First Flight: Photonic

The following is a FIRST FLIGHT writeup, not a formal review.

The point of a FIRST FLIGHT is to record my experiences, impressions, and snap-judgments during my very first few minutes with a new thing. I’m writing my thoughts down as I’m thinking them and the only editing performed after the fact is for style and grammar, not content.

I do believe that these sort of writeups are interesting and even valuable. They document the familiar frustrations and joys of trying something for the very first time. They also illustrate my own expectations (fair and unfair) and my “process” in figuring out a new piece of gear.

But by no means does a FIRST FLIGHT benefit from the careful experimentation, research, and extended experience that informs and validates a formal review.

I am making no conclusions of any kind about the product in this writeup; I am merely documenting a set of initial thoughts and experiences.

Bless you, dear reader, for linking to this and sending some traffic my way. But please DO NOT refer to it as a “review.” You will be misleading your own valued readers about the authority of this piece.

Bless you, dear reader, for chiming in with your own insights and experiences with this product. But DO NOT upbraid me for not knowing what the hell I’m talking about. You will look very, very foolish.

Got it? OK…onward we go.

I’m a huge — huge — fan of Flickr. If the Earth were days from destruction but I could save myself and one minivan’s worth of people by driving to a NASA facility where VIP escape ships were secretly being prepped for launch (I’m not a VIP but I imagine that the VIPs would have computers that occasionally needed to have their WiFi fixed), I would give one of those seats to a mortal conceptualization of everything that Flickr.com represents.

(Besides, my cousin Gerald is a jerk. Screw him.)

So I was pretty excited to learn about Photonic, a new desktop Mac client for Flickr. There are tools for uploading pictures and tools for browing images and (please fill in three or four more functions that sound likely to save me some time) but Photonic seems like the first one that attempts to be a single, unified dashboard for the whole smash.

Okey-doke. As usual, our game starts with dialog box that sends us to Flickr and authorizes the app to knock up your photo feed. Done and done.

Let’s start off by uploading a photo. I like what I see already; classic iTunes-style interface in three vertical columns. The window’s already populated with my contacts, groups, sets, etc. But I wonder if this is the most elegant approach. I have lots of friends and lots of sets and I’m in lots of groups. To get through that whole list I need to grab the scroller on that bit of the window and then exercise some patience.

But back to our first goal. Makes sense that I can just drag a photo into that center area, right? Let’s see what happens.

Yes, indeed…dragged straight from iPhoto. I click on the thumbnail and all of the detail fields on the right activate. Time to apply the snarky comments that inspired my taking that photo back at Barnes & Noble.

Adding tags. Nice…it auto-completes based on tags you’ve already applied to photos in your photostream. Isn’t it weird that this little desktop app that works with a free online service handles tagging so much better than iPhoto (for God’s sake)?

But the mechanism does break an interface rule. You tell the tag editor “Yes, good boy, you did indeed predict that I was about to type ‘antidisestablishmentarianist'” by hitting “return.” The answer we were looking for is “space bar.” Space bar. Oh, so sorry. Not a match, we add $50 to the high-low jackpot.

(by which I mean: not a huge mistake but it prevented me from using this feature correctly on my first and second tries)

Next I add it to a photoset and then I consider adding it to one of the groups I’m subscribed to. Very nice. After a moment’s thought I think I’d rather see both of these done as popups instead of scrolling text fields. I’d much rather be able to see dozens of these items at once instead of just four or five.

Photonic Upload Screen

Click “Upload Selection,” sheet drops down with progress bar…presto, I’m looking at Flickr’s standard “Your photo has been uploaded; hail Jambi!” page.

Well done. Some UI tweaks would be a good idea, but that’s about as good as you could do that, I think.

Let’s try something a bit harder: dragging a batch of photos in and then arranging them into a photoset. The problem with most of these tools is that they don’t make it dead-simple to figure out what order the pix will land in.

I’ve grabbed a pile of photos and dragged ’em in without really caring about the order. Plop. Grabbing a thumbnail let me drag it into a new position, complete with cool Core Anmation graphics. Nice touch.

