box and Twitter and many successful indie companies like imgur, PicStitch and Juicy Bits. One year after launching, in September 2012, we celebrated editing our 1 billionth photo. Just a few months later, we’re now celebrating passing 2 billion edits. It’s been a great year. But we’re just getting started…
As we move forward, it has become clear to me that the company’s accelerating growth is now bringing us into territory that is best handled by someone with a very specific set of skills and experiences tailored to match our B2B strategy. Tobias has deep experience managing accelerated growth in B2B startups, which makes him the perfect leader for Aviary as it really takes off.
Most recently, Tobias was CEO at OneRiot, managing that company’s transition from consumer to B2B, overseeing its growth and subsequent acquisition by Walmart. There are many specific elements in his background that are highly relevant to Aviary’s business:
At OneRiot, he drove fast growth in the business through the distribution of SDKs and business models to a large community of developers.
At Walmart, he was responsible for mobile products in international markets, growing the UK market from zero to 50% of typical weekly global mobile revenue inside 12 months.
He has built and managed large teams across the globe, having previously worked in the US, Europe and Asia.
But beyond his understanding of our developer-focused business, also importantly, he understands what we are doing emotionally. As a former Managing Editor of i-D Magazine, he has a deep appreciation for photography and creativity, which is critical to our culture and mindset at Aviary.
Tobias has been a mentor of mine for almost a year now. Shortly after Aviary changed its business strategy to focus on powering third party apps, one of our investors, Mo Koyfman from Spark Capital, introduced me to Tobias. He had a wealth of leadership knowledge that really impressed me and helped me think through our approach to the business as we grew our partnership base. I am certain that those conversations helped steer Aviary towards its current level of success.
Going forward, I will be Aviary’s Chief Product Officer, focusing on continuing to make Aviary’s product offering the most innovative and pure solution on the market. And in my continued role as Chairman, I’ll make sure the company course stays true on the path towards democratizing creativity.
I’m excited to get the opportunity to work even more closely with a mentor. It represents the opportunity to turn Aviary from a startup with incredible potential into a significant, growing business under Tobias’ leadership.
So I’d like to officially welcome Tobias to the flock. We’ll fly to great places together, as birds of a feather tend to do.
As the veteran venture capitalist Bill Gurley said recently, it’s important to be an optimist in the startup business, as most great tech companies “will sail close to death and then rise up again.” Just a year and a half ago, Aviary, a New York startup focused on creative tools for photo editing, was certainly lost at sea, its original vision floundering. But by drastically shifting its focus from the web to mobile, and from a consumer facing startup to one that powers other businesses, Aviary has become a juggernaut, the closest thing to a modern day Adobe for the mobile era.
A great business story and just the kind of innovation the photo industry needs. It’s also interesting that Instagram is going the opposite direction - moving mobile to the web - and is still extremely successful.
Chanukah fell out in late December 2008. My parents took my children to a Chanukah party that was open to the community in a local storefront. It was a community festival and there were inflatable rides and food and games for the little ones. Everyone was having a great time. It was a party put on by a charitable organization called the Chabad, that hosts Jewish themed events around the globe.
This was just a few short weeks after the tragic massacre in Mumbai, where terrorists deliberately attacked a Chabad house, among other targets. Although we were out in Long Island, NY, anyone attending a Chabad event anywhere in the world was on high alert.
But still, nothing could happen to us right?
Aviary’s office at the time wasn’t too far from where the event was happening, when I heard ridiculous amounts of sirens in the distance coming from the vicinity of where the party was and my cell phone started getting flooded with texts asking if my children were OK? and Did I hear about the terrorist attack at the Chabad event? A car had driven through a storefront and run over dozens of people.
I thought, no way. Impossible.
I thought… nothing.
I just ran.
There were crowds of people and ambulances and police cars and helicopters circling overhead. booming above all of them was utter confusion and panic.
People were crying. Parents were searching for their children. Police were trying to separate nosy neighbors from those who were locating relatives.
My cell phone rang – it was my parents. My heart skipped a beat.
I learned we were fortunate. My children were on the other side of the room and were not in specific danger, though they had watched the scene unfold. My parents didn’t know much except that a car had accelerated through the storefront window at full speed and plowed through the crowd of adults and children, running over several.
My parents said my kids had been playing in that spot 30 seconds earlier.
My father helped other people lift the car off of someone trapped underneath – someone I learned later was a close friend who suffered permanent damage and was taken by helicopter for emergency surgery.
14 people were injured. Fortunately, everyone survived.
My heart goes out to the parents and community in Connecticut who lost their children and loved ones. Their tragedy is so difficult to comprehend, even with this relatively small reference point of my own.
I’ll never forget the panic and dread and numbness I experienced that one afternoon when I didn’t have answers.
I can’t even imagine what it feels like as a parent to get the answers you didn’t want to hear.
My god is this app gorgeous. One of the best-looking iPad apps ever created, and a perfect example of creativity/creation on the device.
This is the first pure creativity app that has ever made it onto my dock. I use it EVERY. SPARE. SECOND. I find that it’s a form of creative meditation for me. This is the drawing app I have been waiting 15 years for, ever since I first discovered the clunky Wacom tablet experienced.
