Sunday, 2 February 2014

A Look at G+'s Photo Editing Features

From a business perspective it is very easy to explain why Google Plus is a great platform, an important element in on-line marketing strategies and search engine optimisation, particularly whilst Google's market share for search traffic stands around the 90% mark (StatCounter, Jan 2014) in the UK. Many are confused by the platform currently, and this is due to the precedents set by Facebook and Twitter for example, it isn't simply a page with lots of features and it doesn't really matter from a business perspective that only 300 Million Active Users visit a month (Barr, Oct 2013)
In addition, from a professional perspective it is an easy argument too; the articles and conversations are essentially focussed around more professional issues, therefore the content is largely relevant to a professional audience irrespective of discipline or industry.
From a personal perspective, it is less-apparent to most, why the platform is valid or of interest. To counter though, there are lots of different features that are particularly exciting from a consumer's perspective and the browser based apps such as Image Editing is one of those.
Google have been for some time encouraging its Android users to upload their photos to private areas, these can then be made public either on an individual or album level; privacy whilst a contentious issue across most social platforms these days, particularly Google, is essentially at the forefront of every feature on the platform - it is prominent, which is more than can be said of some rival offers. Take for instance that with every post you make using G+, you have to specify the audience and whilst this might be true for Facebook also for example, the prominence given to this from a UI perspective is less than the former. With both platforms it is highly recommended to leave location services or GPS off when taking photographs, but that is a separate discussion really.

Since about late 2013 those user's who chose to allow their photos to be automatically uploaded will have started to notice a notification when photos are uploaded, but the new notifications are telling them to check out their Auto-Awesome'd images; these range from basic adjustments, through simple collages to more amusing animated GIF files, even adding snow to images during December for that extra Christmassy feel. Upon further inspection by accessing the photos either on a desktop through their G+ profiles or even in the App itself, a range of filters, frames and effects have been made available, allowing user's to create some very impressive modifications to their images. The effects are themselves all customisable using slider interfaces and can be layered over to create increasingly complicated effects, what's more is this is more than just the usual balance, contrast and funny borders you might find - complicated blur and lighting effects can be customised to virtually the nth degree. This is all very impressive, and it is like having a lightweight version of Lightroom available for your jpg's; the most impressive part though is that the modifications even when saved are part of a non-destructive process, the originals integrity is maintained so you can revisit and rework at any time, you can even compare the original to the edited version at any time by simply clicking a button.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Auto Awesome Adds Another Dimension

Over the past couple of weeks I have noticed something very strange happening with photographs being synced from my phone to my G+ account; I would login on a computer and then see strange animated versions of burst shots right through to panoramas, the feature apparently, is known as auto-awesome. I was instantly impressed, the standard of the photos produced automatically without any kind of deliberate action was good, but when I realised that Google had added an edit button to the gallery, then I saw the potential and another dimension to G+ that surely cannot be ignored.

I would suspect that this is an attempt to pitch G+ right up against Instagram now, and with the additional bells and whistles it is definitely a contender in that court, as before against Facebook and Twitter alike. Google don't do things by halves, G+ is maturing into some kind of super hero social network; they have the resources, you can't fault them for using them to stay ahead.

The thing is, having only used it for a couple of shots to play, I would consider this a real alternative to Adobe Lightroom for the novice opportunist photographer with no usual inclination to delve into their creative personas. I can see myself using this for playful stuff that I might not intend to use professionally, then I would get the big boy tools out, but certainly as something in the box for working out ideas and for things to simply share with friends and family - this is certainly an interesting development; even your Gran could use it!

And perhaps that is the point, could it prove to be the key piece of the jigsaw in the eventual success of G+ as a social platform?

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Whatever happened to APNG?

Sometimes you find yourself questioning the direction technology takes, including such conundrums as; why has it taken so long for fibre-optic to take off when we have known of its benefits for decades? why has it taken so long to converge tv, radio and internet into one product? Why did it take so long for SVG to be popularised? And for me most recently, why didn't APNG take off; it seems almost illogical.

