The Best (Accessible) Photography on the Web

It’s no secret that I have been getting very active with photography. In fact, it’s been nearly an obsession as I’ve begun maintaining a photoblog of all my best work. I’ve even written about going and getting your first Digital SLR camera, mainly because SLR photography is becoming very accessible and web geeks love sharing their photos.

Obviously, when learning about your camera and the various techniques, you’ll find people who shoot in such a way that grabs your attention and tugs your emotions. For me, I’ve had several photographic geniuses who have influenced my own style. I try to learn as much as I can from these people and have been known to ask questions.

Thomas Hawk

Thomas Hawk is one of my favorite photographers ever. His goal is to publish one million photos online before he dies. He published his 20,000th the other day. Thomas has a wide diversity of “types” of photos, however most of his stuff tends to experiment richly with color, motion, low light and patterns. And mostly in San Francisco, where he lives. For more of Thomas’ photography, check out his Flickr and Zooomr.

Danny Hammontree

Danny is a relatively new photographer to me. His style is distinct. Mainly he shoots black and white photography and his niche is protest/social injustice. Therefore, he likes to capture rallies and protests, as well as tell stories of societal failings. Check Dannys Flickr stream for more of his work.

Brian Solis

Brian is one of my good friends and has taken some of my favorite photos of me. That is mainly because Brian excels at capturing people. Typically, people who are socializing and having fun. He tends to shoot a lot of photography at web networking events. For more of Brian’s work, check out his Flickr stream.

Creative Ideas for Capital

stupomitron helmet2.jpgA great side-effect of entrepreneurs’ optimism in tough times is creativity. At our OpenCoffeeDC last week, discussions got lively when talk turned to bootstrapping — not just self-funding, but all sorts of alternatives for producing live-giving capital and conserving what you do have. Time to put on your thinking caps.

Have you gone through the check list of capital sources? Here are several (offroad from the traditional angel and VC route) that popped up in our discussions, plus a few others.

1. Sales! Duh. Number one will always be revenue. It was just February when Wired magazine chief editor Chris Anderson dubbed this the era of ‘Free.’ (Yeah. A lot of good that’s doing us now.) But don’t blame him — he’s just the messenger. Consumer expectations have been set at $0.00 by big dogs like Google, Craigslist, and Yahoo, leaving everyone to figure out creative ways of making money in the new ecosystem. Wired elaborated with a wiki for Making Money Around Free Content that provides some novel notions for doing so. It’s even been suggested (heaven forfend!) that Facebook start charging — something, anyway, for a premium services (the freemium model) of some sort. Careful thought needs to be given to just what it is that paying customers get, above the non-paying. Look into currently working models (Flickr vs. FlickrPro, Mozy free online backups vs. MozyUnlimited and MozyPro, etc.)

2. Corporate Investment Corporate customers and prospective partners can be turned into investors. In pre-Web 2.0 era, it happened all the time — usually to ensure that the product or service would prevail, the corporation made an investment. The terms were often good, with one twist: if the startup were to fail, the corporate investor got rights to IP. So it was interesting to see Martha Stewart Omnimedia lead a $2.85M investment in Evite-clone Pingg. We’ll probably see many more of these in the coming months.

3. Consulting/Contracting Doing work for hire can be extremely morale-robbing for a startup that had its heart set on making a living with a new web application — but many startups have turned pragmatic. The duality approach is simply more conservative . . . but when external funding is in a state of flux (like now), it may be key to survival. What makes it hard is the emotional and cultural schizophrenia (maintaining a solid reputation in contracting, vs. the live-or-die passion for a product and the customers who count on it are two different head sets), but some organizations appear to be making it work (Intridea, SetConsulting), while other have made the full-scale transition from services to products (37 Signals).

4. CIT GAP Fund Not to be overlooked, Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) provides (through its GAP program) loans of up to $100k in the form of an interest-bearing promissory note that converts to preferred stock in a forthcoming round of fundraising. It’s a great, low-pain process that helped mobile-gaming platform Mpowerplayer and a dozen other Virginia-based startups. (Disclosure: I’m a shareholder in Mpowerplayer.)

5. Venture Loans Used to be, firms abounded that provided venture lending — growth capital and equipment financing to startups that had already secured equity investment from top-tier VCs. It was still a But these firms — which were a notch less risk-averse than banks, and usually in solid association with VCs (they only made loans to startups that already boasted top-tier VC investors). But a few entrepreneurs have recently mentioned offers of ‘loans from VCs’ as a recent funding alternative. The exact nature of these isn’t clear — did they mean convertibles, which pop up whenever valuations get shaken up (like now)? But one thing to keep in mind: promissory notes and loans of any kind need to be repaid, even if the business fails. Moreover, they often have covenants that allow them to be called ahead of schedule. And finally, you may be asked to personally guarantee them. (Did you really want to lose your house?). I say, steer clear of them.

