Here’s my Web-services budget

The annual exercise of adding up my business expenses so I can plug those totals into my taxes gave me an excuse to do an extra and overdue round of math: calculating how much I spend a year on various Web services to do my job.

The result turned out to be higher than I thought–even though I left out such non-interactive services as this domain-name registration ($25 for two years) and having it mapped to this blog ($13 a year). But in looking over these costs, I’m also not sure I could do much about them.

Google One

Yes, I pay Google for my e-mail–the work account hosted there overran its 15 gigabytes of free storage a few years ago. I now pay $19.99 a year for 100 GB. That’s a reasonable price, especially compared to the $1.99 monthly rate I was first offered, and that I took too long to drop in favor of the newer, cheaper yearly plan.

Microsoft Office 365

Getting a Windows laptop let me to opting for Microsoft’s cloud-storage service, mainly as a cheap backup and synchronization option. The $69.99 annual cost also lets me put Microsoft Office on one computer, but I’ve been using the free, open-source LibreOffice suite for so long, I have yet to install Office on my HP. Oops.

Evernote Premium

This is my second-longest-running subscription–I’ve been paying for the premium version of my note-taking app since 2015. Over that time, the cost has increased from $45 to $69.99. That’s made me think about dropping this and switching to Microsoft’s OneNote. But even though Microsoft owns LinkedIn, it’s Evernote that not only scans business cards but checks LinkedIn to fill in contact info for each person.

Flickr Pro

I’ve been paying for extra storage at this photo-sharing site since late 2011–back when the free version of Flickr offered a punitively-limited storage quota. This cost, too, has increased from $44.95 for two years to $49.99 a year. But now that Yahoo has sold the site to the photography hub SmugMug, the free tier once again requires serious compromises. And $50 a year doesn’t seem that bad, not when I’m supporting an indie-Web property instead of giving still more time to Facebook or Google.

Private Internet Access

I signed up for this virtual-private-network service two years ago at a discounted rate of $59.95 for two years, courtesy of a deal offered at Techdirt. Absent that discount, I’d pay $69.95, so I will reassess my options when this runs out in a few months. Not paying for a VPN service, however, is not an option; how else am I supposed to keep up on American news when I’m in Europe?

LastPass Premium

I decided to pay for the full-feature version of this password manager last year, and I’m already reconsidering that. Three reasons why: The free version of LastPass remains great, the premium version implements U2F two-step verification in a particularly inflexible way, and the company announced last month that the cost of Premium will increase from $24 a year to $36.

Combined and with multi-year costs annualized, all of these services added up to $258.96 last year. I suspect this total compares favorably to what we spend on news and entertainment subscriptions–but that’s not math I care to do right now.

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Yes, I still use Flickr

My oldest social-media hangout is no longer the property of my biggest client’s corporate parent, and I am okay with that.

Flickr Android appLast night brought word that Verizon’s Oath division had sold Flickr to the photo-sharing site SmugMug. Jessica Guynn’s USA Today story breaking the news calls Flickr a “faded social networking pioneer,” which is both uncomplimentary and correct.

My Flickr account dates to 2005, and over the subsequent 13 years I’ve seen Flickr suffer a lot of neglect–especially during Yahoo’s pre-Marissa Mayer years, when a succession of inept CEOs let Instagram run away with the mobile market.

Yet not only have I kept on uploading, editing and captioning pictures on Flickr (edit: with the occasional lag in sharing anything), since 2011 I’ve paid for a Flickr Pro membership. That first got me out from under the free version’s 100-megabyte monthly upload cap, but since Yahoo ditched that stingy limit in 2013… well, it’s a tiny monthly cost, and I like the idea of having a social-media account on which I’m not an advertising target with eyeballs to monetize.

Meanwhile, Flickr has continued to do a few things well: welcome both pictures taken with a standalone camera and those shot with a phone; make it easy to present and browse albums of photos (“photosets” if you’re old); support Creative Commons licensing so I can permit non-commercial sharing but prohibit commercial reuse (which required USA Today to pay me for one Flickr photo); and let people share their work in pools (for instance, Greater Greater Washington’s, which has occasionally resulted in my shots getting featured on that blog).

Instagram, where my active presence only dates to February of 2017, is easy, fun and great for engagement–slap #travel on a shot and you’ll get 15 likes in an hour. But it doesn’t do those things. And it’s a Facebook property, which raises the question of just how much of my online identity I need on that company’s servers.

Google Photos offers a fantastic private-backup service, but it, too, belongs to a company that already hosts much of my digital life.

SmugMug hasn’t said much about its plans for Flickr beyond promising not to merge Flickr and SmugMug. But unlike Oath, it has no other lines of business besides photo sharing. And as a privately-owned firm that hasn’t taken outside investments, SmugMug doesn’t need to meet impatient expectations from Wall Street or Silicon Valley. I feel pretty good about this transition, and I doubt I’ll have any big hangups about paying for my next Flickr Pro bill.

