Adobe has acquired Aviary. Good or bad?

When I saw last night that image editing start-up Aviary had been acquired by image editing behemoth Adobe my initial reaction was 'Hmm. Great for the Aviary team; but I'm not sure it's so great for consumers.' Fifteen or so hours on from that, and my opinion hasn't changed considerably. I'd probably augment it with 'Smart move by Adobe.' Using the term 'start-up' to describe Aviary might not be entirely accurate, but it's a question of interpretation, I suppose. It has been around since 2007 and its code has been used to edit over 10 billion photos. Even if you don't use its smartphone app to adjust your images, you might well have come across its editing tools that have been built into platforms such as Flickr and Mailchimp using its software development kit.

Great for Aviary

If part of the definition of 'start-up' is the intention to see your company acquired by another one, then Aviary at least meets that criterion. Judging by Aviary CEO Tobias Peggs' effusive blog post announcing the acquisition, this is all their Christmases, Chanukahs, and Eids rolled into one. And that's even without the agreed fee being disclosed.

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The Aviary offices are close to those of Behance, which was acquired by Adobe in 2013. Their proximity meant the Aviary people talked a lot with Scott Belsky, Behance's co-founder who now serves as Adobe's VP of Products and Community, and 'it became obvious that we shared a strong vision for mobile creativity. It became even more obvious that we should join forces, accelerate combined efforts and better serve even more app developers and even more people wanting to be creative on mobile.' Aviary is all about allowing people to be creative, through its own apps and through its SDK. It thinks it can better do this by partnering with Adobe.

Smart move by Adobe

Apart from Aviary's app being a peach and Adobe being keen to expand its mobile prowess, Aviary's SDK is well established. Adobe's isn't: it launched as a beta in June. According to Scott Belsky: 'We have high hopes for the Creative SDK and are thrilled that Aviary will infuse wisdom, technology, and reach to new developers.' Provided that the likes of Flickr, Mailchimp, and Shopify don't run screaming, Adobe has made a calculated acquisition to expand itself into a market where it didn't have a strong foothold. For anyone familiar with the English Premier League, it feels a little like accusations of Manchester City buying its way to football titles rather than building its own team. If you can't beat the opposition, buy it.

Not so great for consumers?

We know that I'm cynical; it says so in my Twitter bio. Thus from my cynical consumer standpoint, I wonder how beneficial this is for Aviary's users. The Aviary and Adobe teams are enthusiastic for what they can build together, but in trying to merge two company's visions into one coherent strategy how much creativity will be sacrificed and how much will consumer choice suffer? To what degree might smaller company 'Let's do this!' mentality be eclipsed by corporate hierarchy? Might Aviary become less accessible as it is absorbed into Adobe's Creative Cloud?

My visceral reaction is that while there are potential benefits to be harnessed from the acquisition, there are plenty of pitfalls, too. I'd like to be proved wrong. I hate the see a good thing fail and I really like Aviary.

However, whether Aviary was 'right' to sell or not isn't within my purview, not really. It's a company, it's not the NHS. It acts in its best interests, not mine. I wish them all the best.

A much-needed update for Flickr's iOS app

Android users enjoyed a significant upgrade to Flickr in August, but iOS users were left languishing with a fairly basic app that didn't offer half of the functionality of the website. In fact, using the mobile site was a superior experience to the app. That changed around lunchtime (here in the UK, anyway) today. An updated Flickr for iOS is now available, complete with in-app camera and snazzy new layout.

Ignore the moaners and groaners who are dyspeptically lamenting that Flickr has added a filter option to the camera function. Yes, they included the option to wash your photo, taken on the newly introduced camera, with some kind of filter. Everyone's doing it now and it isn't really new or exciting. In fact, it's probably the scourge of modern photography and we'll succumb to scurvy if we continue to apply them.

But you know what? This upgrade is about a whole lot more than a selection of filters. Some much-needed functionality has been added to the app, which was quite frankly rather poor before hand, bringing what you can do with the app closer to what you can do with the website.

For me, the most exciting addition is the ability to interact with the groups you belong to. You can see the photos that have been submitted to them and you can participate in their discussions. Previously, I found not being able to do that from the app highly frustrating.

When you explore your contacts' uploads, you can select from two layouts. One shows you the uploads by adte alone. The other gives you the streams of your contacts organised by most recent upload. 