6. Bank Financing Banks, wha? Not often on entrepreneurs’ radar, but if you’ve got any stream of revenue underway, financing receivables can be a relatively straightforward process for smoothing cash flow. In fact, whether you have receivables or not, or venture-capital funding or not, banking relationships should be struck up sooner rather than later. Credit lines can buffer slow-paying customers — this economy is certain to increase receivables aging — but everything you’ve heard about credit lines tightening is true. Even established businesses are seeing them dry up.

7. Factoring At one of my service companies, we relied on factoring to keep cash flowing. (Truth be told, we would have missed several payrolls without it.) Factoring firms — which purchase your invoices and collect on them, advance you some portion (up to 90%) of the invoice, depending on the caliber of the customer, and charge a fee (usually 1% – 3%) — can pull revenue that might normally arrive in 30 to 60 days ARO into a week or less. And, unlike banks, the only due diligence is verification of product acceptance; I bet they’re seeing a pick up in activity lately. Of course, you have to be comfortable with you customers knowing that you’re resorting to factoring (not exactly a sign of stability) . . . so better pick only those you have a close relationship with.

8. SBIRs Not too likely a candidate for social-networking startups, but a wide range of technology companies have taken advantage of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)and other grants. The Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Technology administers the SBIR program, as well as the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. All told, 11 federal departments participate in the SBIR program and five departments participate in the STTR program, together awarding more than $2B annually to small high-tech businesses. Unfortunately, these things take time . . . sometimes more than a year.


Last bits of advice:

- Hoard cash — but don’t tie it up; in other words, even if you’ve raised capital, acquire PCs on credit (don’t lease them, if the lease lines need to be secured). And never secure borrowings with cash.

- Barter when you can — services of any sort.

- Co-habitate — during the last downturn, we opened up our oversized space to another company. If you’re looking for space, post on Craigslist and message boards to co-habitate — you may be surprised at the response.

- Crowdsource design work (logos, literature) you may need. Consider GeniusRocket, or Crowdspring, which Frank Gruber recently used to update his logo. Or do the logo your own damn self, until you can afford a professional.

- Pay with stock/stock options, rather than cash. Or a mix of the two. Worth a shot.

- Negotiate everything.

Lessons Learned — Scaling Social Systems

My charter with Venture Files is to contribute to and promote entrepreneurship and the startup scene around DC in general. Now, as I’ve warned, my posts may reveal my bias towards the Web 2.0 world. (It’s what my startup is about.) But heck — I’m at the Web 2.0 Expo in NYC, so . . .

A session today of great interest was Joshua Schachter’s ‘Lessons Learned in Scaing and Building Social Systems.’ For many of us, Schachter lived the great American Web 2.0 dream:

Step 1. Build an app (del.icio.us) in your spare time, and operate it from your apartment (server ‘farm’ below);

Step 2. Sell it to Yahoo! (rumored to be in the neighborhood of $20M . . . nice neighborhood);

Step 3. Retire (he now devotes his time to playing XBox).

Delicious server.png

I can certainly relate to that!

Schachter’s talk on scaling wasn’t technical — he was referring to scaling the features, the very functionality of his social bookmarking site del.icio.us (now delicious.com).

Interestingly, Schachter built the application to solve a problem he had — he had a Word file with thousands of lines of links for all the web pages he bookmarked. Thus, the application’s initial value was utility. And that’s what Schachter would provide the world — a useful site for keeping track of favorite sites . . . and making your friends aware of them.

And for a couple of years, that’s what it did. But when the number of users got substantial, features surrounding the network effect eclipsed the site’s original value. Achieving a critical mass of users (file this under ‘high-class problem’) suddenly transformed the site’s functionality from a utility to a social application, giving Schachter a whole new set of issues to deal with — customer service, spam, kiddie porn. (“You see it all, when you get to scale.”)

Ultimately (for all of us), the focus of scaling shifts to revenue. Being ad-driven, for del.icio.us, that meant getting to more and more users and pageviews. Subtleties start to really matter, such as encouraging sharing among del.icio.us users (he saw, for example, that a disproportionate number were checking the ‘keep private’ box; it dropped dramatically when the label was changed to ‘do not share’ — as in, ‘what, you don’t want to share your toys, Johnny?’). Bingo.

“The problem, however, is that these features impact one another. Optimizing revenue often comes at the expense of user satisfaction — think of ad-splattered sites, or Evites that force you to visit the site, rather than providing details of the invitation in the email.”

Here are a few other nuggets:

Make your product self-marketing Provide as much functionality as you possibly can before asking people to register.

Want harmony on your site? Avoid conversations Schachter really disliked the flame wars that comments generate, so unlike digg, delicious.com to this day has none.