The thought “You know, I’d really like to make those thumbnails bigger while I write my descriptions” is followed by a look at the window and the discovery of an iPhoto-like slider at the bottom corner. Presto: I can make the thumbs as big as I want, all the way up to full-window size.

Nitpick: this slider has no label of any kind and it ought to be under the image well, where it makes contextual sense.

Type in my usual, wordy photo description. I wish I could expand that editing pane…seven lines of visible text crowded in a gutter isn’t a lot of elbow room for writing three or four paragraphs.

How do I create a new photoset?

Damn. I’ve been looking closely and I have absolutely no clue. In fact, I’ve clicked on an existing photoset that I don’t want…and now it appears to be impossible to “unselect” it. That’s no good and “no damned good,” in that sequence.

Hello, Help system.

“Help isn’t available for Photonic.” Spiffy.

Hello, support site!

Photonic login screen

It’s asking me for a login and a password?!? What the hell is this? That’s the sort of decision you make when you’re absolutely 100% certain that your app is so perfect that nobody will ever seek help on any function whatsoever. Or that you have no interest whatsoever in providing support in the first place.

Nope, I can’t just type a search term into the field on that webpage. Doing so takes me right back to the login screen.

Fine. In order to get basic information about a fundamental feature whose use should have been immediately obvious, I will sign up for an account on this generic-looking website which lacks anything to indicate that I’ll find the answers I need here.

(Is it okay if I mutter “**** you” after I complete each field?)

I have filled out the form, I have logged out of my usual Gmail account, logged back in to access the “trash” account I use for pointless message board logins, authenticated my new account on the support forum, logged in…and now I discover that the message board contains two (2) messages with zero replies.

The “Issues” tab has seven (7) open issues. None of them tell me how to create a photoset.

Okay, I’ve located one message from a user asking how the hell to create a photoset. No replies, but it’s just 8 hours old.

Notify the family and call the code: time of complete death of interest in Photonic came at 5:07 PM.

It’s a very, very promising app, but a Flickr app that doesn’t understand the fundamentals of a Flickr workflow and forces users to just throw all of their pictures into one big soup is useless.

When Photonic 1.1 is released I will check again with sincere great interest.

6 thoughts on “First Flight: Photonic”

  1. Nice quick review. I have been messing with this app for a while now and it is pretty nice, but I agree that the need to be able to create a photoset in the app is essential. I asked the creator about it, and he confirmed that the current version can’t do it, but he has added it to his feature suggestions.

  2. I checked out that program a couple of weeks ago. I was looking at it for more of a Flickr client program than a program to upload images. From what I could tell, it would only allow me to look at as many as 300 images period. I wasn’t able to see more after I scrolled to the bottom of the first 300. There are places on Flickr that have well over 300 images. I would very much like to see more than 300. I understand the issues of bandwidth and such, but still…

    I’m sticking with my iPhoto plugin for Flickr for now. Someday someone will come up with a decent program that acts as a full desktop client to Flickr.

  3. Maybe I’m odd, but I like being able to type spaces _in_ tags (so my tag might read “Clifton Suspension Bridge” rather than “cliftonsuspensionbridge”), so I can read them back easily. Flickr copes with this quite nicely. The first thing I’d have tried to separate tags with would have been a comma, which also works in iPhoto. Oh, and did I misunderstand you? iPhoto does auto-complete tags based on previous tags, although I agree the rest of its tagging facilities are rubbish.

    As you say, though, the ability to create a new set is an essential. I think I’ll stick to Connected Flow’s FlickrExport for my uploading needs. Especially as, yes, requiring a login for a support section is normally the sole purview of companies who don’t want any potential customers easily seeing how dreadful their product is before they buy it.

  4. @Matt – Yup, I meant overall. I think iPhoto’s tagging system is so offhandedly-implemented that users are more or less discouraged from using it. Whereas Flickr seems to be based on the presumption that tags are actually, you know…important.

    And you solved your own problem, there: the “space” trigger works if your multi-word tags are formed the way that Flickr forms them: enclosed in quotes. Open-quote tells the parser that a multi-word tag is coming.

  5. Payback’s a bitch, Jerry. Maybe you shouldn’t have covered my Big Wheel with all of your Wacky Packs stickers back in third grade.

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