Thoughts

SmugMug, are you listening?

I’m disappointed with SmugMug over their continued lack of support for proper export and maintenance of photographs directly from Lightroom. Back in July, I wrote about the Flickr Publish Service in Lightroom, and wondered when SmugMug would introduce their own.

What I was really looking for (and I said this in the post) was a way for the publish service to identify what I’ve already uploaded and allow me to re-publish those photos where I’ve made changes to the metadata or to the processing. The official Flickr Publish Service didn’t offer that option.

A few of my readers (Gary, Chris, Russell, thanks!) pointed me to Jeffrey Friedl’s excellent plugins for Lightroom, and I’ve been using them ever since. As a matter of fact, I’ve switched over to them completely. I use them for all four web services where I currently publish photos (SmugMug, Flickr, Facebook and PicasaWeb). I don’t know what I’d do without them. Wait, I do know — I know for sure I’d be doing a LOT more work and spending a LOT more time uploading and maintaining my online collections.

With Jeffrey’s LR plugins, I was able to identify about 90% of the photos already uploaded to SmugMug, and about 75% of the photos already uploaded to Flickr. In the case of Flickr, I then did manual updates and re-identifies so I could get it to know 95% of the photos already uploaded. This means Lightroom now allows me to quickly identify, update and replace almost any photos I’ve got at SmugMug, Flickr, Facebook and PicasaWeb. This is huge.

There is a catch, though, and it’s a BIG one. I keep running into the same “Wrong Format ()” error with SmugMug, which means I still haven’t been able to straighten out the photos I’ve uploaded to them. Here are a couple of screenshots of the error messages I get. It starts with a “TimedOut” error, then I get the “Wrong Format ()” error, then the upload process aborts.

I get these errors almost every time I try to re-publish an updated photo, but I don’t get them as often when I try to upload new photos. To give you an idea of how bad things are, I’ve currently got 109 photos to update in one of my galleries at SmugMug, and last night, I had about 167 photos. I’ve had to restart the re-publish process about 30-40 times since last night. You do the math, but I think it works out to 1-2 photos per error. This sucks. I should be able to just click the Publish button and walk away, knowing all of my changes will propagate correctly.

I’ve contacted Jeffrey, and I’ve contacted SmugMug. I’ve had extensive email conversations with each. SmugMug alternates in their replies. They’ve said the following to me:

  • It’s a fault with the plugin
  • It’s something on their end but they’re working on it
  • There’s nothing they can do about it
  • I should use something else to upload photos
  • They blamed my setup, which we ruled out after some internet connectivity tests

Jeffrey says there’s nothing he can do about it, and I believe him more than I believe SmugMug. Want to know why? Because his other plugins work just fine. I’m able to re-publish updated photos to Flickr and Facebook and PicasaWeb without any problems. Only SmugMug somehow can’t handle my uploads.

I’ve tried reloading the plugin, installing it anew, removing and re-adding the publish service, upgrading the plugin, but nothing. I still get the same errors.

My question for the smug folks at SmugMug is this: how is it possible that Facebook and Flickr and PicasaWeb have worked out the re-publish issues, but you haven’t? What’s taking you so long? Why can’t you work out the same problem on your end?

I was hoping that with the release of Lightroom 3.2, and the release of the official SmugMug Publish Service for LR (hat tip to David Parry for the advance notice), that SmugMug would work out the kinks in their API, but it looks like they still haven’t done it. I tried their plugin, but of course they took the easy route, like Flickr, and haven’t introduced any functionality that would identify photos already uploaded to their service. Only Jeffrey Friedl’s plugins offer this feature.

This leaves me terribly disappointed. As a SmugMug Pro, I don’t want to bother with error messages. I don’t want to bother with posts like this. I’d rather post photographs and update my SmugMug galleries in peace, but I can’t.

If you’re having the same problems with SmugMug, please, write to them, and ask them when they’re going to get their act together. This problem’s existed for several months. How much more time will it take until they deal with it?

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Thoughts

Where’s the SmugMug Publish Service for Lightroom?

I love the Flickr Publish Service in Lightroom 3, and would love to see SmugMug make their own.

The only thing missing for the Flickr service is for it to know which photos I’ve exported and uploaded to Flickr before the service became available, in previous versions of Lightroom. I for example have either tagged the photos uploaded to Flickr with, obviously enough, “Flickr”, or have added them to a Flickr collection in Lightroom, so I could easily find them.

Here’s where SmugMug has the chance to shine! I’d love to be able to publish my photos to SmugMug directly from Lightroom, using the Publish Services functionality, so I could always sync up any photos that I’ve re-developed or where I’ve updated the metadata. But for this service to really stand out, it needs to know which photos I’ve already uploaded.

