Reinventing Our Visual World, Pixel By Pixel

Every week I come across news items, tech trends, and useful gadgets and services that I know Xconomy’s readers would find interesting, but that don’t fit with our usual lineup of hyperlocal news stories about Boston’s innovation scene. To create an outlet for such random finds—and, frankly, to get me off Bob and Rebecca’s backs about all the cool stories we’re missing—we’ve decided to carve out a bit of space for articles that don’t necessarily relate to New England. And here it is: my new weekly column, World Wide Wade. (Please pardon the goofy title, but it fits with my intentions, which are that the column take a very wide, occasionally offbeat view of the technology world.)

On my first couple of outings I’m going to try to tie together a few projects and products relating to the reinvention of the visual Internet. I think we’re in the early stages of a radical shift in the types of imagery and image-related tasks that are supported by the Web and software connected to the Web. Anyone who uses a digital camera or even a camera phone ought to be excited about this shift, which is going to make it possible to share, explore, and possibly even inhabit the digital images that we’re all capturing in increasing numbers and at increasing resolution. In today’s column, I’m going to talk mainly about tools for organizing and viewing still 2-D photographs. In a future column, I’ll look at 3-D—and later on, perhaps, at video and animation, which are obviously undergoing their own revolutions.

Finding fun, convenient ways to organize and share our digital photos is a challenge that’s been around since the advent of consumer-level digital photography a decade ago. This technology took a big step forward around 2004 with the emergence of Picasa, a snazzy and flexible photo album organizer, and Flickr, a photo sharing service that introduced great social features like photo annotation and tagging. (Picasa eventually became a Google product and Flickr was snatched up by Yahoo.) After that, the new ideas seemed to peter out for a few years. But finally we’re starting to see some innovation again.

PicMe Screen ShotIn fact, I saw some Wednesday night at the Web Innovators Group meeting in Cambridge, where one of the presentations was from Brookline, MA-based Raizlabs, maker of a handsome—indeed, almost too pretty for Windows—PC photo organizing application called PicMe. The freely downloadable software has too many features to list here, so I’ll only describe two. First is its beautifully intuitive method of organizing your photos into 3-D stacks, with each stack representing a folder on your hard drive. You can flip through the photos in a given stack using forward and backward arrows, or inspect rows of stacks by scrolling past them in 3-D, as if you were flying over skyscrapers in Manhattan. It’s a very nice way to browse through a big photo collection, and is a bit reminiscent of other recent interface innovations such as the Cover Flow feature on iPods and iPhones.

The other nice thing about PicMe is its drag-and-drop method for sharing photos: if you want to e-mail a photo to your mom, just drag it off a stack and drop it on her entry in the contact list on the PicMe screen’s left side. If you want to upload a photo (or a whole stack) to your Flickr, Facebook, or MySpace account, just drop it on that entry.

What PicMe demonstrates is that the interface makes all the difference. If you usually upload photos straight from your digital camera into folders on Windows, chances are slim that you’re going to go back and … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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3 responses to “Reinventing Our Visual World, Pixel By Pixel”

  1. This is great. I look forward to seeing what fun stuff people suggest you write about.

    Hey didn’t Al Gore invent the World Wide Wade?

  2. Zach says:

    I saw the PicMe presentation at WebInno as well and was pretty amazed at the interface that you called: “almost too pretty for Windows”. I was even more impressed at the quickness of the client app – I haven’t seen something that snappy and quick, that is that visually heavy, well… ever.

    Also, the way it addresses a digital file as an almost physical item- seems intuitive and simple- I think it’s fair to say that the cover-flow concept is revolutionizing UI.

    And the reason I wanted to write in: This is a great idea for a weekly section!