Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Rant Time: Apple Music vs Twitter

Posted in Apple, botch, business, california by commorancy on September 12, 2018

apple-cracked-3.0-noderivsI know I’ve been on a tirade with the number of rants recently, but here we are. I rant when there’s something to rant about. This time it’s about sharing Apple Music playlists on Twitter… and just how badly this feature is broken. Worse, just how Apple itself is broken. Let’s explore.

Twitter Cards

Twitter has a feature they call Twitter cards. It’s well documented and requires a number of meta tags to be present in an HTML page. When the page is shared via Twitter, Twitter goes looking at the HTML for its respective Twitter meta tags to generate a Twitter card.

A Twitter card comes in two sizes and looks something like this:

Small Twitter Card

Twitter Card Small 2

Large Twitter Card

Large Twitter Card

What determines the size of the Twitter card seems to be the size and ratio of the image. If the image is square in size (144×144 or larger), Twitter creates a small card as shown at the top. If the image ratio is not square and larger than 144×144, Twitter produces a large Twitter card. The difference between the cards is obvious:

  • Small card has an image to the left and text to the right
  • Large card has image above and text below

It’s up to the person sharing on Twitter to decide which size is most appropriate. Personally, I prefer the larger size because it allows for a much larger image.

Apple Music Playlist Sharing

Here’s where the RANT begins… hang onto your hat’s folks. Apple’s engineering team doesn’t get Twitter cards…. AT. ALL! Let me give an example of this. Here’s a playlist I shared on Twitter:

Apple Music Playlist Twitter Card

What’s wrong with this Twitter card? If you guessed the image is way too tiny, you’d win. Apple doesn’t understand the concept of producing a 144×144 image properly. Here’s the fundamental problem. In iTunes, my playlist image is uploaded with a 1200×1200 size image. This image is well large enough for any use on the net. Here’s how it looks in iTunes, albeit scaled somewhat small:

iTunes Playlist Image

Note, iTunes retains the full image size, but scales the image as needed. If you look at the playlist on the web, it looks like this with a much larger scaled image:

Apple Playlist Web

As you can see, the image scales properly and still looks good even larger. Yes, even large enough to produce a 144×144 image on a Twitter card.

Here’s the Twitter card metadata on that Apple Music Preview page:

meta id="1" name="twitter:title" content="‎AstroWorld Pioneer by Klearnote" class="ember-view"

meta id="2" name="twitter:description" content="‎Playlist · 22 Songs" class="ember-view"

meta id="3" name="twitter:site" content="@appleMusic" class="ember-view">

meta id="4" name="twitter:domain" content="Apple Music" class="ember-view">

meta id="5" name="twitter:image" 
content="https://is5-ssl.mzstatic.com/image/thumb/SG-S3-US-Std-Image-000001/v4/a2/c6/6f/a2c66fc6-a63b-f590-c6db-e41aebfc327c/image/600x600wp.png" 
class="ember-view"

meta id="6" name="twitter:card" content="summary" class="ember-view"

You’ll notice that the text in red above is the piece that is relevant. Let’s look at that image now…

600x600wp

Scaled. Click to see 600×600 image

You’ll notice that the playlist image content is centered at 213×213 pixels in size centered in a light grey box that’s 600×600. Yes, that thick light grey border is part of the image. This is actually how the image is being produced by Apple on their servers. That would be okay if the image were scaled to the full 600×600 pixels. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Twitter will scale any image to its preferred size of 144×144 pixels for small Twitter cards. Here’s what a 144×144 image looks like when scaled by WordPress:

600x600wp

Small, but reasonably clear. Here’s Twitter’s crap scaled and unreadable version:

twitter-144x144

I have no idea what Twitter is using to scale its images, but it looks like absolute trash. The bigger problem isn’t that Twitter has scaled this image down, it’s that Apple has provided Twitter with such an already small and crap looking playlist image. Why have a 144×144 image if you’re only going to use 1/9th of the entire space? Apple, why wouldn’t you not want to use the entire 144×144 image space to make the image look like this:

pioneer-1200x1200

That sized image would make the Twitter card look like this…

TwitterCardFixed

… instead of this absolute shit looking card…

TwitterCardBroken

How the Mighty Have Fallen

Apple used to be a well respected company who always prided itself on doing things correctly and producing high quality products. Today, they’re a shadow of their former selves. Producing products as crap as this only serves as a detriment to all of the other products they now offer. It’s clear, Apple Music is an afterthought and Apple seems to have only one engineer assigned to this software product… maybe none.

