Rando — an app that can charm you

I only recently discovered this app. Called Rando, probably short for random, the concept behind this app is more than meets the eye; in fact, it can make you feel a lot more charmed than you might expect it to at first.

Here is a Rando I clicked
Here is a Rando I clicked

The concept

The idea behind Rando is terribly creative. It works on the fundamental principle of social connectivity in the digital age: to get in touch with new people. In case of Rando, though, you get in touch with their photographs.

You click a photograph, circularly cropped, and send it to a random person: the sender has no idea who gets it, the receiver has no idea who sent it. And soon after you send a photograph (called a rando) you receive one yourself.

The app itself

The return rando I received (top)
The return rando I received (top)

I have always been appreciative of ustwo’s coding. It looks and feels complete and solid. Ustwo is the one who brought us the fun and simple game, Blip Blup, and that godawful one, Dot TV.

Rando is no different: it is very minimal, works smoothly and is pretty quick. I almost always receive my return randos within half-a-minute of sending mine. Also, if the user has allowed it, you can see which part of the world your return rando was sent from. This is usually the country/region and nothing more specific; but it is fun nonetheless.

The location, delete and report/ban options
The location, delete and report/ban options

Security and misuse concerns

In an app such as this, users are bound to have security concerns. Privacy is protected, no doubt, but here are some interesting features the developers have implemented:

1. Rando has no access to your gallery; this means you have to click the picture when you want to send it. This also assures you that the return rando you receive was clicked somewhere within the last couple of minutes — about the same time as when you were clicking yours!

2. You can report a rando if you feel something is wrong with it (including NSFW content, no photograph — it happened to me once; I received a blank solid colour photograph — or any other reason you may have for it) without having to mention the reason. Most likely a real person will review it.

3. You can block somebody. If you are not tolerant enough, or if you feel simply reporting a person is not enough, you can entirely block them.

Final thoughts

Simply put, Rando is a fine little app that can lift your spirits and put a smile on your face every time you receive a rando — more so if it is a good photograph.

A funny thing I have observed is that Rando users seem to be predominantly South Korean. While I like to think that gives me great potential of receiving a leaked Galaxy Note III or Nexus picture, it would be even more fun to have people from around to world chiming in.

You can check where your rando got delivered
You can check where your rando got delivered or (as in the picture above) where you received one from

Camera control is poor when shooting a rando. In fact it is entirely absent. You cannot zoom, flash, change ISO, white balance or practically anything else. I am happy that no filters are allowed — at last we get to see images as they are, not made fake-beautiful by random filters to get an impression of being a good photographer.

In its current statement, Rando does what it does beautifully. There is little else to ask of it and I’ve steadily grown to enjoy it more than Draw Something or Words with Friends or any of ustwo’s own apps. If you have note tried Rando, you should. Download it by simply clicking the button below.

Download Rando from the play store

Until I come across another app worth an article of its own, keep sending Randos around; who knows, I might just end up with one of yours. [vhb]

Flickr: 1TB free storage, full resolution photos for free — what happens to Flickr Pro?

Marissa Mayer was Yahoo!’s long due luminary. This past week, while the limelight has been on Yahoo!’s Tumblr acquisition which Ms Mayer promised not to screw up, the company conveniently — and quite interestingly — kept their plans for Flickr under wraps. Today, Flickr just got a new lease of life but with confusing things happening to Flickr Pro.

A powerful product

Flickr was doubtless Yahoo!’s most powerful product albeit being underrated in recent times. What was once quite a revolutionary service had begun to grow stale in terms of design and feel while still retaining a powerful inner working. Flickr felt abandoned.

One of the biggest petitions Ms Mayer got when she left Google to take over the helm of Yahoo! was to resurrect Flickr — I remember I was one of the millions who signed that petition.

flickr_pro

I always loved Flickr. It was powerful and social and accessible like no other photo sharing site, and it remains so even today. While Google+ and others have fast developed, Flickr is a whole new game on an entirely different playground nobody has dared to venture into given Flickr’s dominance with millions of account holders and over 8 billion photographs shared.

Flickr versus the competition

This is also why I still have and will continue to renew my paid, Flickr Pro, account on Flickr. (We will come to that shortly.) Now several other services are vying to dominate the market, including SmugMug, ZenFolio, 1px and perhaps the youngest of the lot, 500px. But should Flickr bother?

Yes, it should bother, but Flickr has no need to worry. SmugMug is excellent but way too overpriced for hobbyist/non-professional photographers without a fortune of inheritance. ZenFolio is a cheaper and older option, but does not offer as much customisation as SmugMug.

flickr_benefits

What 1px and 500px both do is make you feel inferior. There is no point denying it, but these websites have excellent photographs on the explore page most likely chosen by the attention they already get (views, favourites etc.) and 500px even square crops them — sometimes making them look better, other times giving you a bad surprise — and things can and do get monotonous.

Google+ deals with this monotony in an excellent manner by algorithmically bumping and re-ordering photographs making sure all photos get exposure; but this is still a social networking platform so your photograph is ultimately destined to drown in somebody’s stream depending on how frequently the rest of the world is posting. Google+ is great — perhaps the best of the lot — but Flickr is different. Google+ makes a lousy portfolio, but Flickr can be used as a full resolution image hosting service to pull from and hence speed up your own portfolio website elsewhere. And this brings us to the biggest news of the day.

1TB storage and full resolution photo uploads for free

Let us start with this: nobody offers an equivalent package anywhere. That alone should urge you to stay with Flickr or pick it if you have not already done so.

With the new look — which is simply brilliant, by the way — Flickr also brings in 1 terrabyte of free storage with a $500/year upgrade option to 2TB. I’m sorry I’m giving out my most evil laugh now, but existing Pro subscribers like myself continue to get unlimited storage for less than one-tenth of that price. Besides, if you do want 2TB, why not simply open a second account?

