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January 10, 2008

photoFlow – The Sleek and Easy Path to Flash-based Photo Navigation

It’s no secret that creating sleek and usable interfaces in flash is a big pain in the head. Whether your the average run-of-the-mill blogger who wants to add a little bit of flashy animated navigation or a seasoned web designer working on a tight deadline – creating flash navigation from scratch is almost a death sentence. Unless you really know the inner-workings of animation design, designing visually stunning animation in flash seems far from achievable (or at least not without effort).

Fortunately, there are a number of readily available flash components that you can avail and can make the job of creating professional animated interfaces really easy and fun while achieve quality results. Today we look at one of such components – Flashloaded‘s photoFlow.

photoFlow is a flash component that showcases photos in 3d stack effect, complete with realistic physics-based flipping animation and reflection. This is similar to an already loved interface prevalent in iTunes and OSX Leopard. For this review I was able to play around with Actionscript 2.0 version of the component. Here are some of the key features of photoFlow:

  • Easily update images using the Component Inspector, ActionScript or an XML file
  • Adjustable flip speed, spacing between stacked images and image size
  • Customizable perspective view and reflections
  • Option to flip images as a slideshow
  • Add links/hyperlinks to each image
  • ActionScript events to perform an action when an image has loaded, is selected, etc…
  • Images can be external or included in the library
  • Mouse wheel image flipping (Windows only)
  • Optionally display a name for each image
  • Option to set the number of images to preload
  • Option to automatically scale images to fit or to fill the defined size
  • Zoom in on selected image or on all images on mouse over
  • photoFlow can open on a pre-defined image
  • Customizable background color and opacity
  • Option to start flipping from left-to-right or right-to-left
  • Supports sound effects for image flipping
  • Built-in preloader
  • Light weight (weighs only 18kb with the scrollbar)

Setting up photoFlow was really straightforward and easy. It took me less than 30 minutes to get an actual working photoFlow interface after installing it through Adobe’s Extenson Manager. photoFlow comes with very thorough and easy to understand instructions that walks you through a basic setup to explaining more elaborate integration points through actionscript events.

One roadblock that I ran to while setting it up was that I forgot that I had the actionscript 2.0 version and proceeded to make an Actionscript 3 project – in which case I couldn’t find the photoFlow component in the Components panel. So it’s important to double check whether you have the Actionscript 2 or 3 version of photoFlow before you make a new flash project.

Aside from that everything was a breeze in using the component. There are a lot of settings to play around with. You can even opt to either manually load files through the component options or load via xml for more advanced users. Skinning is also no problem as you can customize the look of your photoFlow component. Animation and transition of photos can be tweaked to your liking including perspective and depth of the reflection.

All in all photoFlow is one topnotch flash component. Easy to setup, install and tweak – photoFlow is an excellent tool for those who want to setup quick but elegant photo galleries for portfolios, photo albums and even as navigation for a product catalog. photoFlow would definitely cut your time in figuring out how to do stuff and just get you right to creating and designing. It’s something I definitely would consider next time I had to make a flash-based interface.

photoFlow costs $59.95 for the ActionScript 2 version, and $79.95 for the AS2 and AS3 version. Licensees of the AS2 version can upgrade for $20.

Asst. Editor’s Note: this is a sponsored post written on request by Flashloaded.

January 7, 2008

Nearly half of Americans creating own entertainment content, including blogs

The number of Americans creating their own online content to share with others is increasing, according to new survey figures.

Around 45% of those surveyed said that they regularly worked on their own web sites, blogs, photo albums, and music online, to share with everyone from family and friends, to peers, to total strangers.

Deloitte’s 2008 State of the Media Democracy marks a twelve point escalation from their Spring 2007 survey, and strongly suggests that such online activities are increasingly popular among more than just a niche of tech-savvy individuals.

“Mass digitization has created unheralded choice and desire for American consumers,” said Ed Moran, director of product innovation for Deloitte’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications group. “Now, more than ever, consumers have the independence to enjoy what they want, when they want it, and where they want it — but increasingly, they are also choosing to create content themselves, or re-working other people’s content.”

36% of respondents also viewed their mobile phone as an entertainment device, with it playing an increasingly important role not just in basic communications but also for photos, music, and games.

The continued move to mobile is likely to affect how and where blogs and other online media are both created and consumed.