It’s also clear, Apple doesn’t respect the standards of anyone, not even themselves. I consider this absolute crap attention to detail. Seriously, who wants their images to be scaled to the point of unreadability? No one!

Yet, when I called Apple Support to report this issue, I was told, “This is expected behavior”. Expected by whom? Who would ever expect an image to be scaled the point of nonrecognition? No one. If this is the level of software development effort we’re now seeing from Apple, then I don’t even want to think what corners are being cut on their hardware products.

What’s next? Apple watches catching on fire and exploding on people’s wrists? Phones taking out people’s ears? If I can no longer trust Apple to uphold the standards of high quality, then the mighty have truly fallen. There is no hope for Apple no matter how much crap they try to peddle.

Apple, Hear Me!

If you are serious about your business, then you need to be serious about all aspects including offering high quality products, services and features. This goes all the way to playlist sharing on Twitter. My experience with dealing with Apple in this matter was so amateur including the way Apple Music itself is being handled, why should I continue to use this product? Give me a reason to pay you $99 for such shit! Seriously, in addition to the above, I’m also finding what appear to be bootlegged music products on Apple Music and yet you’re pawning it off as official releases?

And as suggested by your representative, why should I contact Twitter for this issue? Twitter’s features work properly when provided with the correct information. As has been stated for years in software engineering, “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. It is you, Apple, who are providing Twitter with garbage information. It’s not a Twitter problem, it’s an Apple problem. Also, because this is an Apple engineering problem to solve, why should I contact Twitter on Apple’s behalf? I don’t work for you. You need to have YOUR engineering team contact Twitter and have them explain to you the errors of your ways.

This is just the tip of the iceberg here. There’s so much wrong at Apple, if you continue to entrust your family’s safety into Apple’s products, you may find one of your family members injured or dead. Apple, wake up and learn to take quality seriously.

Then next time you are shopping for a computer or a watch devices, you need to ask yourself, “Do I really trust Apple to provide safe choices?”

Apple has now officially and truly reached the level of shit!

Broken Apple Image credit: The King of The Vikings via DeviantArt

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Flickr flustr: When design doesn’t meet function

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on May 27, 2013

NewFlickerLongIt’s not often I write multiple articles involving the same topic, but in this case I’m making an exception. I think it’s important to explore and understand the reasons why I believe this new Flickr interface change is such a failure.  As a visual artist, I look at the new Flickr interface and wonder what the designers were thinking? See the image to the left.  It’s clear the designers were not aware of the many ways that users use Flickr. Let’s explore.

Original Flickr Interface

The original Flickr design was compelling (if not dated) for many reasons and was also useful for many different purposes. The reason the original interface held up so well and for so long is because the original designer’s vision still held true even today, dated as it may seem. “Why has it held up?”, you ask. Let’s examine.

The images were spaced just far enough apart that the images, colors and shapes didn’t clash with one another. Image thumbnails were generally of the same size whether portrait or landscape. The page was centered leaving white borders on the sides giving well enough space for the eye to rest.  There were limited numbers of photos per page keeping down the clutter. There was just enough information below each image to give the necessary details about the image (like a placard in a Gallery).  From a management perspective, there was also just enough information to show how popular an image is and whether or not it has comments.

Basically, this original interface, while somewhat antiquated and dated, was still very functional on many levels.  Both amateur and professionals alike could use and reference this interface for their own purposes. Amateurs could use it to store their snaps. Professionals could direct paying clients to their portfolio without image clashing or the interface being too busy. It was well designed from the beginning for many purposes and uses.

With this original interface, Flickr even began offering limited customization of the page layout such as images alone or images with sets on the left or other similar layouts. Yes, it was always limited customization and I had always hoped for more customization features to come.

New Flickr Interface

The new ’tile’ interface (which incidentally looks too much like Windows 8 Metro) removes nearly every pixel of white space and fills the entire page (edge to edge) with images. It unfairly penalizes portrait image thumbnail sizes over much larger thumbnails for landscape aspect images. So, you have huge landscape sized thumbnails immediately beside tiny sized portrait thumbnails. More than that, because it removes all white space from the page and fills the entire screen with images, there is no place for the eye to rest. It becomes one big jumbled mess of a screen that’s hard to view and even harder to concentrate on a single image. While the original interface design kept the images spaced far enough apart to let you focus on a single image, the new interface doesn’t. Instead, it forces your eye to constantly jump around to find something else to view. This makes the page too busy and way too cluttered.