APNG is a format for animated PNG sequences, a format itself which is widely used and arguably the best for internet usage, certainly the most versatile. APNG has all of the characteristics of PNG including complicated alpha transparencies and a 24bit colour palette; it just seems to defy all logic that the format didn't become supported and part of the W3C strategy for HTML 5. Animation with APNG is just better when compared to GIF, and if browsers supported the format there would have been little need for plug-ins for simple short animated sequences. It isn't interactive like swf, but then it wasn't designed to be anything beyond an animation format and let's face it, GIF leaves a lot to be desired.

So I did a little searching to gratify myself and found very little in the way of reliable information, and very little information published since 2009; it is almost as though the world forgot about the format which was very exciting around that time. I suppose the real issue is down to support, only Firefox and Opera appear to support the extension and in terms of production the support of Photoshop or Flash as an export format would have gone a long way to popularising it. So the burning question on my lips is, why didn't they? You can still output to GIF from both and now CC allows Flash to produce native HTML 5 animations. It does seem like during the past 4 or 5 years a simple option for higher quality animation on the web was simply overlooked.

Thankfully my investigations led me eventually to a promising kick-starter project APNGASM, who are aiming to develop a GUI based APNG tool, although their current project appears to be producing plug-ins and conversion tools; I am especially looking forwards to the Photoshop plug-in, however much that costs.

Kagetsuki, R., 2013. apngasm - FOSS Animated PNG tools and APNG standardization. [Online]
Available at: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/374397522/apngasm-foss-animated-png-tools-and-apng-standardi
[Accessed 21 09 2013].


Mozilla, 2007. Animated PNG demos. [Online]
Available at: http://people.mozilla.org/~dolske/apng/demo.html
[Accessed 21 September 2013]. 

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Google Says Bye Bye to Bevelled Look

The new logo on Google UK 'looks flatter' according to BBC News's Leo Kelion (2013); I have to admit I was unsure if this was an actual change or not, to start with and took a double take, but it appears to be on a slow roll-out, the changes to the interface are subtle but very focussed on removing distractions and streamlining both the page layout (if it could be any more streamlined) and the user experience. Clearly, there are larger changes afoot, but if they are as subtle as these most users perhaps will not notice so much.

The logo itself does feel cleaner now that the bevel has been removed, but could this be argued too simplistic? Eddie Kessler of Google (2013) stated in their official blog that they have also updated the colour palette and the letter forms, but these are very subtle differences indeed; the relationship between the first 'G' and 'o' does seem still to be quite awkward, but as ever this logo is as much about the negative space as it is the form of the characters and their relationships - something always draws me to the space inside the 'G'.

Google is the landing point for many people and the changes seem on the face of it, an improvement and in keeping with their developments of late, appear to be further integrating the G+ side of things and their portfolio of web applications. They have incorporated the conventional icon for app menu / launchers into the design and the page does feel much cleaner, the menu works on absolute positioning from the right until the browser window is resized below 1000px in width on a desktop and the changes don't appear to have reached the mobile site yet.

So the new menu is much simpler, with only +You, Gmail and Images visible, with everything else hidden in the app menu; of course when you are logged in the Share dialogue and profile avatar are revealed and this is probably my favourite part of the change; having the share integrated directly into all Google pages is certainly designed to engage a wider audience with + through the now streamlined process. I am sure I will use this frequently in the future.


Kelion, L., 2013. Google revamps logo and search page. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-24170053
[Accessed 20 September 2013].

Kelly, S. M., 2013. Google introduces new flatter logo. [Online]
Available at: http://mashable.com/2013/09/19/google-logo-change/
[Accessed 20 September 2013].

Kessler, E., 2013. Inside Search: The Official Google Search Blog. [Online]
Available at: http://insidesearch.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/updating-google-bar-many-products.html
[Accessed 20 September 2013].