Unfinished summer business: updating my Flickr self

August is almost wrapped up, which makes it particularly sad that I still don’t have a Flickr album up for SXSW… as in, the schmoozefest of a conference that happens in March.

Flickr app logoI didn’t mean to let things slide this badly. But with Easter coming only a week after my trip to Austin, it was too easy to let photo-sharing chores wait. And then I didn’t take care of this in the two weeks and change I had between Easter and jetting off to Hong Kong for the IFA Global Press Conference–at which point, my photo debt had begun compounding.

You would think that a photo-sharing service with mobile apps that automatically upload your photos would ease sharing them with the world. But one of my most frequent edits, straightening a photo so the horizon is level, turns out to be maddeningly difficult in a touchscreen interface–unless you lift your fingertip off the display at just the right instant, the image will yaw to the right or left for a moment more and skew your adjustment.

I also suffer from the disease of needing to caption every picture before exposing it to a world that usually has better things to do. So even though I no longer usually need to transfer images from a camera to a desktop app and then geotag and caption them before uploading them to a photo-album site (which itself still beats the picture-sharing options of the 1960s), I haven’t gotten any more efficient at presenting my photographic output.

Hell, I haven’t even remembered to post a newer profile photo at Flickr. If the blurry nature of that shot doesn’t make it clear, the photo in question dates to 2004.

(For anybody asking “Why Flickr?”: Instagram wasn’t an option on my series of Android phones until 2012–and it remains a bad fit for a dedicated camera. I settled on Flickr years before I had any thought of writing for a Yahoo site but continue to enjoy it, even as alternatives have arisen. I mean, Google Photos is pretty great, but don’t I give that company enough business already?)

Yahoo.

When I saw the surprising news that longtime New York Times personal-tech columnist David Pogue was leaving the paper to head up a tech-news site at Yahoo, I figured the next details I’d see about his new venture would come on my one-time rival’s Twitter feed–or maybe at Jim Romenesko’s journalism-news site.

Yahoo Tech logoInstead, I heard about it from Pogue himself when he asked if I’d be interested in joining this operation. A few weeks of e-mails and phone calls later, you can now see my byline atop a lengthy guide to Facebook’s privacy and security settings at Yahoo Tech’s holiday guide–a preview of what will open in January.

I’ll be writing a weekly column about tech policy in all its forms. By that we mean not just the laws and regulations enacted in Washington, but the terms and conditions that companies enforce on their customers and each other–as well as the norms we come up with on our own.

I’ll be doing this on a freelance contract basis, not as an employee, so you can still find me at USA Today’s site on weekends (now with an extra disclosure sentence when I need to critique one of Yahoo’s consumer services). I’ll also continue writing for most of my other current outlets if they can continue to put up with me.

One, however, will get unfortunately squeezed out: my year-old gig blogging about tech-policy issues at the Disruptive Competition Project. I’ve really enjoyed the chance to unpack issues like the smartphone subsidies, retransmission fights and e-book DRM, but I would be bonkers not to take a chance on writing about them before an immensely larger audience.

At Yahoo Tech, the CMS seems non-toxic, we should have a lot of latitude to experiment with different kinds of reader interactivity, and I’ll be writing alongside some talented people (including my friend Dan Tynan). And Yahoo as a company is not only putting serious resources into getting “original voices” on its site but looks a lot less lost at the plate. Letting its subscription to the CEO of the Month Club lapse in favor of giving Marissa Mayer the job seems a good call.

Finally, after having competed with Pogue for so long, it should be fun to cooperate with him. David’s long been an astute judge of user interfaces and user experiences (I’m still kicking myself for not thinking to start a campaign to end useless voicemail instructions), he’s willing to wade into comment threads whether they’re supportive or not, and he’s a legitimate showman who has literally made tech coverage sing.

I just hope this new gig doesn’t require any singing from me.

Weekly output: NSA surveillance, PR and the press, digital journalism, Android-iPad photo sync, deleting photos, Republic Wireless

On my first week back from vacation, I attempted to catch up with the NSA-surveillance story and took part in a couple of great panel discussions. I’d hoped to get a little more writing done, since I’ll be in New York from Tuesday through Thursday for the Consumer Electronics Association’s CE Week conference.

6/18/2013: More Tech Firms Now Question Government Snooping. What About Congress?, Disruptive Competition Project

My timing on this piece–in which I expressed my appreciation and alarm that large tech companies, in which I have no vote, seem to be doing a better job of advocating for our civil liberties online than the elected representatives we hired to do that–was pretty good. Maybe two hours after it went up, Google filed suit to challenge the gag orders that prohibit it from discussing the decisions handed down to it by the secretive, compliant and largely unaccountable Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

6/19/2013: Behind the Story: Breakfast Series With the Media, Cision

I talked about the intersections of journalism, PR and social media with the Washington Business Journal’s Jennifer Nycz-Conner, USA Today’s Melanie Eversley and moderator Shonali Burke. There should be video posted soon, and I’ll add a link when that happens.

