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Going Paid

Yes, I know, first world problems and all that, shut up…

With the news that Instagram can now start selling my photos, something I didn’t agree to when I signed up, I’ve been looking at what services I use the most and wondering if I might be better to switch all my online/digital actions to only use paid for options.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for companies to make money and that offering services for free isn’t ever going to be properly scalable until you reach a critical mass (think Facebook and Google). What really irks me about the Instagram change is that I don’t have an option other than to stop using it and delete my profile. If they’d given me the option, I’d likely have paid for it.

That got me thinking, could I switch to only using apps and services I’ve paid for?

I use Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for most of my ‘social’ activities. I’ve recently gotten back into FourSquare (as I pull the data into the journalling app Day One) but it’s not really something I’m using socially, it’s purely a tool to make up for my own, shockingly bad, memory! I use several Google services, Mail, Docs, Calendar for my personal information management.

I do not pay for any of these services.

I use Evernote to capture incidental data, notes and links, and the wonderful Dropbox (try it!!) to sync files between all of my devices (personal and work laptops, iPhone and iPad). I have an iTunes Match account to host my music in iCloud.

I pay for all of these services.

So I guess the question is, can I replace Twitter, Facebook, Google and Instagram with paid for options?

For many years I’ve paid for a Flickr Pro account. It was one of the first services I used that even offered a ‘paid’ option (I was still using Blogger at the time) and thankfully, it seems to be going under a bit of a revival. I looked at alternatives (500px) but with such an investment in time, I’m happy to stick with Flickr. The Flickr app seems pretty good, and I’ve also got the Camera+ app on my iPhone which has allows me to upload photos to Flickr. That takes care of Instagram.

When it was announced, I paid for access to App.net, a pseudo-replacement for Twitter. Whilst I’ve not really gotten into it, perhaps all I need is a bit of a push (and for more of my friends to be using it). I’m not ruling out Twitter just yet but as it continues to look to lock down it’s system, I’ve no doubt there will come a tipping point which pushes me to ditch it.

So what of Facebook and Google?

I can replace the latter for the most part, a combination of Dropbox for documents, my own mail server (part of the hosting account I pay for as part of this blog) and the calendar is already driven from my work Exchange server (it just syncs to Google). I’m not inclined to leave Google though, their ecosystem works well.

That leaves Facebook. I’ve pondered deactivating my account there before. I get some value from it, as I have friends and some work colleagues on there, not to mention my family. What value does it have? Well that largely comes about because ‘everyone’ uses it. Organising a get together or a trip is pretty easy if everyone has a Facebook account. The problem with only me closing my Facebook account is that my friends would still use it and I’d likely miss out on news and events in my social circle (well, one of them at least). Sure I could try and convince them to use Google+ (which is definitely improving) but that’s not gonna be easy.

Other than Instagram, I’m not making any decisions right now. I can see a time when I delete my Facebook account, but as someone said, I’ve not yet accounted for the next cool new service to come along (although they are increasingly looking more like aggregators than anything ‘new’). Time will tell but at least it’s good to know there are options out there for when a company pulls a fast one and leaves you with little choice but to seek alternatives.

There is a couple of weeks before I need to close my Instagram account though, and whilst there is still time for them to back track and for it all to be deemed a big mistake, the fact this was allowed to happen at all is what leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Bye bye Instagram.

 

UPDATE: Instagram have published a clarifying post, stating that there intention isn’t to sell photos and that the wording wasn’t great in their original T&C update. I disagree, I think the wording was very clear (I’m not alone in this) and so whilst the words may have changed, the intention to monetise Instagram is clear and understandable. For me, it’s not a question of them being ‘bad’ for trying to make money, it’s the lack of options for me, the user. If anything, whilst I probably could keep using Instagram, the whole affair has given me a bit of a kick. It’s very easy to ‘rely’ on a free service then grumble when it changes.




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Why Fitbit is winning

My main aim for this year was to lose weight. Actually that’s not true. My main aim for this year was to be happy which involves changing my lifestyle and habits, mostly focussed around my fitness and weight.

