Capturing the rainbow

Out shopping on an Autumn Saturday afternoon, a spectacular rainbow appeared over Islington. And on every street corner there was someone taking a picture with their cameraphone. A perfect example of how convergent technologies create brand new behaviours, as well as enhancing existing ones.

Most of those people taking pictures probably didn’t explicitly choose a cameraphone – the mobile photography revolution was virtually pure technology push by handset manufacturers and network operators. But once armed by default with a reasonable quality, zero-cost-per-click camera they’ve created new usages that never featured in the all-too-predictable MMS launch campaigns (it was all Beckham and babies from what I remember, never happy slapping or lunch).

Chris Heathcote sums up the digital photo effect as “more people taking more pictures, more people looking at pictures, and more conversations started from photos” – and it’s not just more, more, more, it’s different, different, different.

I have seen the future and it folds

Ten years ago I worked in a declining industry. Regional newspaper readerships were aging, as papers struggled to connect with their communities. Staff cuts and inflexible new technology at the paper I worked on meant we had a 9:30am press deadline for some localised editions – which rather made a mockery of the word “Evening” on the masthead.

Like many others in my generation of journalists, I quit print for a new media. The new media would be all the things that the old one was not. It would be instantly updated, interactive with its audience, and free to access. In the future the new media would become mobile, contextual and relevant. It would be like having someone come up to you in the street with the information you needed to know, exactly when you needed it.

Funny how the future arrives in the most unexpected form. For me it was just outside Edgware Road tube station, about 3:45pm, when a man came up to me in the street and handed me a copy of The London Paper.

Now I’m not going to go into a debate about whether this one is a better put-together product than the other contenders in London’s free paper war. To be honest, the design was faintly reminiscent of my student newspaper – lots of boxes and tints, and over-quirky headline fonts.

But what blew me away was the immediacy of the content. There’s something slightly Harry Potter about seeing the latest Tube information in print as you’re about to enter the station. And how refreshing to let readers vote by text on whether the comment writer should be allowed to pen another column. I’d gone for years thinking those things were the special domain of the digital media, yet here they were in print, in the palm of my hand, with the ink coming off on my fingers and everything.

The sense of everyday magic was compounded by the way the paper was delivered: no shouting unintelligible manglings of the title; no fumbling for loose change at risk of being mown down by bulldozing commuters intent on walking at exactly 4.2 miles per hour. Just a guy in a fluorescent vest offering the paper so I could take it without breaking my stride. He was standing strategically, moments before the point at which I’d need to put my hand in my pocket to pull out an Oyster card and thus be unable to take a paper. This user experience is what sets the bar so high for mobile content.

I’m not sure what all this means, except that to paraphrase Winston Churchill (I think), I used to think newspapers knew everything. Then I thought newspapers knew nothing. Now I’m amazed at how much they’ve learned.

The private life of a digital camera

Flickr etiquette is a tricky thing. For starters I have to pigeonhole the tangled web of people-with-whom-I-share-photos into “family”, “friends” and that wonderful catch-all “contacts” (maybe we should all be using a Cold War-style dead letter box in Regent’s Park?)

But that’s nothing to the almost daily dilemma of how to share each photo I upload.

  • If I make this or that picture public am I giving away just a little to much of my family’s privacy?
  • Maybe someone, someday might find a use for that snap of Leonardo Da Vinci’s printing press?
  • Just how many photos of my kids can my work colleagues stand to see?

I think it has to do with the intimacy gradient:

Conflict: Unless the spaces in a building are arranged in a sequence which corresponds to their degrees of privateness, the visits made by strangers, friends, guests, clients, family, will always be a little awkward.
Lay out the spaces of a building so that they create a sequence which begins with the entrance and the most public parts of the building, then leads into the slightly more private areas, and finally to the most private domains.

Now for “building,” read “photo sharing service”.

But I’ve noticed one thing when skimming through my photostream: I’m far more likely to mark a picture public if I take it with my cameraphone than if I take it with my digital camera.

The regular camera is used in intimate situations – in the living room when Pascal smiles, or when Ludo falls asleep standing up. It only leaves the house in its faux leather case for special occasions – family parties, days out, when we value good pictures of never-to-be-repeated moments.

The cameraphone is the Bic Biro of image capture devices. Always in my pocket, with me everywhere I go in my everyday life. It’s helping me to take pictures I’d never have taken before – stupid pictures, random pictures, might-come-in-handy-one-day pictures. These are the pictures I’m happy to mark public on Flickr without a moment’s thought.