A Flickr-powered screensaver? Incredible

I don’t want to turn this into a Dave Winer *thing,* (and I don’t want to contribute to a “bitchmeme”) but I have to say that the release of his newest software tool — a Mac-only screensaver/RSS widget called FlickrFan — fills me with, well… a sense of underwhelmingness. I mean, Marshall Kirkpatrick tries hard to make it sound like the best thing since bread came sliced, and so does Robert Scoble, but still fails to stir much interest (at least in me). And not just because this software is just for Apples, either.

When you get right down to it (which doesn’t take long) it’s a screensaver for Macs that lets you subscribe to people’s photo feeds from Flickr. Is that really a huge development? I find that hard to believe. I’ve been using a Windows screensaver called Slickr for some time now that does pretty much the same thing, and my friend Rob points out that he’s been using his computer as a photo and media server for years.

I’m not saying that Dave’s software is useless, or that showing Flickr photos on your computer isn’t a worthwhile thing to do. Far from it. In fact, just the opposite — I think it’s a great idea. But I don’t really think it’s anything revolutionary. Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins over at Mashable doesn’t think it’s much to write home about either, apparently, and says Yahoo Go does pretty much the same thing, but better. Michael Gartenberg at Forrester says that it “totally changes the game,” but that’s a pretty hype-ish thing to say, as Ian Betteridge notes at Technovia.

55 thoughts on “A Flickr-powered screensaver? Incredible

      • Sorry but I have no idea what you mean. I'm an engineer matthew, so when someone says a product is a screen saver that is not a screen saver I think there's a bug there. If I had written this piece I'd be embarassed at having made such a large mistake. Take care.

        • If I wrote a note to someone and repeatedly misspelled their name I
          would be pretty embarrassed too, Dave, but I'll let it go this time.

          • Ooops, sorry about that. I guess I've done it before? Getting old over here, memory's not so good these days. Again, sorry.

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  3. Don't worry – others may say it for you – the software is close to useless. Horrible UI. Strike that. No UI. Incredibly poor instructions. The whole project could literally be built in a few hours – and be cross platform. There are lots of ways to pull Flickr content. There's no magic here – just really odd software wrapped in a fantastically unfriendly and close-to-non-existent UI promoted by Dave's fans in the echo chamber.

  4. The 'magic' is not the code but what the code does. It is true that others can do the same easily and some have even done it already or have thought of doing it. Even I have code that pretty much does all Dave's code does using AIR. Dave's strength is not in doing something first but seeing the gem of something wonderful beyond the mundane, like screensavers, and shining a huge spotlight on it until rest of us sees it as well.

    • Thanks Don. I want to play with a bunch of interesting people, this time people who love photography. I have a bunch more things coming.

      As you said in your post, I didn't have the support of the press when we were iterating toward blogging, or podcasting, or RSS aggregators, or outlining, or system level scripting. A certain type of person always argues that they've seen it before, or they can clone it in a day or two. You just go right through that.

      • I think the thing is, Dave, that in the face of people getting “wrong” what the key features are, you have a choice: you can either go on the offensive with ad hominem attacks (of the “you just don't get it” kind), or you can just explain where people are going wrong. So far, I haven't really seen much explanation from you.

        Yes, it's not JUST a screen saver. But its most obvious feature – and the one which virtually all posts, including yours, have highlighted – is the ability to put images on a big screen, using the Mac OS X screen saver. That, as you undoubtedly know, duplicates the functionality which already exists in the OS X screen saver.

        So what else does it do? If I'm right in my assumption, it downloads any image which it sees hit the RSS feed via the Flickr API (am I right?) What are the applications of this which we're missing?

    • Sorry, Don, but your response makes no sense — apart from expressing
      your support for Dave, which is fine. But if others have already done
      it, and it can be done easily, and you yourself have even done it,
      then why are we celebrating it? Because there's something special
      about photo slideshows that only Dave can see? I find that difficult
      to believe.

  5. I don't buy the platform is the gem thing, either.

    PVR/DVR/Media Center software has been doing the same thing for years, attempting to become the platform. I love Dave Winer, I think he's a genius, but I think this is a miss.

  6. Of course you don't see it. I myself don't see it yet but am willing to suspend disbelief because stuff Dave shines light on tends to be, like a flower, takes time to feel the impact.

  7. @don. no, its just a slideshow (aka screensaver). dave isn't as smart as you think he is.

  8. I really wish someone like you would get of their fat arse and actually try and do something instead of always criticizing people. Its always this is not good enough or he/she is awful etc. What have you ever done other than be a poor journalist and average blogger.

    Take a risk, come up with a unique idea, forgo your salary safety net and then we will see what you are made off. I am sick of people like you for ever looking at the glass as half empty.

  9. I haven't tried FlickrFan yet so I have no informed opinion as to it's value or not.

    However, I do have an opinion that a person should be able to express his own thoughts and opinions without being personally attacked.

    @Paul: Why can the merits of the product be discussed without using personal attacks?

    If FlickrFan is so great then argue that counterpoint to Mathew's post, if you can.