Yahoo! also now offers full resolution images. Earlier for free members it was “upload whatever you want, Flickr scales it down to low resolution and allows you to only download that low resolution file.” Pro members were allowed access to full resolution files. Now, free members — that is, all members — can upload, access and download their full resolution files.

Dropbox + social network

If you have to pay a $500 premium for Flickr’s 1TB, why not get a Dropbox to store your 1TB photos (if you even have that many) and share it on a social network like Google+?

I suppose Yahoo! has not given that a thought.

What about Flickr Pro members?

At first it appears that Flickr has done a misdeed towards Pro members now that it no longer offers Pro memberships for new customers and it has taken away the prestigious Pro badge from existing Pro members. But a deeper look will tell you otherwise.

Us existing Flickr Pro members get an ad-free experience. We also get unlimited storage, none of that $500 for an extra terrabyte offer. We also continue to get detailed statistics on our photographs which is extremely useful on the long run to keep track of uploads.

flickr_overview
An overview of the all-new Flickr (and I’m very sorry for the major type: it should read Mosaic, not Mosaid.)

In place of the ex-Flickr Pro account are two new ones: Ad free and Doublr costing $50 and $500 respectively. Are they worth it? If you can handle Yahoo!’s jarring, unplanned placement ads, no; but if you are human enough to be utterly disgusted by ads, then $50 will rid you of it. As for the extravagant $500 Doublr, just get two accounts.

All in all, if you have the $25/year unlimited, ad-free, full-resolution option, you are in safe hands. What I’m most appreciative of is how Flickr chose not to disregard its Pro users. If you do not want to retain your Pro account, however, you can revert to a free account within the 20th of August and get a Pro-rated refund. If you switch after August 20th (and if you can) I suppose you will not be eligible for a refund. But be wise and stick with Pro, you will never get that value for money anywhere.

A word about the new design

Flickr struck gold with this design. While Google+ is going backwards with the two-column layout that Facebook tested and failed, and while it goes from big photographs to tiny ones, Flickr has been wise in redesigning itself with photographs in mind.

Now, the new Flickr layout, homepage, explore, sets and even searches are mosaics of big, bold photographs. It’s honestly just not something you can ignore, and it could prove to be Flickr’s much needed boost.

There are still some who hate the redesign, as there always are. In fact, most of them are right there on Flickr’s own thread about the redesign.

I think Flickr is finally headed in the right direction and I congratulate Yahoo! for that. If they play their next acquisition right (Tumblr) Google will have competition worth fearing: one of the oldest social media companies of them all, headed by an ex-Google employee. Talk about irony. [vhb]

5 Tips for Photography on Google+

I had no idea–and I do not think anybody did–that Google+ would become so popular  for photographers, and photography per se, as it has become today. With Google+, often dubbed a photographer’s paradse, Picasa received a terrific lot of attention, Flickr may start losing out soon if Yahoo! does not come up with remarkable new ideas, and smaller portfolios such as 500px are seeing a wave of their photographers moving their entire work to Google+. Continue reading

At the Royal Wedding

LONDON, ENGLAND — April 29, 2011 — 500 tweets are being made every second, and I am perhaps just one of thousands of bloggers who, quite understandably, decided to write on this trending topic.

Continue reading

Munnar and INO: Day 3

Today is my last full day at Munnar. Tomorrow morning I head further south to the proposed India Based Neutrino Observatory site near Theni, Tamil Nadu. While the first half of today I spent mostly in the resort, typing, reading &c. I spent most of the later part of the day driving around the mountains, exploring parts–or rather paths–that I had only been to a few years back when I had spent about four days in this very place, in this very resort and in a room neighbouring the one I had been in previously. Like the last two posts, here are the pictures:

[You can also see Days 1 and 2 here: ?Day 1 ?Day 2]

Munnar and INO: Day 2

Nothing much went on today. Remember that lovely thing from yesterday? Well I decided I can’t forget it. So I’ll live with it. And yet, do not ask me to expand on it.

I awoke and typed out a couple of pages of my script and then readied myself quickly to do nothing through the day. I decided that since I was on a holiday, I would rather do nothing (by nothing I refer to writing my script and reading some books) than go sightseeing. The point in taking a vacation is to cut yourself off from your daily schedule, not make things more rigid. So I was at my informal best and seemed to like it.

By afternoon, I was hoping to go out at least for an hour or two so I set off on a drive. Not stopping where everybody does or visiting places tourists frequent, rather just driving. It looked like six o’clock when it was actually three and began raining like I was in a rainforest. It happens. And not everything  can go right all the time.

So these were some pictures I managed to click with my tablet. (My camera wisely chose to stay back home.)

[Also visit ?Day 1 and Day 3?]

Munnar and INO: Day 1

Today, at 3 o’clock in the morning, (I am not very certain of the time because I’d just awoken and I have absolutely no idea if I even glanced at my watch!)  I readied myself and set out on my four-day trip to Munnar, a hill station in Kerala, South India–popularly called the Switzerland of the East–and a quick drive by the proposed site of the India-based Neutrino Observatory which lies near here.

I am a travel fanatic and I’ve been wanting to get certain (lovely) things out of my mind lately and relax; and then I’m an aspiring physicist: anybody can put two and two together to realise this is quite the dream vacation for someone like me. There’s the serene, tranquil ambience of this beautiful, almost untouched place which lies in the range of the tallest mountain peak in India, south of the Himalayas. Added to this is the world’s largest experiment on neutrinos being planned nearby, which appeals to the physicist in me; and I think it’s a place any physics enthusiast would want to see even if not participate in. I am in no position to do that right now, considering my somewhat limited knowledge. Continue reading