The New SmugMug

Websites compete in a brutal Darwinian struggle for eyeballs and clicks: adapt or die is an understatement. Every few years users get “upgraded” whether they want it or not. Generally things move in a better direction. Even twenty-something web programmers aren’t completely stupid but setbacks and complete disasters are not uncommon.

My new SmugMug layout

My new SmugMug layout – click to view.

My relationship with SmugMug started about five years ago when my Flickr account was suddenly declared “mature” by some faceless administrative ape that couldn’t tell the difference between innocent nudes and pornography. I was so incensed I sent Flickr administrators a message they couldn’t ignore. I painstakingly deleted all my images, mass deletion was oddly not supported by the Yahoo’s that ran the joint, and dropped my account. How’s that for maturity? I consider it my sacred duty to punish companies that screw customers. After dumping Flickr I searched around and found SmugMug.

There were things I liked and didn’t like about SmugMug. SmugMug did a better job of displaying images than Flickr and you could select your own damn background color. On the downside, SmugMug has more of an empty art museum vibe than Flickr’s busy social whorehouse milieu. For a few days I missed complete morons dropping snide asides on my pictures. The only comments I get on SmugMug come from family members and energetic strangers that find something they like enough to breach SmugMug’s spam fortifications. The silence is welcome. This is an art museum after all.

SmugMug offers a number of account types. I am a “power” user. A power account falls between basic and pro accounts. This account differentiation makes sense. SmugMug users fall into three classes.

  1. Basic: plain folks that want a no fuss picture website.
  2. Power: nondelusional keen photographers.
  3. Pro: delusional “serious” photographers.

Only paparazzi, porn, wedding, fashion, sports and National Geographic photographers are making any money taking pictures these days. If you don’t fall into any of these classes my guess is that you are spending more on photography than you are making. SmugMug harbors many photographers attempting to sell their pictures. I would never buy a picture nor would I expect to sell one. I see many shots on sale that aren’t as good as many I’ve made for free. There are billions of cameras in the wild these days. Photography is not exempt from the law of supply and demand. When the supply is nearly infinite what do you expect the price to be? This is why newspapers are laying off staff photographers and small photography studios have mostly gone out of business. As a keen amateur photographer this saddens me but as a right-wing libertarian death beast it warms my dark evil heart that most of the “photographers” being discarded are rent seeking nitwits playing Henri Cartier-Bresson. Still photography is no longer a viable personal business! We’re deep into another age people. Now that you see where I’m coming from let’s get on with what’s good and bad about the new SmugMug.

Let’s start with the good stuff:

  1. Stretchy layouts: The new website does a better job of automatically adapting to a variety of display devices. I’ve browsed my own site on phones, tablets, laptops and giant desktop displays. It looks OK on all of them and great on tablets and laptops.
  2. Easy customization and layout tweaking: It took me all of ten minutes to figure out the new layout controls. Programming easy nontrivial customization is hard. Here the SmugMug programmers have brilliantly succeeded. I know enough about JavaScript, CSS and HTML to roll my own designs but photography is a hobby; I’d rather spend my time taking and refining pictures that writing JavaScript to display them.
  3. Better overall site organization: The new site organizer is a significant improvement on older methods and allowing deeper directory paths will be appreciated by many.
  4. An improved and better integrated mapping facility: Displaying geotagged images on old SmugMug was somewhat jarring. The control was clunky and it didn’t match your site design. The new control adapts to your layout and “circle” area browsing is slick and intuitive.

Now for the dark side:

  1. Website migration has hiccups: My site has over two thousands images. I didn’t expect the migration to the new layout to be without problems and it wasn’t. For me the biggest problem was the handling of keywords. The new site does not properly display keyword strings if the “;” delimiter is used. I have thousands of pictures with “keywords” like:
        5x5;capillary;glass;microscope;polywater;ultra;

    The “;” character delimits separate words. It should be displayed like:

        5x5 | capillary | glass | microscope | polywater | ultra

    When you click on the “;” string it is interpreted as a “find all images with all these keywords” request which is usually the very image you are browsing. This is mostly a display problem. The individual keywords were properly parsed and loaded.