Listen to your users We’ve heard it a hundred times, but the best founders (Flickr, 37 Signals, WineLibraryTV) all really do it — Schachter read and answered every customer email up until a year ago, when the volume got so great, five people at a Yahoo! customer-support center had to be dedicated to it.

Learn your ‘drivers of infection’ The two most dramatic traffic-builders for del.icio.us were the Firefox plug-in and the RSS feed.

Great lessons for all of us.

How Has Social Software Changed Your Life?

This is an open comments style post, so I want your comments.

The thing about my “beat”, as they’d call it in the newspaper business, is that I’m not really all that interested in “the news”. I’m not trying to cover all the stories, nor am I trying to cover most of them. I’m not trying to “break” anything or peddle products. I want to understand how social software affects my life. And yours.

Text comments will be deleted in this thread as I want video comments. ;) Click on the Sessmic Video comments link below. If you don’t already have one, grab a free account over at Seesmic.com.

This is what I want to know. How has social software benefited you? This is open ended and I want you to define what I mean by this. Some example questions might be:

  1. How you got a job using LinkedIn
  2. How you found an old crush on Facebook
  3. How blogging helped you gain support for a good cause
  4. How you used Flickr to communicate to your family on the other side of the world
  5. How you used Brightkite to track your migration habits
  6. How Twitter made the World Series special for you
  7. How you had a brilliant entrepreneurial idea from a discussion on FriendFeed
  8. How you used VC portfolio companies to attract the attention of a VC and get funded
  9. How you made a career by offering advice on a blog

These are easy examples. I want you to offer your own insight on how, sometime, somewhere, social tools have enhanced your life. Tell us your story on video. If you don’t, I’ll look like a complete idiot for this format – but I’m okay with that. :)

Using Images Legally on Your Blog

Everyone likes to use images to spice up posts, right? Posts without images are boring (except mine, of course! :-)). The question comes up alot, “How do I use images in my blog posts legally?

It’s a very valid question and more and more people are getting in trouble for using images that are copyrighted. Let me be clear, it’s Theft!

While, I’m not a lawyer and my advice should not be construed as real legal advice, it’s becoming more and more critical that bloggers understand the ramifications of copyright infringement. And while I think that copyright law is laden with crappy case law and even crappier legislative law (let’s hear a big boo for DMCA), violation of such laws carry hefty fines and penalties. And while individual infringements probably do not mean problems for the blogger, they can carry penalties of anywhere between $200-$150,000 per infringement in the U.S. (USC 5-504(c)).

It’s a dangerous game to play. If you don’t own the right to an image, you need permission in writing to use it. Often times, the “permission in writing” is a Terms of Use agreement or a license agreement at the site you get the picture from. In the case of individual copyright holders, you may have to send an email and get permission directly.

So where can you get legitimate photos?

Creative Commons provides a means to search for CC-licensed work. Creative Commons licensing mainly constitutes an attribution clause which requires that you cite the author. It’s pretty open. If your site is for-profit, your search should include the checkbox for “Commercial works” which will give a for-profit entity permission to use CC images licensed as such. If you’re someone who likes to modify images, you’ll also want to check the box allowing for “Derivative Works”. The social media community is all over Creative Commons. Share and share alike is sort of a defacto motto. Ironically, the real evangelists of Creative Commons are in the podcasting and video communities where the most legwork is performed to produce their media. Even if you don’t produce Creative Commons media, supporting this movement is a strong way to help legitimize it in the eyes of mainstream folks.

Flickr is a great source of photography and a large part of it falls under Creative Commons or public domain. Search your term, and check out if the image you want to use from your search is actually freely licensed. In most cases, a link to the image page is perfectly valid attribution and is a highly respectable way to utilize these free images.

The U.S. Government is not allowed by law to produce copyrighted photography. All images available from the U.S. Government are in the public domain. This site has a list of lots of government resources but note the disclaimer that the feds themselves may have purchased the right to use a photo in the publication, so check the licensing. Almost all the photos are in the public domain.

stock.xcng may be my favorite source of free stock photography on the net. Most of the images are free to use, however there are a few that have specific requirements by the photographer such as “Ask me first” or “Go ahead and use it, but I’d like to know that you did so I can see it in action”. The last theme I had here at Technosailor came from this repository. The rider on the license was of the “Ask first” variety. I emailed the photographer who lived in Australia and within 12 hours, he had emailed me back thrilled that I wanted to use his image. So it’s really not hard to get permission.

iStockPhoto provides inexpensive hi-res imagery (very good quality stuff) for as little as $1 per shot and at most $20 shot. All images are royalty free so feel free to use them as well.

Deviant Art is another long standing citizen in the world of graphic arts and photography. Not all, but many of the photos available there are also Creative Commons licensed and I’ve found many great images there. Check them out.