Data helps me with this, tracking my weight loss lets me look back and see how I’ve been doing. To that end I invested in a set of Withings scales. They’ve been great and have really helped me keep focus, and given me that little spur I needed from time to time to get back on my bike, or go for a walk, anything to be a little more active. Aside from my happiness, losing weight is also something I must do as I’d really like to NOT be taking maximum dosage pills for my high blood pressure for the rest of my life. With that in mind I also invested in the Withings blood pressure cuff to let me do accurate readings at home.

Looking to accumulate all my ‘fitness’ related data I looked for ways to track my activities and, as I used it last year when I got my bike I re-installed CycleMeter to track that and looked into Fitocracy as a way to pull it all together.

It was about then I realised my system was a little flawed. CycleMeter only shares data with a single tracking service (Dailymile) which I don’t use… I remembered back to my running days (knee still gubbed so they remain in the past for now) and looked into RunKeeper. Built around an activity tracking service, it also has a GPS app for tracking runs and cycles… not as full featured as CycleMeter but all I really want is time and distance (and a map, that’s nice too).

I’ve spent a few weeks manually updating Runkeeper with the data captured by Cyclemeter (which I then need to manually pull into Fitocracy) and I’m a bit bored of it already. So it’s bye bye CycleMeter and Fitocracy, and hello Runkeeper.

It’s here I should also mention that I purchased a Fitbit a few weeks ago. It was more curiosity than anything but as a way to track, fairly accurately, who active you are throughout the day it’s been far more useful than I first thought. It also syncs with Withings (for my weigh-ins) and Runkeeper (for my activities). It’s also fair to say that it’s got the nicest interface/dashboard of any of the services I use. Withings is shockingly bad and slow to render, Runkeeper is somewhat dated already and really needs a UI designer overall.

So, Fitbit has fast become my hub, the central place where I track personal fitness data because it does what I need it to do and does a lot of that in the background with very little interaction from me.

The last piece falls into place as, thanks to the fact that Fitbit will sync data with MyFitnessPal which I’ve used in the past for logging what I eat and I have a good balance of automated data collection, all pulled together into one useful Dashboard.

It’s taken me a while to get to this point, not least because every single app or service I’ve tried has been good in some ways but bad in others. I prefer using CycleMeter but will put up with the deficiencies of Runkeeper to get the data sync’d automatically. I prefer interacting with Fitocracy than Runkeeper but it’s not quite there yet in terms of automated services (and is heavily geared towards weight pumping gym bunnies). Fitbit hits the sweet spot for me and given that I’ve dropped over two stones since January, it seems to be working!

Me on Fitbit




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Faff

I cannot be bothered with faff.

This is one personality trait that has definitely changed as I’ve gotten older, or perhaps it’s just a reaction to the years I spent indulging my ‘gadget-geek’ and allowing myself to think that jumping through 5 hoops to get a simple task done was “OK”.

My mindset these days is very much that technology is there to serve me. If something starts getting in my road I’ll work around it, or replace it completely, ruthlessly.

I’m about to talk about a technology company which I know some people don’t like, but bear with me.

I have an iPhone, an iPad, Apple TV and an internet connected Samsung TV. The bulk of my content consumption happens through those devices. I have a desktop PC, running Windows 7, which is where all of my content creation occurs. More of my time is spent consuming content so I recently bought a NAS drive to allow me to remove the desktop PC (and it’s large hard drive) as a middleman.

I can now watch movies on my TV that I created (ripped from bought copies) on my desktop PC as they now live on my NAS drive. I can view photos the same way.

I can also browse and play music from my NAS drive using my iPhone, or iPad. Unfortunately I can’t hear it.

My plan was to use an Airport Express, connected wirelessly to the NAS box, with audio out to a dedicated set of speakers. I have an old (“g” standard) Airport Express and bought some new speakers (AudioEngine 2).

Alas, the plan is failing and whilst I’m still not sure why, it’s getting the Airport Express setup that is causing the problems. That might be down to the Airport Express itself, or the Windows box, or even the router (a Thomson box supplied by O2). I’ve tried every set of instructions I can find but still nothing.

What are my options now? I could buy a newer Airport Express in the hope that works easily, or I could buy Airplay enabled speakers and be done with that extra step.

Too much faff ya see. If it had just worked I wouldn’t even be moaning about it here.




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