Knoxville Blogger's Meetup Post Mortem

Tonight, I attended the blogger meetup that Mike organized. Counting Mike’s brother and girlfriend (both of whom were mostly absent but were warm bodies in occasional attendance, so I’ll count them provisionally), there were eight of us, all tied to Mike through past or current jobs or the aforementioned relationships. One guy was an apparently random acquaintance of Mike’s who since connecting with him has gotten a job at Mike’s place of work through no help from Mike (more or less at random, that is). Weird. Anyway, so we had a pretty decent crowd for a first meetup, though I hope that for future meetings, we can expand our network a bit and bring in some new folk. (Which let me say is a strange thing for me to hope because I’m generally pretty reclusive and not interested in adding more people to the list of those I feel obligated to remember or communicate with. Let’s keep that our little secret.)

We had discussion of three items on the agenda: photo manipulation/hosting tools, Flock as the blogger’s browser, and video blogging.

First, Mike gave an overview of Google’s Picassa, which includes a desktop client for photo manipulation and a (beta) web service for display of photos in albums. The client looks pretty nice, with basic and pretty easy-to-use tools for manipulating photos. Want to bring out highlights in a picture? Just hit the highlights button and adjust the levels (or something like that). It seems like a great lightweight tool for doing the sort of basic operations that those of us who’re intimidated by Photosho or The Gimp are likely to want to do. As for uploading and displaying, there are some weak points. You can’t upload one-off photos, for example — they all have to go into an album. For most users, this is probably fine, but it’s nice to be able to post a one-off screen shot as well. The web display itself seems pretty weak. There’s a concept of favorites or friends, and there are settings to be able to publicly list albums, but there seems to be no interface for searching for photos or friends. If I happen to know Mike’s gmail username and know the base url for the photo service, I can assemble a url that will show me his albums, but that’s not user-friendly to say the least. I imagine the service will be expanded to fix these problems. All of this is basically moot for me, as the client isn’t available for linux, but it was interesting nevertheless.

Next, Mike gave a demonstration of Flickr’s capabilities. I hadn’t expected to learn much here, but he showed me some things I hadn’t looked into before, most of the details of which I’ve forgotten by now but will delve back into as need arises. There’s more you can do with Flickr’s organizer tool than I had ever discovered; I had always thought of it as merely a way to organize sets, but you can batch add tags, set privacy, etc., and with some of the gaps in Flock’s ability to batch edit photos, these things are very useful. There are also some neat views of photos and tags that I hadn’t looked into. My impression of Flickr in recent months has been a better one than previously. Things seem more discoverable since some features were added to the site. Between that and Mike’s demo, I may find myself actually using the site more than I’ve been accustomed to doing in the past.

At this point in the evening, after a late start, we’re more than an hour into the evening and it’s my turn to present. Mid-presentation (baby’s bed-time), I get a call from my wife that I dismiss. The moral of the story is that we need to plan less stuff for these meetings and trust the power of gab to carry us through to a sufficiently lengthy time. I thought at this point about suggesting that we push either Perry’s vlogging segment or my segment off to a future session, but I wimped out, not wanting to hijack the meeting.

As I result, I rushed through my segment, for which I’m a little embarrassed to admit I wasn’t terribly well prepared. It was clear that Mike had spent some time thinking about what he was going to demo. I had run through doing a blog post in Flock’s editor but hadn’t really scripted anything out, and I think that between that and my being in a rush, I probably did a pretty poor job of showcasing Flock’s capabilities. We’ll be releasing a new version of the software before too long, and there’ll be big changes then, so perhaps I can get some more time then and do a better job. The 30-second version of my presentation is roughly as follows: Hey, there’s an html rich editor, so you don’t have to code html anymore. There’s also this little shelf thing at the bottom that you can drag pictures and text into and then back out of to construct rich blog posts. And there’s this photobar that shows your Flickr photos (and those of others) for easy dragging into blog posts. And you can easily drag/drop upload photos straight from within your browser and get notifications when your friends post their photos. (Not covered in my presentation but important is the fact that this uploader tool works in linux and thus has caused me to upgrade to a pro Flickr account and actually bother to snap photos.)

Now Perry stepped up to the plate to talk about screencasting. A screencast is basically a movie of somebody’s desktop as they use software and explain the process. He reviewed several tools that I was interested in seeing but that were sort of dead ends for me because they can’t be used on linux. (Side note: A week or two ago, I briefly evaluated something called xvidcap for linux; after hacking the config so that it would compile on my system, I wound up finding the software difficult to use, but probably about as good as it gets for this type of software on linux.) In one case, Perry used a piece of screencasting software to do a screencast of the software itself. (It was during this window that my future self came back to visit me and prevented my future untimely demise by suggesting that I take an alternate route home; it was strange.) I found myself thinking during Perry’s presentation that the perfect synthesis of our evening would be Perry’s doing a screencast of Picassa and posting it to his blog using Flock. (My future self had nothing to say about whether this would actually happen, though I did press for an answer.) (Ahem. It’s late and I’m tired.)

After Perry’s talk, we briefly discussed finding a mechanism for publishing events. Orkut (which several of us had signed up for) sucks for this sort of thing, and who wants to pay meetup.com for this? We discussed using Gmail’s calendar, which we should be able to syndicate for publication on a web site if we ever build one. We also discussed finding a plugin for WordPress and just having a blog site. I think we finally concluded to not worry too much about web infrastructure until the core group’s a little more established and we have any hope of attracting a broader audience.

And so concluded our meetup. I think Mike briefly proposed discussing next time (probably a month or so from now) some of the options for hosting your blog. All in all, it was a good meeting, and I’m frankly a little surprised to report (see note above about my being nearly pathologically anti-social) that I look forward to the next one.

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