Friday, 8 February 2013

ITV Identity

I have been mulling over this one for a couple of weeks now, not really being one who is ready to just jump in with criticism.
The new series of idents / logotype designs were definitely not my cup of tea to start with, but their predecessors were very bland and corporate. Personality has certainly been instilled; it says to me This Morning, Jeremy Kyle and I'm a Celebrity... therefore, in this regard it must be hailed a success.

On that basis, is the new identity a guilty pleasure?
The brand that never ceases to fail to provide cringe-worthy programming,  has produced a logotype equal to it's  "I can't look, but can't turn over moments".

There appears to be much negative subjective criticism out there (on the web), so it remains to be seen whether the new identity will be well-received given a warming period. I personally don't appreciate the logo in its static form, but feel much differently about the dynamic animated incarnations - where it comes into it's own. A logo for a broadcaster should really stand-up on screen before it does in print.

There is a distinctive, recognisable style across the ITV channels - linking them as a family, using colour to distinguish its members. Like it or loathe it, the new style is successful in those terms.

The biggest fall-down is perhaps the news logo, which does feel a bit of an oxymoron; friendly and serious at the same time doesn't seem to work. The News element just feels as though it is pinned on, maybe they could have gone for 100% informal but used colour to give off the respectful tone required.

Finally, I have seen many comments on the 'success' of the C-ITV variant as the indication of a poor logo, the speech bubble does add a shouty child persona and this is very successful and should be applauded not used as a stick to beat the other designs.

All in all, the handwritten style is not exactly my taste, but then neither is the majority of the programming, with the exception of the awful films on ITV4; Guilty Pleasures!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Flash Player, HTML 5, Apple and Web Standards

It has been running in my head for a while now, the issue has certainly been covered by thousands of blogs and news articles, but it still grates a bit for me from two perspectives - firstly as someone who develops using the Flash environment and secondly as a media lecturer.

Flash player is essentially dead on the mobile web, less so on the desktop based version - and I appreciate using the AIR environment to create 'native' applications, which is proving to be great - although there are always going to be things that can't be achieved with it in comparison to developing say for instance in Java or X-Code.

The problem is in killing it off (Flash Player not Flash itself) there are likely to be millions of resources which are inaccessible, it was never great for building websites unless there was a need for it - and for me there can be a need to create highly interactive and animated web content, Nikon's Universcale is one example for instance of many wonderful resources out there that should be part of the internet for ever - as an archive of 'that which once was' even if there has been a shift away from the platform that supports it.

I understand the perspective of Steve Jobs and Apple back in 2010, when he defended the decision to not support Flash for not wanting third party software to detract from the experience of using their device; the reasoning of being able to control the OS and the development environment is an honourable one in some respects but was also a bit flawed - especially when it came to supporting standards (written or unwritten). They were keen on the use of HTML 5 as a standard, the standard of the web, forgetting the rule of 'backwards compatibility', HTML is essentially backwards compatible I suppose but the web wouldn't be if devices didn't continue to support something which had become a standard.

At that time Flash was a standard, a platform used throughout the web to display video whether that be FLV or MP4, the environment itself considering video standards of the web at the time; there were also masses of on-line games out there and everything between. Businesses had built themselves on that platform, on that standard and I am sure they felt like they had had the rug pulled from under them as the saturation of mobile devices took hold; no longer a consideration they are now the market - I personally feel that consumer devices such as tablets and smart phones will be the main target of development from now on out; who needs a computer these days unless you are aiming to work with high-end digital graphics, 3D modelling, programming or anything else truly reliant on hardware (which Apple built its business on).

