I exchanged a few messages with Phanfare’s CEO Andrew Erlichson here. Because that discussion captures my thoughts around the next set of features that photo/video sharing sites should support I decided to post here as well.
Background: I discovered Phanfare about a year ago and have been a very happy user since: quality, functionality, uptime, etc. They seem to be one of the first that understood that there is no good reason to separate photos and videos. At any event (your child playing in the park, company celebration, etc) I will take a number of pictures, but there will also be a few moments when video is a lot more appropriate to capture the moment. It still frustrates me to a great degree that point-and-shoot cameras have been taking video for at least the last 6 years and XP/Vista Media Center and XBMC still separate Videos/Pictures, which means that I have to use two separate functions within the software to fully appreciate an event that combines pictures and videos. (The reason I used Media Center and XBMC as an example because I think they are the more popular options at this time)
That current separation of Pictures/Videos should really morph into Movies Vs My Events with each Event being a collection of photos/videos: Birthday, Vacation, etc. This has been a pet peeve of mine for a few years now and I was very happy to find Phanfare that seemed to share my vision and satisfied my needs (mostly)
Until very recently (actually till the day of the post), most of my pictures came from PowerShot SD870 IS (excellent camera, much better than the version that succeeded it) and from Canon EOS 40D. My videos are taken on SD870 (640×480 that looks surprisingly good on my 52″ screen) and on Sony HDR-SR1 (I think the first camcorder that created AVCHD output). Videos from SD870 were grouped with the pictures and uploaded to Phanfare, but videos from HDR-SR1 came in AVCHD (.MTS) files and probably for the first 12-18 months I just collected them on my hard drive. I got that camcorder almost as soon as it came out and there were no players/editors for the output. AVCHD is getting traction (it is a format developed by a partnership between Sony and Panasonic: pretty big names in the video/photo space) and over the last 12 months almost every major software player in the space started supporting editing/converting AVCHD. The plan is that I will edit existing footage and upload to Phanfare as well. The problem with the plan is that editing Video is a lot more time consuming than going through pictures and deleting the ones you don’t like and that probably means that those videos will continue sitting on my hard drive for some time.
Just today I got my latest toy: Panasonic DMC-ZS3. I only had a chance to play with it for an hour or so, but I am very impressed. So far I completely agree with all the reviews that gave this camera high marks: very easy to use, excellent pictures and very good/smooth HD video (720p) in the point-and-shoot body (not as small as my SD870, but still pocketable). I will do another post about my experience, but the reason I mention it here is that ZS3 outputs AVCHD Lite and to me that means that AVCHD is here to stay and needs to be supported by photo/video sharing sites such as Phanfare. Phanfare’s CEO seems to disagree, but I think he will come around as more of Sony’s popular point-and-shoot cameras will start producing AVCHD format. In the meantime I need to think about ways to deal with AVCHD output of my new camera. That is a topic for a different post.
The other topic discussed with Andrew was around “face recognition” — out of the well known names the following photo sharing sites/products support this functionality:
- Apple’s iPhoto — just announced this
- Google’s Picasa — only on the web at this time
- Polar Rose — added this functionality to Flickr
- My Heritage — excellent tool for tracing your heritage. I am impressed that they understand the need for such technology
- Adobe Photoshop Elements — only on the desktop which makes it rather limited
- Riya — startup that hasn’t done much yet as far as I can tell
I think this is the next “big thing”. See my reasoning below in exchange with Andrew. Btw, one of the reason I like Phanfare a lot is the open and frequent communication through blog/newsletters and ability to have one-on-one chats with the CEO.
Original exchange is located here: http://blog.phanfare.com/2009/01/phanfare-geekazine-interview/#comment-8471894
I am a big fan of Phanfare for understanding the importance of bringing pictures and videos together. Would love for you to support HD video — just ran across a company that promises unlimited HD video for $30/year (unreal) http://www.motionbox.com/
While I agree that HD video is larger than most monitors, there is a move of connecting PCs to HD TVs and that is where HD video is important.
We do support HD video. We keep it and you can download it, but we don’t display it. We may display it in the future.
My apologies, I wasn’t clear: I meant .MTS files that come out of AVCHD camcorders (I have SONY HDR-SR1). Motionbox supports those. I just tried and I wasn’t able to upload MTS files into Phanfare
I am also not clear what you meant by “we keep it, but don’t display it” — what is the point then? Just backup?
we dont take mts file and don’t plan to..my take is that the format is not getting traction. we don’t get many requests for it.
phanfare is archival. we keep the the original video you give us, if the video is below 4 megabits/second. otherwise we encode it to 4 megabits/second. you can get to the original video by clicking download high resolution video on a phanfare webite. we dont display the highest resolution video since nearly nobody has the bandwidth to stream it without hiccups today.
There are quite a few companies that expressed support for AVCHD format (http://www.avchd-info.org/) and a number of camcorder manufacturers as well. I don’t know the specifics: is AVCHD available in other extensions that you take?
Unrelated to HD video: when is face recognition coming to Phanfare? All the “cool” kids are starting to add this functionality
i dont think hard drive based camcorders have legs with consumers. solid state units tend to use h.264 and we take that.
face tagging never bubbles to the top. it never works as well as you might hope.
Andrew — i certainly appreciate you taking the time to respond.
I have to disagree with you about AVCHD/MTS not catching on: I just received my new toy: Panasonic MCD-ZS3 and it uses AVCHD Lite format (which is an MTS file)
According to reviews (and according to my first day experience) it is an excellent camera that is better than other point-and-shooters that support HD video. I expect quite a few people will purchase it.
I expect that most of Phanfare customers do not jump onto the latest/greatest, but being a part of that small niche of people who do, I would like to request support for MTS files.
Sony and Panasonic are significant players in the point-and-shoot market and I expect more and more of their products to support AVCHD format.
As far as face recognition — i assume you refer to the surveys that you send out when you said “never bubbles to the top”.
I used to/still run a development shop and we also asked users of our products what features they want/need. In extremely rare occasions customers brought to us ideas that were really great. In most cases they just suggested minor improvements to current features. They just didn’t see the big picture and that is ok as it was our responsibility. Most times it was our ability to anticipate the “next big thing” or just integrate already exiting ideas/techniques that made a real difference in our products.
While I didn’t research it enough and you might be right that it doesn’t work that well yet, I think this is the “next big thing” in photo/video sharing. Just take into account how popular Facebook photos is — while it is a pretty rudimentary photo sharing app, it does extremely well and I believe it is due to ability to “tag” faces/people and then easily search across it. But manual tagging will not work for massive amounts for existing pictures and that is where I see automatic face recognition pick up the slack. Yes, it will not be perfect but even if it eliminates 80% of the work, that is a great first step.
I think you can also use it to further enhance Phanfare’s social networking aspect: a friend from high school/college that I lost touch with uploads his college photos and tags one of them with my name. I get notified and now i reconnect with a friend and have access to pictures I would otherwise not even know existed.