Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Gadget Goodies 17 -- The Maelstrom

If you watched the Google+ online presentation, last Wednesday, much of it was about the photographic tools that are now available.  Some are online, some are via app.  We'll discuss that and share our experiences.

While we're dealing with the Google+ photo experience, there's a related topic that will lead into it.  There have been some negative reviews of the camera on the latest Nexus 7.  We'll discuss that a bit.  But the picture to the left was taken with the Nexus 7.  More to come.

Last week, we announced a change to the blogs.  That announcement was in a post on the other blog. However, this is the place where we discuss our techie topics.  We wanted to go into more detail in our discussion.  We felt there was a need to explain the change and our experiences with it.  Since some of you are fellow bloggers, we thought that sharing our experiences might be instructive and helpful.  So, let's get rolling, beginning with our blog commenting system.

When we first started blogging, back in 2008, we had no idea what was good and what wasn't.  But we knew "free".  So, we decided on Blogger, stuck with the included editor, used one of the standard themes, and kept the built in commenting system.  We've since added alternative editors and themes to our arsenal.  But we had stayed with the built in commenting system.  As far as we could tell, it worked.

As we learned more, we saw that a good commenting system could help increase blog traffic. About that time, Google+ created a way to display G+ comments about blog posts at the blog as well as on Google+.  That sounded like a great idea.  And we used that system for awhile.  My issues with it were in several areas.
  1. Google continually make unannounced improvements to Google+.  Which leaves the blogger with little or no control over whether comments showing on the blog were from the main stream or included communities.  And even that seems to be inconsistent from one person's blog to another.
  2. Anyone not having a Google+ account couldn't comment.  Some people don't want a G+ account.
  3. Those that might create a G+ account in order to comment found themselves with a hurdle.  In order to create the account, they had to go to Google, create the account, then return to the blog to sign in and comment.

All of that was counterproductive.  So, we explored the possibilities with other commenting systems and decided on Disqus.  Disqus is by far the most used external commenting system.  Once a reader has set up a log-in, that's usable on any blog that uses Disqus, which is a lot of them.  The reader can use any of a number of social media sign ins or create a distinct Disqus account.  That's done as they're getteing ready to comment, no leaving the blog to do that.  And, if I choose, I can allow anonymous guest commenting.  I'm still deciding if I want that one.

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One of those changing Google+ improvements I mentioned was the ability to have an Android device automatically back up photos to Google+.  The user could then decide which (if any) they wanted to make public.  As of last week, Google's purchase of Snapseed added to the possibilities.  The app became freely available to Google+ users and the features were also added to the online photo storage system.  Which means that members of Google+ can now edit their photos before publishing them.

Like the picture at the top, the one to our left is an unedited, unretouched image taken with my Nexus 7. Those white spots near the edges weren't really on the flower.  That's how the camera caught the light reflection.

Unedited, that image might have us wondering if the negative comments about the Nexus 7 camera might be somewhat true.  Just to be sure, I took a similar picture with my Galaxy Note 2 and the same white spots showed up.  So, it's not the camera.

The picture is pretty good.  But there are a few things that needed fixing.  There are, of course the distracting white spots.  While the contrasts add to the detail, they also contribute a certain harshness.  Along with that, the rose is off center and the metal fence distracts from the image.  So, I was going to try some of that Snapseed magic on this image before I used it for Fragrance of Memories.  And I already had a copy of Snapseed on both my devices.

As you can see by the picture to the right, I tried a number of things.  By playing with contrast and coloring, the white spots weren't such a contrast.  I cropped the fence side of the image.  And the combination of coloring, blur filter, and texturizing allow the rose to stand out more and hide the small piece of the fence still in the picture.

Overall, I think the combination of things created a better image and one closer to what I wanted to go with the blog post it illustrated.  That all sounds like I knew what I was doing.  Far from it.  I had an idea how I wanted the final image to look.  Then I just tried various effects, keeping the ones that got me closer to what I was looking for.  And I added one upon another till I got what you see to the right.  It's not perfect, but I think it's pretty good for the very first time playing with software filtering. Google did well with this addition.

Is there a downside?  Yes.  Actually, there are several.  Not all of them necessarily permanent.  I did my editing of the rose in the Snapseed app.  It worked well, with no issues.  When I was going to do this post, I decided that I'd take a different image and edit one copy online, the other in the app. I wanted to see if there were any differences in the two tools.  Neither seemed to like that photo.  The image editing page crashed in the Chrome browser on my PC.  Since both the editing and the browser are both Google products, that was a surprise.  Using the app on my Nexus tablet got similar results with the same image.  The Nexus crashed into a reboot and hung there.  Shutting down and restarting fixed that.  But there's obviously some bug squashing in order for those Google products, too.

The other downside is what can be done.  If you're artistic and have a good eye, you're going to want more image manipulation options.  And they are supposed to be available...at a cost.  The $100 that was mentioned is probably reasonable for the professional.  But it might seem steep to the average amateur photographer.

So, what do we conclude?  Both the native Blogger native commenting system and the Snapseed photo editing (both the app and the online tools) are good.  The amateur will be happy with both. The professional is going to look for more.  Knowing Google's past history, there's more to come and it will keep getting better.  The maelstrom will settle down.

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