I haven’t even really tried it with a stylus yet. I almost don’t even want to.
I’ve had the app for 48 hours and it’s woken something hungry inside of me.
My wife stepped carefully over a paint can and one of my legs. She peered quizzically at my lower half, sticking out from under my 8-year-old’s newly painted desk as if I was tuning up a car.
“I’m teaching Kayla a lesson.”
“By painting under her desk?”
“Wait, what? That’s a lesson?”
“It’s one of the most important ones I know. I’m also inscribing a note.”
I finished up, snapped a photo of the inscription and popped out from below. I showed her the photo on my phone.
The desk was a present. My daughter turns 8 today and more than ever I feel like a father. It’s not just her age that makes me feel this way, but her growing talents and my responsibilities in nurturing them. She, like me, is a Builder of Things.
She draws. She paints. She makes books (as in literally, *makes* them, from the bindings to the illustrations to the stories within). She makes puppets. She takes photos. She. Makes. Things.
And she is very, very good at what she does.
I want to help her channel her creative energy in a way that will let her inspire others as she grows. She is a next generation maker and the creative tools already at her disposal make my childhood tools look like Play-Doh in comparison (because, actually that’s what it was). She will be leaps and bounds ahead of me. I want to pass on some of the lessons that I only learned in my twenties and thirties, now, while she is still moldable.
This particular lesson is simple:
I’m not going to tell her there is an inscription under her desk or even that I painted all the areas normally hidden from view. But one day - probably at some point over this year or the next - she will be playing hide and seek and find shelter under the desk. Maybe she’ll be recovering a lost toy and happen to look up. She might notice that I have taken time to painstakingly paint an area of her desk that is normally never seen.
She might not.
But at some point in the near future, she will notice the inscription:
When I first started @Aviary, I planned to be completely transparent about the company’s progress with everyone: employees, users and total strangers.
I understood that traditionally, early startups were in complete stealth mode and closed about their plans and progress.
That seemed silly to me.
It didn’t make those startups seem mysterious. It made their ideas seem indefensible if the only way to protect it was to keep quiet about it: A good startup idea is one that leverages the founders’ unique insight, backgrounds or positions in a defensible way. Worse, being silent made their progress seem minimal: It’s rare that a successful startup stays quiet for very long.
There is cruel irony in that even people who think they are being stealthy aren’t. You are always sending signals to everyone around you, even by not sending any at all. When you are quiet about your progress or lack thereof, you are actually sending out terrible signals to the world.
For us the main indication of impending doom is when we don’t hear from you. When we haven’t heard from, or about, a startup for a couple months, that’s a bad sign. If we send them an email asking what’s up, and they don’t reply, that’s a really bad sign. So far that is a 100% accurate predictor of death.
Transparency is good across your company
One of my good friends and former Aviary engineers, Mo Boehm, once commented to me:
“It’s probably a good idea to write all of your code anticipating that a thousand people will see it.”
Damn straight. Transparency (or the intention of it) leads to better decisions, in code and the real world.
Once you’re in the habit of being transparent, you make better decisions simply because you have no choice. You are being judged by everyone, and that’s a great thing. You can’t coast along or plateau without being held accountable by the world. An underperforming startup flying under the radar of the world is the worst thing for everyone involved in that startup. You can only coast for so long. Money runs out and investors will eventually see your flat stats. Being transparent with the world will force you to deal with problems immediately, before it’s too late.
And if you have no skeletons in your closet, you can’t be caught off guard when sensitive data inevitably leaks (because it will).
Learning the hard way
In Aviary’s early history and against my better judgement, I abandoned being transparent after someone close to the company told me I was being naive and that data shouldn’t be shared, not with strangers and not even employees. I wasn’t experienced and confident enough at the time to trust my instincts. This person was well meaning, but in retrospect it was wrong advice for Aviary.
There were repercussions in a variety of ways:
Our users lost a personal connection to the team. We were no longer Aviary: the Product Team, a scrappy, enthusiastic group of individuals trying to change the world by making cool products. We were just Aviary: The Product. Users can’t have a personal relationship with a product.
Our users no longer had any insight into our product plans. Some of our earliest feedback and user excitement came from regularly checking the Aviary blog for new tidbits on what was coming out and how traffic was performing. After getting quieter we lost a lot of that prime buzz among our earliest adopters.
Our employees no longer had any window into how we were performing. When we tightened our belts, as will happen in startups, it caught them completely by surprise. Not cool. It makes those who stayed with the company lose their feeling of job security that comes with a window into the data. NOTE: Startup employees don’t fear being let go. They fear it happening unexpectedly.
The lack of transparency filtered out into other ways, that ultimately infected the company DNA. For example, my team would be loathe to share bad news about late deadlines, etc… with me. And I in turn would be loathe to share bad news with investors and the board. Not healthy.
It reached a point when I decided I had enough and was going back to the basics. At the same point we officially repositioned Aviary as a photo-editing API that developers could plug into their apps, I sat down my team and told them that from this day on we’d be completely transparent as a company. The culture had to change.