    Make you comments useful.

  10. One could be just wrong over time, be it DW, or somebody else.

    We recall (vaguely, but i believe i've the screenshot on my harddrive)
    that once DW said he did not at all support anybody to do another
    feedburner equivalent, because there's already a feedburner, and
    it's only feedbunrer that's trustworthy (even though Feedburner was
    providing a pretty lousy service.)

    Until one day Feedburner got acquired by Google, and DW seemed
    to have changed stance…

    That's remembered quite clearly, because we gave up doing an alternative
    to feedburner (in mid 2006 or so), “because DW did not support it.”

    Thinking back, we were just so stupid, to think DW was God of some kind
    (much like the late Jon Postel of the late 80's and early 90's.)

  11. This is like watching history come alive again, as we're taken back in time to when Netscape was the king of browsers and introduced this thing called 'RSS'. Dave Winer gets a hold of it, adds a few tweaks and introduces The Next Great Thing. It worked, too–no one can deny that Dave's breathless promotion doesn't aid and abet the spread of RSS.

    Of course, over the years Dave gradually moves from being promoter to creator and inventor or RSS. The only thing is, RSS is now ubiquitous that no one cares who claims 'ownership' of the concept.

    Then there's OPML, which is really not a great XML vocabulary, but it is simple and has the benefit of being one of being real easy for XML parsers to process, and is effective for listing stuff, such as aggregator subscriptions and sidebar links. It won't go beyond this, and didn't revolutionize the world, as was claimed when _it_ was rolled out, but handy, and had the advantage of Dave's popularity to push it out to startups and others Who Need Good Will.

    Now, we're seeing the same thing with this, well whatever it is, if it isn't a screensaver, Flickr slideshow, RSS media reader. You listen to the hyperbole of Dave and friends, and you have to look at the application six or seven times because you know you must be missing something for it to generate the hype –but you just don't see it.

    It is something and it's cool Dave is giving it away free, but it doesn't rate up there with, well, renting movies on iTunes when it comes to being a 'story'. The app won't revolutionize a thing, other than for people who have enough money to go out and buy hardware just to run it. I don't know about you Mathew, but I'm not one of those with the extra bucks to toss away like that.

    However, after some tweaking, I did get it to work on my computer, only to have the first picture that shows up is a dead body with a bomb attached, being looked at by a bunch of soldiers. Huh. I didn't realize this was in my Flickr stream. I'm sure the kiddies would get a kick out of it.

    It is more than just pictures from Flickr and a screensaver, because Dave has integrated his OPML editing into a live media feed, which is cool. Presented as such, I think you would find that people would be less wary of the hype and more interested in the technology. The release is way premature, and the write up is confusing and there's a lot of links you push that cause 500 errors.

    But something to completely redefine your front page and make such predictions? I don't know if Dave can pull off another RSS. I rather doubt it.

    I realize now that when I quietly roll out this tech and that for people to use that I've made a horrid mistake: I provide a link, and description of what it is and how to use it. What I should be doing is telling people that I've single handedly redefined networking as we know it, and then brow beat the other popular people I know into helping me promote it.

    You know, steak, not sizzle?

    I knew I was doing something wrong–I always assumed it was about the technology, and the application.

    • Thanks for the comment, Shelley — and I would agree that this is
      definitely a steak and sizzle situation. Not that there isn't some
      meat there — there is, as I acknlowedged in my post. But the sizzle
      is much larger than the steak.

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    • Ethan, Photocastr basically does something that Flickr (seems to) already do. I could be missing something. Regardless, the feeds it produces would work fine with FlickrFan (I checked). So it's not a case where it does what my software does, it's very compatible with it.

      • Flickr's default feeds don't contain the high quality images. The ones from Photocastr do (if you want, there is an option). Combined with iPhoto, it's essentially the same thing as FlickrFan.

        Each photocast feed you add in iPhoto shows up as an option in the OS X screensaver. You could also easily view the images via an Apple TV since they get added to your iPhoto library.

        So in effect iPhoto does the same thing as your software and Photocastr just helps out.

  14. Thanks for calling what it is – a screensaver (so what it could be an HDTV screen – it is still screensaver). There are several products out there so the hype is just marketing and shameless self-promotion.

  15. Mattew, one of the problems of tech journalists/bloggers is that they do not see everything. This entry is just as silly as Duncan Riley when he proclaimed the new Hotmail should have been released with Silverlight, only 3 days after the presentation of Silverlight.

    Never possible!.