I am a fan of HTML 5 and very excited about the developments in CSS, to continue to strive to achieve a web standard - which can't be considered as such until it is adopted; in this regard Apple were really similar to Microsoft with Internet Explorer only supporting what they considered to be standards back then. I like HTML 5, inherently due to the fact that I like clean code and the mark-up is getting cleaner and semantically well-formed; at this point it has left behind its origins, no longer Berners-Lee's baby it has evolved and for lack of a better expression Web 2.0 has truly come to pass - I say that with gritted teeth  that expression has consistently grated with me - market-speak.

So back to the point, Apple did not consider the needs of the audience when developing the platform; which was to use the web as it existed at that point in time - not how Apple foretold it. The needs included Flash Player which was a standard because people were using it, in their millions consciously or otherwise - industries were using it, developers were using it and end-users were using it!

This might all be irrelevant now, the end has essentially passed and we are moving out into the unknown, but there will be a lot of content out there that will simply fade away as a consequence of the decision and let's face it Apple made that decision for its own purposes, not for the needs of its audience - and there is no shame in that, they are a business and it suited them and removed something that would have been difficult to control.

I am not one for reinventing the wheel, there are a lot of good things out there that do a job and do it well; Flash is one of them, it has come along way from its infancy as an animation package with some very basic interaction to a full development environment which has a standards based language, ActionScript 3.0 is a solid language for me (I suppose that potentially I will have to shelve at some point in the future, there are other languages and it is only one of  a few I work in). In 2010 it was reaching this maturity, AIR was certainly around but not supported as much as the web based Flash Player.

I could go on - Google Maps, great platform - who in their right mind would take it on?

So, there we go really. Flash allowed developers to target multiple platforms, which for them streamlined the workflow; and now Flash Player is dead and what has changed?
There are still millions of games on-line, any of those wishing to continue will produce native versions of themselves for mobile platforms I expect and there are still developers working in Flash producing AIR base Applications for Android, iOS and also for Flash Player (for those who still have it).

Flash is dead! Long live Flash!?

So, who are the losers? Well, no-one ever really loses if they are not conscious of the fact that they are missing anything, as is the case with potentially 99% of iOS users. But those holding the iPhone, iPod or iPad in their hands as they read this are missing out on the rest of the web, but because of the decision so now are Android devices, missing out on a vast range of games and applications which are part of the history of the web - and should continue to be so, instead of erased from the collective human memory.

So that is it, I think I am now going to go and play on Miniclip.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

New Website

So here is where the blog changes track, after years in limbo and not really serving the purpose it was originally intended to, now my blog is going to become a little more professionally focused.
In the first week of 2013 I have decided to get in gear and sort out the portfolio website, which for most of the last year has only really had a placeholder marking my intention to update the look and the content; and before this it had of course been home to my college and university portfolio work.
This is all still here but hidden behind the scenes, hopefully I will be able to root through it and find some work still worthy of display.

This now is all to change, I do produce quite a large amount of flash files as part of my teaching, on occasion websites too and as part of that a large number of graphics. I have started to realise that I have amassed a substantial amount of work, and really I should be using it to showcase myself and skills to eventually hopefully work for me.

The next stage of development after recently wrangling with my blogspot rss feed to try and eek out the information I have within it, is to sort out the tutorials section - and currently I am in two minds whether to setup a CMS DB driven system for this or to merely upload pdf's and embed video tutorials. Given that I have taken a shortcut with the blog, I may consider building a dynamic system and let that be that.

I have considered also whether or not to build my own blog from scratch, but the current ethos is to not reinvent the wheel - so if something good exists already, then why not use it? Blogger does have an app for Android which I can make use of to update this on a more frequent basis than previously assumed.

I will publish test versions of any apps developed (there are a few in the pipeline) on my site, in the hope that someone out there can give me useful feedback - and to begin with there are two very simple games which could potentially be worked up into full versions eventually - the bubbles game certainly does (Addictive!)

So there it is, hopefully it won't be all work, work, work! A balance of interesting dialogue and commentary, supplemented perhaps by the occasional rant and mixed in with wholly useful stuff for wannabe developers :)

Happy New Year.

A