We make it a point to share key aspects from our board meeting with the entire team afterwards. Every week the team is given a full update on our growth metrics, product roadmap, current strategy, bd partnerships, etc… And most importantly, we’re back to interactively sharing our progress with the world.
In retrospect, I learned two very valuable lessons that I won’t ever need to repeat:
Always be transparent.
Trust your own instincts. But that’s a post for another time.
If men did this it would be considered sexist… just sayin’
It had 6 likes, which bothered me more than the comment itself. I replied:
I hear this argument all the time for different underrepresented demographic groups. It’s a weak argument. The point of groups like this is to bring equality to the industry as a whole. An over-represented group should not be given tools to maintain it’s dominance. That’s not just sexist or racist or bigoted: It’s inequitable.
Chad wrote back:
Avi Muchnick I don’t think the tech industry is against Women at all. I think it’s just been a lack of momentum and drive. I’m all for Women in tech and support their want to be accepted into such an industry. However it’s true. If men created a “pro men” group it would be criticized every which way for even existing.
Ouch. “Lack of momentum and drive?” Not even worth addressing that. My final point to Chad:
Chad Moran Yes, it would be criticized because it doesn’t need to exist in order to help men out. It’s a pointless group whose existence is really predicated on keeping women out of tech, rather then keeping men in.
I think any movement that is founded for the purpose of boosting an (unfairly) underrepresented minority in an industry should not be viewed the same as a movement founded for the purpose of maintaining an unfair monopoly.
A couple of days ago I decided to update my LinkedIn contacts and see who I might have missed. I used their handy import contacts form and without realizing it, inadvertently spammed 1500 of my contacts (I’m lucky that LinkedIn sets a max import of 1500, or this would have been much, much worse).
The problem seems to be that with the update to OS X Lion, scrollbars no longer appear… so it’s not obvious that in addition to the 8 contacts displaying on the screen, there are also 1492 selected by default, hidden below the fold.
Look at this image (click to open in a new window) and tell me how you could know that more people are hidden if you scroll in that area. Technically, LinkedIn does tell you that 1145 are selected in small unnoticeable font, but the implication from looking at this page is that only 8 are appearing on screen (and I just assumed since only 8 were showing there would be multiple pages of contacts to choose from).
So why is this bad? Well, the implications for me personally are obvious:
I annoyed a lot of people I don’t know (since Gmail adds anyone you have ever communicated with).
Worse, I invited some people I do know, but didn’t really want to add on LinkedIn. I try to keep LinkedIn strictly for professional relationships, preferably ones where I have actually dealt with the person directly.
Now I’m stuck in the awkward position of having to unconnect from countless people I’m going to have to bump into in the grocery store, at family events, etc… Or I could ruin the integrity of my LinkedIn network by leaving them connected. Either way, no good.
But the implications for LinkedIn are far, far worse:
LinkedIn’s value proposition is the integrity of its network. LinkedIn knows this and seems to take this very seriously (the site is peppered with reminders not to add people you don’t know). Having a network of people who were accidentally added dilutes the power of someone’s real network and undermines the value of the system itself.
I have a problem trusting LinkedIn with any of my data going forwards and will give the same negative recommendation to anyone I interact with on or off LinkedIn when the subject comes up. And every single one of the people I invited was given the same warning.
From talking with my friends, I quickly learned that I wasn’t the only one to make this mistake. Many of them had either this exact thing happen to them or have received LinkedIn spam from someone else. This is not the reputation a professional social network should want.
LinkedIn needs to update this major user experience flaw ASAP – I would disable the import contacts form completely until this is addressed, if I was in their shoes. The number one priority for a social network should be making it’s users feel that their data and network is safe from abuse.
When it comes to priorities: Treating customer data with integrity trumps viral growth, every time.
From this TechCrunch piece on how Microsoft is losing badly with Bing:
Bing is not a bad search engine. I repeat: Bing isnot a bad search engine. But when you’re wondering directions to a place, shopping for something new, or just curious about what this or that means, you’re likely not thinking to yourself: “Oh, I’ll Bing that.” No, no, no. You Google that sucker. Because Google is a verb. And Bing is not.
Exactly right. Google is literally a part of people’s vocabularies at this point and Microsoft is trying to compete with them without solving any new problems.
It’s not lowering consumer costs. Google is free to use.
It’s not offering a better user experience. Google is relatively simple and the ads aren’t too obtrusive.
And most importantly:
It’s not offering better search results.
Microsoft isn’t solving any problems by offering an alternative search engine. Google wasn’t broken. Or at least not broken enough to drive users to try multiple search engines. Those days are long gone.
This war isn’t really a search engine war anyway. It’s an advertising network war and search is just the lure to bring targeted eyeballs that can be sold to advertisers.
If Microsoft really wanted to innovate, instead of chasing after a 10-year market leader in computational search on a purely “I want to play too” basis, it should have set it’s sights on new waters: Social search. Instead of investing in Facebook and sinking $9 billion into Bing, it should have bought Facebook in 2007 and attacked the advertising network war from the social front instead.
Because ultimately, there’s going to be one winner in this advertising network war between Google and Microsoft, as social search becomes more and more relevant.