    In this post you don't see several things:
    – We're speaking about an 0.33 beta release to start with. Be happy if any version before 0.5 (let's be realistic and say 0.7) is widely usable, has an acceptable UI and is cross-platform.
    – Go read the feature list. I'll wait here. We're speaking about a free two way platform, completely open source, to flickr (and some more). Yes, this COULD become revolutionary. Think of the possibilities that it even might be turned in to an iTunes plugin and more. (I have no Apple TV and MBP is not linked to TV so couldn't say how easy it is to display HD pictures on TV).
    Imagine browsing your pictures/slideshow/screensaver/whatevah. They are backed up nightly in a folder monitored by Windows Media Player. By just dragging and dropping you can upload them to Flickr. Or better even, Dave also created XML-RPC, and already called this Real Simple Photo, so you can bet he might even implement the option to publish the pictures directly to a gallery on your blog. Actually I can see that this might already be possible on Mac (with Expression Engine CMS: I can easily have a folder which is regularly synchronized via Transmit FTP client and the EE photo gallery can be set to automatically import picture.) W00t, I just discovered how to painlessly backup my flickr account twice all while at the same time showing them off on our company's intranet.
    – Twitter, I bet soon also tumblr aso. All this can happen automatically if things work out well. (Dave, can I have some folder monitoring please with auto-upload to XML-RPC for new pictures, please? This could be awesome for a photoblog.)

    I digress. Both Marshall and Robert are hardcore RSS freaks, Marshall could even be called an evangelist. I'm sure they immediately noticed the potential of two way and how RSS (and OPML for that matter) can be used.

    Yes it's a big deal, options are endless, and who knows if Dave can pull it off once more? And he calls it a platform in his blog announcement. Open source. πŸ˜‰

    Let's just not forget this is version 0.33.

    • Thanks for the comment, Franky — despite the fact that you called my
      post silly. I eagerly await all the features that you describe. Then
      maybe there will be something worth getting excited about.

      • Mathew (correctly spelled this time) :S

        Sorry for the word silly, too harsh probably as a term, but being in the development camp I couldn't think of another word. Hence why the italic styling.

        It is obvious that engineers and reporters read feature lists, platforms options differently. And here I have to agree with Dave.

        It would be great to see this develop and maybe become the next great thing.
        That said, I think the same for HD online video would be more timely.

        • “It is obvious that engineers and reporters read feature lists, platforms options differently. And here I have to agree with Dave.”

          I'm a software engineer, and have been for 25 years. I agree with Mathew in that I haven't seen anything released with this product deserving of the hype. In fact, most of the hype has come from non-techs. Marketing folks, in fact.

          A responsible engineer controls user expectations. You don't release obviously alpha software as the next great coming.

    • Thanks for the benefit of the doubt Franky and btw, it does most of those things now. Tell me what you think the next steps should be. Very interested.

      • Shelley, I presented FlickrFan to our team (we're in online banking security). One third saw potential for FlickrFan. In an online world where 'everything almost exists' I reckon one third, without having a great documentation about what all could be possible, is not bad at all. Think RSS immediately was considered great by 1/3 and there were no competing products at that time which could be considered 'doing the same'.

        The hype only is because all those people have time to follow techmeme and echo it.

        • No offense, Franky, but nowadays a person could present Pong to their development teams and a third could see potential.

          The problem is that people get caught up in the hype, but when you scrape away the blather, what you're left with is an application that a) isn't new, b) isn't ready for even an alpha release, and c) isn't all that revolutionary.

          If it hadn't been Dave Winer that released the app, it wouldn't have gotten any press. That's rather sad, because there are a lot of great apps that are ignored because they're not released by one of the Insiders.

          We're losing the ability to differentiate the hype from the innovation, and that's not necessarily a healthy state to be in.

      • Dave, next should be the obvious: UI and clear documentation.
        Then I would give it a marketing twist and throw it out at the WordPress (blogging) community as the _ultimate thing to publish a photoblog_.
        I reckon that could be a good move to hit virality.

        Let the community do their thing. They decide if a platform gets adapted and if your code and hooks are easy enough it will.

        After that, move on and build a similar thing for the already existing HD video sharing platforms. Integrate a search and you've just created the _user content generated Joost_ for HD.

  16. @earl I only say it about Mathew because if you read his blog he is always negative and often without knowledge or fact. Read a few of his blog posts and then see why I made my comments.

    I wouldn't care but Mathew is loved by Gabe and gets on Techmeme so often now that people are beginning to take notice of his ill-thoughtout posts.

    @Mathew write about technology not gossip. If you did not like Dave Winer's product tell us why and what you might do technically different, given you claim to be a technology writer.

    • Paul, I don't know why you seem to dislike me so much, but if you
      don't like my blog posts then don't read them. Other people seem to
      find them worthwhile. As for Dave, I think I outlined pretty well what
      I think of his software, and it has nothing to do with not liking it.
      I specifically said that I think it's a great idea — it's just that
      you can already do virtually everything that Dave's software does with
      other programs, and so I think the amount of attention it has gotten
      is unwarranted. That's all. Please take your trolling elsewhere.

  17. An app called DeskLickr does the same. Mac only. I love it, but I think it is hardly a revolution. The homepage of my company's website fetches a random image from a group on Flickr dedicated to its employees photo hobbies. How about that?

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  20. I tooled around with it for about 10 minutes before deleting the DMG. I don't really see the point, this stuff has existed for years. The AP feed was really cool though, so I wrote a Python script that syncs a local folder with its images. It updates via cron every hour so I get the same live screensaver but without having to run the OPML Editor (which seemed to hijack a lot of CPU, maybe because it's carbon and PPC?).

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