  2. Custom API applications break: I use a custom application I wrote to synchronize my SmugMug online galleries with my offline ThumbsPlus databases. This application issues SmugMug REST API calls to collect and update image metadata. When I migrated I expected this application to stop working and it did. It looks like I need to authenticate my application with the new SmugMug site. There are no easily found instructions on how to do this. I hope this is just an oversight and that power users can still run custom API applications.
  3. The new map control is limited to one hundred images: The slick circle browser map control will only display one hundred images and there is no easy way to set it to map pictures in a particular gallery. The old clunky control allowed two hundred pictures and it could display arbitrary galleries.

I could go on but I program for a living. I know users always whine about change and seldom express gratitude for all the hard work the code monkeys of the world do to keep the lights on. Overall the new SmugMug is better than the old. There are problems but for a first production cut this is fine work. It certainly merits one prestigious Analyze the Data not the Drivel attaboy award. See the following to print your award.

Dilbert almost gets an Attaboy

Dilbert almost gets an Attaboy. What would we do without Dilbert? For more click and enjoy.

6 thoughts on “The New SmugMug

  1. Wow. I may be an ageing wanta be, but it only took a few sentences for me to realize that this was in fact someone who really new what was happening with SmugMug. With almost no computer experience I made the big switch from film to digital at age 50. While I have photographed all my life, digital darkroom orientation was difficult and overwelming. Opening an account with SmugMug was another big step and I just never really had time to get it all the way I wanted. I felt the reading material was simple enough, but the much was left out of the tutorials. The site operation came with many bumps and bruises and now, the NEW all improved, impossible to figure out SM. If I had wanted my own totally personalized web page, I would hire a web designer because my lack of experience is overwelming. However, I did not expect to have to migrate, do all the work I don’t know how to do myself and PAY. For me to do this will take hours and hours of time a few of which I’ve already put in with no results in the sandbox. The release was premature, the pain felt by those will little experience is huge. Life is short and I’m not sure I want to spend my twilight years learning programming. I would rather be behind the lens and I don’t see that happening with SmugMug.

    • I agree with most of your points. I expect the SmugMuggers will suffer from some “brand damage.” The migration does impose burdens on users and we will all differ in our patience and ability to deal with them. There is a lot of competition out there and it doesn’t hurt to look around. I have been impressed by the image browser in WordPress and Facebook does a decent job as well. If you want organization and structure SmugMug is still one of the best even though the New SmugMug has some rough edges.

  2. Hi John,
    I have a rather technical question that perhaps you could assist with or let me know whether it’s possible to do.

    I would like like to download image metadata from my SmugMug account a table with entries for each of the images in my account:
    1) Smugmug ID/URL
    2) Image file name

    The reason I’d like to get this:
    I recently migrated all our photos (17k+) from Flickr to Smugmug via Smugglr. That process actually populates the SmugMug field “name” (image file name) with the old Flickr image ID. Good so far.

    Now, I’d like to replace all the Flickr images in our WordPress blog (600+ posts, each with 3-10 images) with their SmugMug equivalent. I think I can speed up this process, or possibly automate it if I have the table above.

    Before starting this migration process I was told by someone at SmugMug that it would be possible to make a chart with the flickr ID (i.e., Image file name) -> Smugmug URL so that we could run a script in our WordPress database to replace all the flickr URLs with Smugmug URLs.

    But so far I have yet to get the chart. I am now looking for help on how to create this chart as I can’t find documentation or information anywhere on how to do it.

    Thanks in advance for your help.

    • Audrey,

      What you are trying to do is certainly possible. If your transfer process embedded the Flickr ID in SmugMug metadata you need to download SmugMug metadata in either XML or JSON form, and then extract the SmugMug URLS and Flickr IDs to build your cross reference table. The SmugMug metadata dumper I posted a few years ago is how you can go about collecting the SmugMug metadata. There have been changes to the SmugMug API since I wrote that post. The signon process uses OAuth so you will have to make adjustments or find another dumper. I don’t know anything about updating WordPress databases so I cannot give any useful advice about how to script the application of the cross references. What you are trying to do comes up frequently. When you have a solution write a blog post — it will garner hits for years.

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