Worse, when your eyes get tired of focusing on the images, they begin to focus on the white borders between the images. Because the white borders are of odd shapes and sizes, it begins to take on the motif of a badly copied Mondrian painting. In other words, the entire interface is one big cluttered busy mess. It’s not pleasant to view for any period of time. So, instead of taking time to visit a Flickr site in a relaxing way, many people will likely get eye fatigue fast and browse away from the entire Flickr site. The new site makes you want to look at something less tiring and less stressful. Art should be about the images, not the layout making you queasy.

Worse, in no way does this new interface say ‘professional’.

Polar Opposite Reactions

I hear a lot of people say they like the interface. My first initial reaction was also positive. But, that only lasted for a few moments until I realized the problems. I initially liked it because it was something new and a change, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t ‘better’.  I hear many people saying that it’s the worst thing they’ve ever seen. That it’s horrible. So, why does this interface generate such polar opposite reactions from so many people? It’s because Flickr went from a general purpose interface appealing to a wide array of people to an interface that appeals to only a small subset of those people.

For a casual photographer who takes photos of their dog or baby or kids, it gives a really great at-a-glance image set to know what you have. This especially works well when the images are mostly the same or a series of similar shots. Also, for those people who like coffee table books of images, this is the next best thing to that. You can bring it up at home on your screen and show people your photo album at a glance. It’s much easier to see all your images at once with this interface. For casual use, these are the people I’d expect to like the new interface. It makes seeing the images easy and they’re accessible. In other words, it’s a little like Facebook’s gallery style. But, that doesn’t make it any less cluttered, busy or stressful to view.

For the professional photographer, the exact opposite is true. You do not want your images crammed up on the same page together like this. It’s busy, cramped, the images don’t flow properly, your eye can’t focus and doesn’t allow your clients to focus on each single image easily. It pits too many images against each other vying for attention. This is bad for a professional. Again, it’s just too busy and cluttered. You would never intentionally build a portfolio that looks this way. Why would you ever expect this from a site like Flickr? So, for professionals, this is the absolute worst interface that could have been built to show off professional photographs in a professional way.

The same above for professional photographers also holds true for visual artists. If Flickr were a gallery, it would now be one wall cluttered with hundreds of images. If I were hanging my art in a gallery, I would want them spaced far enough apart that they don’t clash or create the wrong message. I also would be allowed to place my art in the order of my choosing. Yet, at Flickr, the photostream is still limited to the order in which it was uploaded. This is something that should have been fixed long before rolling out this new interface.

The Interface Mistake

Flickr developers have completely lost touch with why the original interface worked for pretty much every use case.  It worked because it offered something for every level of photographer, casual through professional including visual artists.  It was by no means a perfect interface. After all, it needed a lot of improvements.  But, it worked and it worked well.  It was also on its way to becoming something better especially with the latest round of customization features added.

Because the Flickr developers just didn’t clearly understand the full amount of use cases, they developed this new interface that entices primarily just one use case, casual users. The people who snap their baby, their dog, their house or whatever else they can find around the house.  These are those people who want an at-a-glance style interface that’s big, bold, cluttered and in-your-face.  A virtual coffee table book, if you will.  Or, in other words, the Facebookers.

Professionals and visual artists don’t want this. They don’t need this. It’s not professional. It’s not the way you want your photos represented to a potential client. It’s reminiscent of video game or a mobile device or Facebook. It’s not representative of a gallery exhibit or of a portfolio. This is where the Flickr developers have lost touch.

Flickr is a Gallery

The designers need to firmly understand that Flickr is a gallery. We are creative people supplying creative images to this gallery. It’s not a video game. It’s not a mobile device. It’s not Facebook. It is an image gallery. We want to showcase our images, not show them off like some kind of video game or toy or social network. Treat the images with respect, not as toys.

Because it is a gallery, customization is in order. The tile interface is fine as one theme among many display themes, but not as the sole theme for Flickr. Flickr needs to take a page from the WordPress book and offer multiple themes and styles. Let us choose how our images are showcased to our visitors. Yes, customization could easily become haphazard and random, but that’s the nature of customization. It has to. I don’t necessarily recommend allowing CSS level editing, but I do recommend that gallery themes become available. The time has long come for this Flickr feature. This feature is what Flickr developers should have been working on. The tiles theme, again, should have been one in among many different themes available to choose.

Don’t lock me into one single theme that doesn’t allow for customization. If I don’t like it, there’s nothing I can do except move my images elsewhere. Offer me choice. Let me choose my theme and my presentation to visitors. Flickr could have chosen this theme as the default theme, but then let us go into a theme selector and choose among 10-20 different gallery themes. Choice is the answer, not busy unprofessional Facebooky tiles.