Vocus panel photo6/20/2013: The Evolving State of Digital Journalism, Demand Success

I talked about some of the same topics, plus such bigger-picture issues as how much the chase for Web traffic should influence story assignments, at the marketing firm Vocus’s conference with WJLA journalist Jummy Olabanji. Tech Cocktail co-founder Jen Consalvo and moderator Paul Sherman of Potomac Tech Wire. Again, I’ll link to video whenever it’s posted. (There’s more at my Flickr set from the event, which took place at the the Gaylord National hotel in National Harbor, Md.)

6/23/2013: Tip: Google+ transfers photos between Android and iPad, USA Today

This question came straight from my father-in-law, who had just picked up a new iPad and upgraded from one Android phone to a newer model. The tip part of the column advises making a habit of deleting lesser photos to develop your photographic skills; I remember writing something like that for the Post but I can’t find it anywhere now.

6/23/2013: A $19 Unlimited Smartphone Plan: Just Add Wi-Fi, Discovery News

I tried out Republic Wireless’s WiFi-centric smartphone service and liked it, aside from the embarrassingly obsolete Android phone this company hopes to replace with a newer model soon. (Update, 7/1: I didn’t realize this at the time, but Mashable reposted the story, as part of a content-sharing deal it has with Discovery. And now I have a bunch of comments to read…)

On Sulia, I noted the demise of ESPN’s 3D channel, reported on my experience with the “Auto Enhance” photo editing at Google+, discussed NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen’s thoughtful presentation at Demand Success, described my experience getting a cracked iPad screen repaired and suggested a few tools to help you spot the International Space Station overhead.

Feed me, see more (The Magazine meets BuzzFeed)

This story originally ran in issue 15 of The Magazine. You can now read it here by virtue of that publication’s impressively author-friendly contract.

One of the Web’s most popular sites — and the exceedingly rare media property soaking up tens of millions of dollars in venture-capital financing — gets much of its content without asking permission to use it, much less paying for it.

The Magazine BuzzFeed coverThat’s not news. But if you talk to some of the people whose images wind up in BuzzFeed’s endlessly clickable and heavily clicked-upon photo galleries, you may have your expectations overturned, as mine were: most say thanks for the exposure.

BuzzFeed at first looked like an appropriator that took value without returning it, irritating professional photographers who find their work both increasingly valued and increasingly used without compensation. But on closer inspection, BuzzFeed may be finding its way toward a safer course — a careful combination of conventional licensing and curatorial selection.

Continue reading

Weekly output: WiFi refrigerator, social media and government agencies, cord-cutting, QAM encryption, CableWiFi

My workweek had better scenery than usual, courtesy of the drive to and from Shepherdstown, West Virginia for my Thursday appointment.

USAT fridge photo4/8/2013: A refrigerator that thinks?, USA Today

I didn’t write this piece, but a photo I took at CES of Samsung’s WiFi-linked, Evernote-enabled T9000 refrigerator ran with it in print. This is the first time an image I’ve uploaded to Flickr has attracted the notice of a paying customer–which reminds me, I should upload more of the gadget-porn pictures I have cluttering iPhoto.

4/10/2013: Using Social Media to Communicate with the News Media, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

I made that trip to speak on a panel with NBC 4 editor Natasha Copeland and Washington Association of Black Journalists president Donna Walker at the Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center–a beautiful campus a few miles uphill from town–about how government agencies can tell their story to the press in social media. My key point: Be prepared for the conversation with the general public, even if that means your Twitter presence becomes a tech-support channel. I don’t think they’ve posted video of our chat yet, but I’ll update this if they do. Update, 4/17: The organizers have posted an Adobe Connect recording of our panel.

4/11/2013: Who’s Going To Crack The Cord-Cutting Conundrum?, Disruptive Competition Project

Last weekend’s panel about cord cutting at Free Press’s conference in Denver yielded some useful insights about potential disruptions to the multichannel-TV business that I thought would be worth sharing with a wider audience.

4/14/2013: Tip: Why you need a box for basic cable, USA Today

RCN’s decision to encrypt its entire cable feed–then not offer any cheap way for owners of HDTVs to watch just local channels in high-def–gave me an excuse to revisit a topic I’d last covered for USAT a year earlier. The piece also includes something more positive about the cable industry, a tip about five major services’ initiative to provide free WiFi to all their subscribers.

Sulia highlights for the week: a negative review of WordPress.com’s implementation of two-step verification, a rant about two long-broken features on Intuit’s Mint.com, a note about inexplicable bugginess with Bluetooth file transfer from my Android phone, and an item about how a review phone’s number had come to be included in a long, intensive group-texting thread. (Since I sent my “can you take me off this list?” reply, I haven’t gotten any more messages from that chat.)