As for uploading your own images, take a picture, make your edits with Aviary, apply a filter (or not), and then upload it to your photostream, add it to a group or set if you want, write a description, and complete everything with tags. Or you can select one from your phone's camera stream.

This update improves the functionality of the app hugely, but even I, in my rose-tinted Flickr-adoration, know that Flickr has suffered from stagnation. I don't know if it's enough, but it's a start. And I'm very happy about the improvements.

Whoah! And there's more! Flickr has just announced that over the next few days it'll be rolling out an improved navigation bar and a new-style Explore page on its website. I'm not seeing that yet, but I'm looking forward to trying it.

Instagram and Twitter's playground scuffle

Twitter's new Aviary-powered filters

Instagram and Twitter's current spat is worse than squabbling children. 'Instagram doesn't want to play!' 'But Twitter started it!' 'Well, ner, we'll just play by ourselves then!' 'Fine, we'll find some new toys, too!' I feel like putting them on the naughty step and asking them to explain themselves when they're ready.

This round really kicked off late last week, when Instagram's CEO, Kevin Systrom, confirmed that Instagram will no longer be offering card support on Twitter. That means instead of Instagram pictures appearing directly in a tweet, you'll have to follow a link taking you to Instagram's site.

From Instagram's perspective, this is 'The right thing to do' because it is building on their own social network. Systrom did state that this was in no way a direct result of Instagram's acquisition by Facebook. It is, however, easy to interpret this as Facebook pulling strings and fostering the sort of social networking that prompted the buy-out. Facebook snapped up Instagram because it needed a route into mobile, photographic social networking. By burning bridges with Twitter, it's encouraging its users to stay within its own network, not share the love across them. So really, it isn't so much about being globally socialable, but more about being a global social hegemony. 

From Twitter's perspective there are short-term and long-term implications. In the short-term, it's not that big a deal. That people's Instagram images don't appear directly in tweets is an irritation for some, but Twitter is about so much more than Instagram that it's just that: an irritation. It isn't a fundamental failing. The long-term implications need a bit more thought, though.

From Twitter's perspective, is this that big a deal? I'm inclined to say not really, for now. Twitter is about a great deal more than Instagram. Yes, that people's Instagram images don't appear directly in tweets is an irritation for some, but it's just that: an irritation. Whilst Instagram is a component of Twitter's functionality, Twitter doesn't rely on it for survival. It is, though, a warning signal to Twitter that will need to think about maintaining its attraction to users, because Facebook is gunning for it.

Yesterday, Twitter announced that it has partnered with Aviary–the company that provides image editing services on Flickr and in MailChimp, amongst others–to provide its own photo filters. The timing fits neatly with Instagram's card-retraction move, but isn't a direct result of that. If anything, it's more likely to have been the other way about with Instagram withdrawing cards knowing that Twitter was about to offer its own filters. These filters have thought to have been in the pipeline since Instagram's takeover in April. So Twitter is thinking in terms of its longevity.

As for the in-Twitter editing options, they're available for both iOS and Android, there's a choice of eight filters, all of them can be previewed simultaneously using a grid view, you can crop and zoom, and there's a magic wand to enable auto-correction. It's not nearly as diverse as Instagram's offerings, but it's a start.

Indeed, Instagram made their offerings even more diverse yesterday, too. There was a camera update for iOS users, a new filter called Willow, and some improvements to the tilt-shift effect. The camera update should make it easier to Instagram-ify previously taken photos as well as providing an optional grid when you're taking photos and a permanent grid when you're cropping. That, then, would be a small reminder to its users about the sorts of functionality (barring lack of Twitter integration) that it offers.

Twitter has managed to upset plenty of developers with its stringent API requirements and Instagram seems intent on developing its own (and by extension, Facebook's) network as opposed to playing nicely with others. They might see this as good for their businesses, but the reality is that the users lose out. And it's the users who make these social networks social.

What then for the users? If you're on Instagram for the followers, then you'll have to stick with it, or at least stick with it until you've grown a new network elsewhere. If you use Instagram for its filters and for the purposes of being social, then there are plenty of other ways of doing that.

It's irritating that these big kids can't play nicely and that it has the potential to all end in tears. There really are enough relationships and enough photographs to go around. We don't need to be forced into a social networking hegemony.

You can check out Instagram's update on its blog, and Twitter's update on its blog.