Separate Management Interface

Because I’m the manager over my images, I don’t necessarily want to see the same interface that my visitors do when managing my images. I want a separate management interface that allows me to see and manage my images at a glance. I want easy, fast access to my comments, sets, collections, view stats and everything surrounding my images.  I don’t need to fumble through the visitor experience only to expend extra time attempting to manage my images through a cluttered and busy interface. I want a clean concise management interface that users don’t see.  It doesn’t really matter how pretty the management interface is as long as it’s functional for image management. Functionality is the key to image management.

The Fiasco

There were a number of mistakes made here.  The developers did not do enough homework to understand why the original interface worked so well for so many use cases before rolling out the new interface. They refused to see just how narrow of a use case is the new interface. It really only appeals to one of many use cases.  Additionally, Yahoo offered no preview. In other words, there was no beta test for users to give feedback before rolling it out site wide. Offering a preview window would have saved Flickr a lot of grief and is probably the single biggest mistake Flickr made in this whole update.

Developmentally, the mistakes they made included not offering customization. Users have been clamoring for such features as rearranging the image order of their stream. I agree, I would love to have this feature and have been waiting for it for a very long time.  I would like to see other features regarding things like frames and virtual lighting. I’d like to have seen more Ajax features (easy drag and arrange). Users want more customization, not less.  Instead, they locked every single user into a single interface experience that not only alienates most professional use cases, it also offers no customization to change things about the interface. In other words, Flickr has take a huge step backwards.  The interface may appear more slick, but the lack of customization takes us back to a time well before Yahoo ever bought Flickr.

Then it comes to bugs. Instead of actually correcting existing bugs and misfeatures, they worked on changing the style of the main page leaving all of the existing bugs and misfeatures out there. Seriously, the most important thing is to make the landing page ‘pretty’? What about all of the features that were not complete or the bugs that were not fixed, or the features that were never added?

The final mistake, the treatment of Pro account holders. With the increase to 1TB of space and upload limits well increased, the need to purchase Pro is really no longer necessary.  Those who recently purchased a Pro account this year feel cheated out of their money.  And, rightly so. Yahoo didn’t live up to their side of the deal with the money given to Flickr for Pro accounts. Instead, Yahoo basically thumbed its collective noses at the Pro account users not only from the monetary perspective, but also from interface perspective.  Basically, Yahoo just completely tromped all over the Professional photographers who bought into the interface for that use, but also those who paid into the Pro accounts that gave bigger limits needed to be a Professional user. Yahoo hasn’t even addressed this issue at all.

Yahoo has a lot of work to do to repair Flickr Pro user relationships.  Unfortunately, it’s probably too late. Many Professional photographers are already migrating their imagery away from Flickr to alternative services that are, hopefully, more reliable and offer more professional interfaces and support.

Lacking Support

Through this whole ordeal, Flickr support has remained amazingly silent.  They asked for comments and have said nothing about it. They did state they were ‘listening’ for whatever that’s worth. But, we all know that listening and doing are two entirely separate things. There should have been a lot more help and support coming from the Flickr staff after such an amazingly huge change.  Yet, it appears that the Flickr team has rolled the interface out in a fire-and-forget approach. Basically, with a ‘this is it’ attitude given off by those who have been able to get hold of a support person. 

Clearly, if this is the level of support that Yahoo / Flickr is providing to users for this type of service, it’s probably worth moving on to a service where your money will get you real support when you need it. Where the support people actually do care about making a difference and keeping the customer happy.

By the time Flickr realizes the problem and manages to correct it, it will probably be too late. It’s probably already too late.

Flickr’s new interface review: Is it time to leave Flickr?

Posted in botch, cloud computing, computers, social media by commorancy on May 21, 2013

New Flickr InterfaceYahoo’s Flickr has just introduced their new ’tile’ interface (not unlike Windows Metro tiles) as the new user interface experience. Unfortunately, it appears that Yahoo introduced this site without any kind of preview, beta test or user feedback. Let’s explore.

Tile User Experience

The tiles interface at first may appear enticing. But, you quickly realize just how busy, cluttered, cumbersome and ugly this new interface is when you actually try to navigate and use it. The interface is very distracting and, again, overly busy. Note, it’s not just the tiles that are the problem. When you click an image from the tile sheet, it takes you to this huge black background with the image on top. Then you have to scroll and scroll to get to the comments.  No, not exactly how I want my images showcased. Anyway, let me start by saying that I’m not a fan of these odd shaped square tile interfaces (that look like a bad copycat of a Mondrian painting). The interface has been common on the Xbox 360 for quite some time and is now standard for Windows Metro interface. While I’ll tolerate it on the Xbox as a UI, it’s not an enticing user experience. It’s frustrating and, more than that, it’s ugly. So, why exactly Yahoo decided on this user interface as their core experience, I am completely at a loss…. unless this is some bid to bring back the Microsoft deal they tossed out several years back. I digress.