The online survey was commissioned by Deloitte and conducted by Harrison Group, an independent research company, between October 25 and October 31, 2007. The survey polled 2,081 consumers between the ages of 13 and 75.

Skitch: Screenshots Made Easy

When it comes to blogging, there are very few tools I feel compelled to rave about or wonder how I got along without.

For example, I edit my sites with Mars Edit because it is easier and faster. However, I am just as comfortable with my browser and the vanilla WordPress editor as they get the job done just the same.

Skitch, however, is an exception to that rule and is both a tool that makes my life much more simple and a great service that I don’t know how I got along without.

For any blogger (on a Mac) that takes a modest amount of screen grabs or likes embedding images into his hosts, Sktich provides an easy and powerful service that combines capture, editing and hosting all within the same application. For me, it has sped up the process of taking screen captures and enabled me to include many more in my posts.

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January 6, 2008

The Ratings Game

For the past week or so, the two top television networks in my country have been on a word war about their ratings. Network A (let’s call them Networks A and B) has been claiming that Network B is bribing households in a certain town to switch to their channels during noon time (considered prime time here) so that the survey/audit company’s data-gathering will be in Network B’s favor.

Network B has filed defamation suits in the courts of law, and lately both Network A and B have been having hourly commercial spots airing out their respective positions, in their own defense.

Seems to me like it’s going to be a trial by publicity. At the back of my mind, I laugh about the silliness of it all. For one, the town concerned is miles away from where I live–the country’s capital–and I couldn’t care less about the ratings in that town. Secondly, as a consumer of multimedia, I don’t really give a hoot about ratings or such, as long as I get good quality programs.

However, it dawned upon me that the reason behind all this fuss is money. For us consumers ratings could simply be indicators of how popular a television (or radio) channel or network is, for a given time of the day. However, for the network and for the media industry, ratings represent pricing power. For media that are not able to count exact “hits” or “page views” ratings are used as an indication of popularity and reach. This translates to how much the television network or station can charge advertisers, particularly as they price ad spots on cost per thousand pairs of eyeballs (or impressions, if that’s a better term).

So the ratings game is not silly at all, because we bloggers are also part of that game. In our case, though, “ratings” are easier to come by, with the various metrics software that help us measure and analyze traffic, such as our very own pMetrics. We also have other (more-or-less external) means of rating our sites, such as PageRank, Alexa ranking, Technorati rank, and the like. These, then, affect our pricing power implicitly or explicitly, whether for pricing ad spots, text links or sponsored reviews (some of which are frowned upon by some in the community, I know).

Sometimes it’s implicit because in some cases, it’s purely the traffic and the niche covered by our blogs that affect how well we earn, and we cannot really influence too much the outcome, such as with clickthrough rates and payments per click. In some cases, it’s explicit, like when a higher-PageRank site can fetch higher ad rates than others. In any case, these are analogous to what television and radio networks have with their “ratings.”

Perhaps in the same way that the above-cited Networks A and B are battling it on air, we bloggers have also used our own mediums to discuss the various “ratings” related issues that have affected us, like PageRank drops, and even the ethics of selling links or sponsored reviews. So again, is it silly? Maybe not–if what we are talking about puts food on our plates, pays the bills, and sends our kids to school.

Of course, this is from the perspective of the producer of the media. So for us bloggers–particularly those involved in blogging as a business or profession–traffic matters. PageRank matters. Other ranking methods matter. But for a reader, what does really matter? For some, metrics may influence how we initially view a site. A blog that has a higher PR or Technorati rating could be a more ideal destination than one that is less popular.

However, being an avid blog reader myself, I can say that metrics and such “ratings” go only as far as being helpful as “first impressions” of a blog. What matters more to me is the quality of the content, and relevancy to my interests, and of course, if the writer is able to reach out to me in a way I like. It’s similar to how I would rather watch intelligently-written and presented TV series from a channel with low ratings, than watch crappy programming just because it’s popular among viewers.

So how about those networks with their rating wars? I’d say just focus on fixing the quality of your content, and perhaps the good ratings will follow!

January 3, 2008

Belkin intros new podcasting tool, offers free gift bag to CES attendees

If you’re lucky enough to be squeezing your way around the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas next week, and you’re a podcaster, you might like to head over to Belkin’s stand (booth #30368) with your iPod.

They’ve got a new podcasting tool, the beta version of which will debut at CES 2008.

