Thursday, December 01, 2005

Riya Launch - Am I a Dinosaur?

I attended the Riya launch party at Michael Arrington's house Friday night before Thanksgiving. The party/launch felt like a great success, and the semi-public alpha is now underway. But ... there's something I just don't get ... why do people want Riya? It's very cool technology - automatically parsing tons of photos to extract and recognize faces and text is impressive. And the user experience looks good. It's the app that leaves me cold - it scratches an itch I just don't have.

Part of Riya's sales pitch is that there are "30 gabillion" photos out there, and we need better tools to cope. That's just not true in my world - we take pictures, we send a few to family now and then, and we make an album occasionally. To me, digitial photography is a hassle-reducer, not a game-changer. I like not dealing with film, and I like ordering prints online, but moving from atoms to bits hasn't changed the number of images in my life or the way I relate to them.

Tara Hunt of Riya suggests the opposite - she believes that digital photography is deeply disruptive:

Camera companies keep trying to come up with printers that make it easier and easier to print your digital photographs, photo printing outlets give you the option of printing your shots through big machines - but printing out photographs is passe. It is online photo networks and photo sharing that understood the true disruptiveness of digital photography.

If Tara's right, I'm a dinosaur, and the climate is changing. That's certainly plausible - digital photography does dramatically lower the cost of creating/storing/sharing images, and therefore could lead to the kinds of slower and deeper changes that I've discussed earlier. If so, we just need a few more pieces of enabling infrastructure to kick in, and all of us dinosaurs will see the (flashbulb) light.

So how close is digital photo infrastructure to enabling deep change? My opinions are:

  • Capture tools are way over threshold - price/performance of digital cameras is great and improving, including ubiquitous camera-phones at the low end. Most images these days start life as bits, not as atoms.
  • Management tools are at threshold - desktop support (on both Windows and the Mac) and Web services (like Flickr and, of course, Riya) feel functional enough and almost easy enough for most people to use, once things tip enough for most people to care.
  • Display tools are below threshold - systems like Tivo Digital Photo (view my PC-managed photos on my TV screen) and Ceiva (Net-connected LCD picture frame) are good ideas, but IMO aren't yet easy enough to seamlessly integrate into my life.

My bottom line - I probably am a dinosaur, but I'll have lots of company for a while longer. Riya-like technology is necessary to live in a world where we all take and view gabillions of photos, and is helping to pave the way to that world. However, we're not yet there, and Riya alone is not sufficient to take us (or at least, to take me) there. Riya's rate of success will depend on where I fall on the adoption curve - if I'm typical of the early majority, dinosaurs still rule the earth, and Riya's growth will be slow. If I'm typical of the late majority, the dinosaurs are about to die off, and Riya's usage should explode.

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