You can see where this is going, right? I’ve already tagged all my SmugMug photos, and have already placed them in collection sets and collections that match my SmugMug categories breakdown exactly. With a little bit of computing power and some smart algorithms, the folks at SmugMug could put together a killer Publish Service for Lightroom that incorporates all the Flickr functionality and bests it by matching my already-uploaded photos.

What about the cost? The Flickr Publish Service is free to use for all Flickr users, but you cannot re-publish uploaded photos if you’ve changed them in Lightroom. (You can, but if you’re not a Pro, it’ll wipe out any comments and faves on the photo, so it’s not advisable.)

SmugMug could use a similar approach. Their Publish Service could be free for basic SmugMug users, with limited functionality, and it could offer full functionality to Power and Pro users. (I myself have the Pro membership.) I’d even be willing to pay a one-time fee to download and install the service, because I think the functionality would be amazing.

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Thoughts

SmugMug now supports oEmbed

According to this GetSatisfaction discussion, SmugMug have implemented support for oEmbed. When I first tried it a few weeks ago, putting a one-line URL in a WP.com post didn’t show the video, but it worked on WP self-installs. Still, you had to hack the URL by prefacing the video URL from the address bar with the SmugMug oEmbed API URL (http://www.smugmug.com/services/oembed/?url=), so that was a hassle. I have found out since that the folks at SmugMug are working with WP on simple video embeds (like the ones at YouTube or Vimeo or blip.tv) — see the GS discussion for the details.

Tonight, I decided to try the old hack URL on my blog (hosted at WP.com) to see how things are coming along. Surprise, surprise, videos play nicely! Have a look below. It’s a video of my tom cat, Felix, sleeping in my arms. The direct URL to the video, in case the embed stops working at some point, is this.

http://www.smugmug.com/services/oembed/?url=http%3A//www.raoulpopphotography.com/Other/My-Videos/8635949_WoFHs#741544973_ZdwRZ

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Reviews

Who gets my vote for online video?

I wanted to upload a 25 min/525 MB video to a video sharing site recently. I found myself out of options. Ever since Google Video stopped allowing new uploads, there is no other site where you could upload a video this long, at that file size, without having to upgrade to some sort of paid account. Still, there’s one site that gets my vote for being a whole lot friendlier to its users.

First, let’s look at what’s available.

YouTube

They’re the giant with the huge market share. We already know we’re up against the 10-minute limit there, which can only be lifted if you’re some sort of government or news organization.

youtube-video-upload

The nice part about YouTube is that they’ll allow video clips to be up to 2 GB in size, but I do wish there’d be a way to lift that 10-minute limit, at least for some of the videos we upload, say, something like 1 video per month can be up to 30 minutes in length, or something like that. There’s no Pro option at YouTube, although it’d be nice if there was a low-cost one that would have longer time limits for uploads.

Vimeo

Vimeo is up next. It’s a much smaller site than YouTube, but it’s geared more toward video pros and amateurs, people who tend to do more with their videos than just turn on a webcam and hit record. If you have a free account there, you’re up against a 500 MB weekly limit, which is generous, but in my case, it turned out to not be enough.

vimeo-video-upload

The Pro option at Vimeo is $60/year, and it ups the weekly quota to 5 GB (from 500 MB), with unlimited HD uploading. It’s pretty cool, but since I don’t work with a lot of video, it’s not the option for me.

SmugMug

SmugMug has NO free video uploads, but they offer that option to those with paid accounts (Power and Pro users). I have a Pro account with them, which lets me sell digital downloads and prints of my photos very easily. I appreciate that a lot. The Pro account also lets me upload SD and HD video, but the really annoying part, the part that gets me steamed up, is that I’m limited to 10 minutes in length and 600 MB in file size per video clip.

I’m sorry, but that’s even lower than YouTube standards! Why am I paying $130/year when the video uploads are so hamstrung? I don’t care so much that the codecs used for compressing the uploaded videos are better than those at YouTube; I happen to care when I can’t upload a video and have paid for a Pro account…

smugmug-video-upload

SmugMug should seriously reconsider upping their limits to 30 minutes per video and at least 1 GB per file. They’re behind the times.

Facebook

I got a really pleasant surprise when I checked into Facebook’s video upload requirements.

facebook-video-upload

They have a 20 minute limit and 1 GB file size limit per video clip. In my opinion, that’s better than what YouTube, Vimeo and SmugMug provide. The best part is that they’re free. As far as I’m concerned, they get my vote for the best online video offering. It may not be the highest-quality compression, and it may not be the biggest free offering, but I think they’ve struck a great compromise between video clip duration and size.