Though the press release doesn’t give much detail away about the final product, it will work with most iPod models. The prototype works with the iPod classic, nano 2nd generation, and 30GB 5th generation.

All podcasters visiting the booth and demoing the product will get a gift bag that includes Belkin’s TuneTalk Stereo, a voice recorder for the iPod that records in full stereo.

More details are available online to delegates visiting the show.

December 5, 2007

Vodpod announces four new video widgets for blogs

Vodpod, which we featured last year, has announced four new types and styles of widgets available, offering “new and enhanced functionality”.

The single video sized widget can be popped in top left or right of a blog, offering functionality in a small area of space.

Next up in size are updated top and sidebar video widgets, offering views of four or five videos at a time. The sidebar widget comes in three styles: elegant, floating, and boxy.

The largest new widget is “gallery style”, designed to take up most of a web page, and showing ten video thumbnails and a larger window for the currently playing video.

All of the new widgets make it easy for users to scroll through the video collection.

More information about the new widgets is available on Vodpod’s “New (and beautiful!) widgets for your blog” blog entry.

December 3, 2007

Guardian, Salon journalists start daily video blogs on Current TV

A number of journalists working at the UK’s Guardian newspaper, and at Salon, will begin daily vlogging (video blogging) on Current TV, Al Gore’s integrated TV and web platform.

The Guardian is already well advanced in the use of online media and blogging, and Salon is a well-established online media publication, so it seems like a natural progression into video.

“When we were approached by Current TV we knew that their profile and outlook was highly compatible with the Guardian,” said Emily Bell, director of digital content, Guardian News & Media.

The advantage of partnering with Current TV is that the content will be broadcast on UK cable and satellite TV, packaged for the web, and be used on the content owners’ web sites.

“We are very excited about the partnership and think it will bring our journalism to a wider audience and help us showcase our best blogging talent in a video format,” Bell continued.

(Via Journalism.co.uk)

September 20, 2007

TMZ Opens Audio Commenting System

According to a report on USA Today, entertainment blog TMZ (for Thirty Mile Zone) has recently started accepting feedback on its articles in the form of audio recordings.

Audio comments are the latest effort by news outlets to boost website traffic and foster more interaction. The new tool comes as the cost of technology continues to fall and as more companies experiment with audio and video delivery of information.

The audio commenting system was first tested in July of 2006, but using a “very primitive tool,” according to TMZ. They have since refined their audio commenting technology, and have launched it as a regular feature. Readers with a microphone-enabled computer can record up to 30 seconds of feedback at a time.

TMZ editors say that the same problems with text-based commenting are also present in this technology. For example, they still spend time moderating comments for obscenity or other offensive material. The fact that it may be more difficult to apply spam filters to audio content adds to the challenge.

TMZ also plans to add video commenting soon, but there is no definite timetable for this.

September 18, 2007

Shiny Media goes to Roo for online video strategy

ROO Group, a global online video solutions for content providers, advertisers and websites, has partnered with the UK’s media publisher, Shiny Media, to launch three cutting- edge online TV channels, featuring technology, fashion and lifestyle content.

The video players will initially rollout across Shiny Media’s leading tech blogs including TechDigest.tv and ShinyShiny.tv as well as the award-winning fashion blogs CatwalkQueen.tv and Shoewawa.com. Within a short period of time, it is hoped the players will be extended across Shiny Media’s network of 40 blogs catering to an audience of 3.5 million unique visitors monthly.
The channels will offer exclusive news, reviews, interviews and more, created by Shiny Media’s in-house production team. These will be combined with a selection of ROO’s extensive video content. To date Shiny Media has used video sharing website YouTube for hosting the bulk of its video content. The ROO partnership will enable it to further explore the business potential in online TV.

Advertisers will be able to purchase pre-roll video ad formats and MPUs across the channels which will be sold by Shiny Media’s online advertising partner Unanimis. From launch Shiny Fashion TV will be sponsored by LG Mobile and the channel uniquely branded to reflect this. The company hopes to develop similar campaigns for the technology and lifestyle channels.

September 11, 2007

Podcast 2007.4: 9/11 – 6 Years in, a Lifetime to go

Podcast 2007.4: 9/11 – 6 Years In, a Lifetime to go

Matt reflects on September 11th, 2001.

You can subscribe directly to our podcast feed in order to receive our show each day that it is released. For iTunes users, you can subscribe directly via iTunes.