Visitor experience

While I’m okay with the tiles being the primary visitor experience, I don’t want this interface as my primary account owner experience. Instead, there should be two separate and distinct interfaces. An experience for visitors and an experience for the account owner.  The tile experience is fine for visitors, but keep in mind that this is a photo and art sharing site.  So, I should be able to display my images in the way I want my users to see them.  If I want them framed in black, let me do that. If I want them framed in white, let me do that. Don’t force me into a one-size-fits-all mold with no customization. That’s where we are right now.

Account owner experience

As a Flickr account owner, I want an experience that helps me manage my images, my sets, my collections and most of all, the comments and statistics about my images. The tile experience gives me none of this. It may seem ‘pretty’ (ahem, pretty ugly), but it’s not at all conducive to managing the images. Yes, I can hear the argument that there is the ‘organizr’ that you can use. Yes, but that’s of limited functionality. I preferred the view where I can see view numbers at a glance, if someone’s favorited a photo, if there are any comments, etc.  I don’t want to have to dig down into each photo to go find this information, I want this part at a glance.  Hence, the need for an account owner interface experience that’s separate from what visitors see.

Customization

This is a photo sharing site. These are my photos. Let me design my user interface experience to match the way I want my photos to be viewed. It is a gallery after all. If I were to show my work at a gallery, I would be able to choose the frames, the wall placement, the lighting and all other aspects about how my work is shown. Why not Flickr? This is what Flickr needs to provide. Don’t force us into a one-size-fits-all mold of something that is not only hideous to view, it’s slow to load and impossible to easily navigate.  No, give me a site where I can frame my work on the site. Give me a site where I can design a virtual lighting concept.  Give me a site where I can add virtual frames. Let me customize each and every image’s experience that best shows off my work.

Don’t corner me into a single user experience where I have no control over look and feel. If I don’t like the tile experience, let me choose from other options. This is what Flickr should have been designing.

No Beta Test?

Any site that rolls out a change as substantial as what Flickr has just pushed usually offers a preview window.  A period of time where users can preview the new interface and give feedback. This does two things:

  1. Gives users a way to see what’s coming.
  2. Gives the site owner a way to tweak the experience based on feedback before rolling it out.

Flickr didn’t do this. It is huge mistake to think that users will just silently accept any interface some random designer throws out there. The site is as much the users as it is Yahoo’s. It’s a community effort. Yahoo provides us with the tools to present our photos, we provide the photos to enhance their site. Yahoo doesn’t get this concept. Instead, they have become jaded to this and feel that they can do whatever they want and users will ‘have’ to accept it. This is a grave mistake for any web sharing site, least of all Flickr. Flickr, stop, look and listen. Now is the time.

Photo Sharing Sites

In among Flickr, there are many many photo sharing sites on the Internet. Flickr is not the only one. As content providers, we can simply take our photos and move them elsewhere. Yahoo doesn’t get this concept. They think they have some kind of captive audience. Unfortunately, this thinking is why Yahoo’s stock is now at $28 a share and not $280 a share. We can move our photos to a place where there’s a better experience (i.e., Picasa, DeviantArt, Photobucket, 500px, etc). Yahoo needs to wake up and realize they are not the only photo sharing site on the planet.

Old Site Back?

No, I’m not advocating to move back to the old site. I do want a new user experience with Flickr. Just not this one. I want an experience that works for my needs. I want an interface that let’s me showcase my images in the way I want. I want a virtual gallery that lets me customize how my images are viewed and not by using those hideous and slow tiles.  Why not take a page from the WordPress handbook and support gallery themes. Let me choose a theme (or design my own) that lets me choose how to best represent my imagery. This is the user experience that I want. This is the user experience I want my visitors to have. These are my images, let me show them in their best light.

Suggestions for @Yahoo/@Flickr

Reimagine. Rethink. Redesign. I’m glad to see that Yahoo is trying new things. But, the designers need to be willing to admit when a new idea is a failure and redesign it until it does work. Don’t stop coming up with new ideas. Don’t think that this is the way it is and there is nothing more. If Yahoo stops at this point with the interface as it is now, the site is dead and very likely with it Yahoo. Yahoo is very nearly on its last legs anyway. Making such a huge blunder with such a well respected (albeit antiquated site) could well be the last thing Yahoo ever does.

Marissa, have your engineers take this back to the drawing board and give us a site that we can actually use and that we actually want to use.

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