I should mention that WordPress also has a video upload option, which I reviewed recently, but have not included here because it’s tied into their blogging platform. They have no standalone video upload and share option.

There you have it. If you want to share larger videos online, use Facebook.

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How To

How to display recent photos from your SmugMug feeds

I was asked by a reader (Andrew M.) how I display the most recent photos from my SmugMug galleries on my home page. He was aware that I use the SimplePie plugin for WordPress, but wasn’t sure how to get the same look when starting from scratch.

Before you read any further, keep in mind this is a very specific tutorial about WordPress, SimplePie and SmugMug. It has other applications, like for other image feeds and with some code tweaking, for other blogging platforms, but if you want to do those things, then Google is your friend.

recent-photos-screenshot

The thing that makes things a little complicated in my situation (as opposed to other image feeds) is the somewhat non-standard structure of the SmugMug feeds. For one thing, they don’t provide a URL for the image thumbnail where you’d expect it to be, and for another, they provide the image description instead of the image title. (To check this, mouse over a SmugMug thumbnail, and you’ll see the description pop up over the image.) But as long as you’re willing to dig into the feed code and find the names for the fields you need, then you can plug that info into SimplePie and go from there. Thankfully, I’ll do it for for you below. Lucky you.

Just a quick general disclaimer before I start though: I don’t do handholding. I’ll provide the instructions for how I did it. But in the unlikely event that things still don’t make sense to you, do me a big favor and read the SimplePie Manual, before you ask me questions. I did it and it helped me work things out. It should do the same for you if you use a little elbow grease. Thanks.

Okay, onto step 1: find the SmugMug feed URI. SmugMug provides several feeds for each user account. Go to the bottom of your gallery page and click on the Available Feeds link to see all of them. We’re going to use the Recent Photos Atom feed. In my case, it is:

http://www.raoulpopphotography.com/hack/feed.mg?Type=nicknameRecentPhotos&Data=raoulpop&format=atom10

smugmug-available-feeds

Step 2 is creating an Images Only template for SimplePie. If you’re not sure what this is, you need to read through the SimplePie documentation. The location where you need to place the new template is:

[WP Install]/wp-content/plugins/simplepie-plugin-for-wordpress/templates/

This is not arcane info, btw. It’s provided in right on the SimplePie general settings page, which is what I’ll talk about in Step 3 below. Now let’s talk about what you’ll put in the template file. This is where the digging through the feed code part comes in. I kept things simple, and this is what my images_only.tmpl file looks like.

simple-pie-template-files

images-template-code

As you can see, the code is minimal, which is the way I like things. I am specifying a simplepie class in the code, but as you can see from my CSS file, I’m not styling the div in any way. I’m letting the rest of the CSS code and the other divs handle the way the images flow within this particular section.

Step 3 is adjusting the general settings for SimplePie. Now that we’ve created an Images Only template, we need to let SimplePie know that it should use it. Go to the WP Admin Panel and locate the SimplePie settings. Match my settings as you see them below.

simple-pie-rss-general-settings

I’m telling it to pull the latest 18 photos. You may find you need to pull less or more. It’s really up to you. Use the caching option, it’s faster, but know that you’ll need to create a cache directory where SimplePie can store the images. It’ll walk you through it when you say Yes, and you may need to adjust privileges on the server side. Check out this chmod tutorial from WordPress if you’re not sure how to do that.

Step 4 is placing a code snippet on the home page. Now that you’ve gone through all that fun, you’ve got to wrap things up. Go to your home page template in WordPress, and where you want the images to appear, place the following code snippet — it’s what triggers SimplePie to pull your SmugMug photos feed and display the feed items how you want them, in accordance with the code in your Images Only template.

home-page-simple-pie-codeSee the highlighted text, but you only need to worry about the php code line. The rest is my own code that specifies the div and section styles. Use your judgment about how to style the thumbnails, and how you want them to display. It may take a bit of trial and error until you get it right, but if you persist, it’ll look good in the end.

Hope this helps!

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Reviews

Installed and used the SimplePie RSS plugin

Installed and used the SimplePie RSS plugin for WP on my regular site at raoulpop.com. Its name is somewhat of a misnomer. It’s neither simple, nor “easy as pie” to begin with. Sure, after you check the documentation carefully, a light goes on in your head and you realize how to use it, but there’s a learning curve. I do agree, however, that the things it lets you do are quite nice. For example, I used it to rewrite my SmugMug recent photos feed and show only the thumbnails of the latest 10 images uploaded, each linked directly to the original image. I really like the result, but it took a bit of figuring out.

screenshot-home-page

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