PUT YOUR IMAGES TO WORK
The Word Out
By MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
Review Date: October 2012
When business gets slow, we look earnestly into the executive washroom mirror here at the bunker, clear our throat, take a moderately deep breath (nothing that would tempt a cough) and belt out a few lines of that How to Succeed in Business hit, "I Believe in You."
It gets the blood going.
But it doesn't do much for business. In fact, nothing in that play that will even get you into business school. It's pure romance.
Had it been about business, that hit tune would more likely have been called "Let's Promote This Thing." You can have a shelf full of bottled secret sauce but if you don't promote it, get some hair spray to erase the expiration dates. Those bottles aren't going anywhere.
Promotion, of course, is the part of running a business nobody enjoys. Because nobody goes into business to promote. They go into business because they love something other than promotion.
But there's no escaping it. You have to promote your business.
Forget the time-honored methods, frankly. Cold calls are as passe as answering the door bell to a stranger. They have robots for that anyway. We get a call from Sheila the Robot every day, several times in fact. She believes in us. Or our refinancing potential at least.
The trick is to get your work to do its own promotion.
Right, you know that. That's why you sold the Camry and had some guy make you a Web site nobody visits.
Well, you didn't promote it, right? "How do you do that?" you ask, pointing out that we live in a one-handed society, the other hand being occupied with a cell phone 24/7.
You hit 'em where they live. On that little screen. Pow!
That takes a little help, though. Fortunately, Nate Grahek, founder of StickyAlbums and a Minneapolis-based photographer himself, has put together an intriguing subscription service to do just that. Help your work do its own promotion on those little screens, that is.
Nate's story is pretty interesting in its own right. He explains how he started the company and grew it to 1,500 customers in three months in this Marketing Show interview.
The short version is that he left a career in training development and education after a corporate takeover took all the fun out of it (do those fairy tales ever end any other way?) to follow his first love, photography.
He built a business taking high school senior portraits with a marketing approach he called Senior Models in which you shoot the cool kids, give them a custom printed album and wait for word of adolescent mouth to work its magic.
Except one day, his cousin became a cool high school senior and he told her he'd print up an album for her and she stopped him cold with a simple, it's not cool.
That got him thinking about a mobile version of the album and to make a long story short, he made the albums first for himself, then for other photographers and finally he automated the process as StickyAlbums.
StickyAlbums makes it possible to convert 20 to 40 (ideally) of your images into an HTML slide show that plays on a cell phone or tablet. This slide show is branded with your logo and contact information (including an optional tap-to-call phone number) so whoever looks at the images can also get in touch with you.
These slide shows can be effortlessly shared on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, too. ("And Twitter, too?" Dorothy asked the witch. "Yes, Dorothy, Twitter, too.")
To the viewer, these slide shows function like mobile apps with an icon on their home screen. All they have to do it click to start them up. No typing some URL.
Nice concept, right? Absolutely. But the devil is in the details. Just how hard is it to do this?
Nate has put together a very helpful Web site to guide you through the process. No, we should say it's an unusually helpful Web site. In just a couple of short videos, Nate shows you how to build an album.
We started by viewing the pages linked to the Start Here button.
The first one, which is just 3:39 long, is called "How to create a StickyAlbum."
It's a two-part process, Nate explains:
- First you use your image editing software to create the album content.
- Then you use the StickyAlbum Builder to assemble the slide show app.
The first step covers three important tasks:
- Select the images you want to include
- Resize them to 1600p on the longest dimension to minimize upload and download times as well as storage requirements on the mobile device
- Customize your branding files using templates you download from the site. You use these files to identify your business, of course, but also the slide show content.
The second step involves three tasks:
- Add your contact information in a simple Web form
- Upload the images
- Crop and arrange the images
When you've done that, Builder will create the slide show, present a link plus a nice HTML email with the link in it for your client and give you the option to share the link on social networks.
And, yes, there's a video on using Builder, too. This one is a bit longer at 6:17. But the Builder is what sets StickyAlbums apart from the rest of the world.
There are two tabs of data to contend with: My Albums and My Account. My Account holds all your default JPEG collateral and contact info. My Albums lists all your albums with Edit, Duplicate, Resend Email and Delete options.
Building an Album starts with the New Album button, prepopulated with your default information. Overwrite your defaults by uploading new JPEGs (with exactly the same dimensions, of course). You also set background colors (there are three but you should think of them as just one, as Nate explains).
Then you upload your album images. Nate recommends Chrome or Firefox but we used Safari on Lion with no problem at all.
Images are automatically cropped into square images for the gallery display of the album. If you don't like the crop (we had a few doozies), you can move edit the crop quite easily.
You can also rearrange the order in which the images appear.
With everything set up, you confirm you're ready to build the album. But you don't have to do this all in one gulp. Builder has been recording your progress and you can pick up where you left off in another session.
When the album is built (don't blink), Builder displays a link to it as well as a sample email you can send your client.
The tricky part in all this is customizing the templates. There's a second 3:30-long video on the Start Here page that explains how to do that.
The first thing to do is download the templates, all contained in one .zip file. They include:
- header_logo.jpg: An example JPEG of the image that sits at the top of the slide show
- header_logo.psd: A Photoshop file with layers to help you create the logo file
- homescreen_icon.jpg: An example of the square icon you tap to launch an app
- homescreen_icon.psd: The layered Photoshop file to help you create the icon file
- Horizontal_Loading_Screen.jpg: An example wait screen to display to the viewer while the images are downloading
- Horizontal_Loading_Screen.psd: The layered Photoshop file to help you create the wait screen
- Vertical_Loading_Screen.jpg: An example wait screen to display to the viewer while the images are downloading
- Vertical_Loading_Screen.psd: The layered Photoshop file to help you create the wait screen
So you have two files for each image you have to create. One is the layered Photoshop file you can work on and the other is the JPEG output file, which is just an example of what you're after, helpful if your image editing application can't read PSD files.
You can't upload the Photoshop files, just JPEGs.
You can create these four files for every album you create to personalize them with a unique look. Say you shot the Opposites-Attract wedding. You could have a key shot be the icon (how can they resist tapping that?) and the wait screens could include the key shot.
You can also create default JPEGs for all four items, so if you don't bother to create a personalized wait screen, for example, the Builder will use your default.
You tell the Builder all about this when you enter your contact information and upload your images. It's all very clear.
There's also a little help file on the Start Here page with some advice about what to do and not do for these images. It also shows examples of them in use so you get the idea.
The Start Here page is also very helpful when it comes to figuring out how many images to include.
Mobile devices don't have the capacity of your hard disk and the monitors are not quite as generous as your desktop system. So full resolution images are overkill.
In fact, the page notes, there is currently a 50-MB limit to mobile Safari's offline storage. And since the viewer is seeing the images in a browser, that's not a bad limit to adopt. It means, as the page says, you'll limit yourself to 20 to 40 1600-pixel images.
The page links to another site that shows you how to batch resize images but we're all wizened pros here and don't need that stuff. In fact, we used a utility we wrote ourselves to resize a set of about 20 images with various unsharp masking options to a new folder. Piece of (wedding) cake.
Well, yes, we did give it try.
Template Files. We downloaded the templates and gave them a makeover. We have a little logo we use for our personal Web site, so we popped that in. And we made a little header with it and the name of our Web site.
We thought we'd get fancy and use a gradient for the background. That looks great on the template but doesn't work as well on the finished product. You're better off with solid colors.
For the loading screens, we repeated the header at the top but then brought in one of the images from the slide show to fill the screen. We were going to drop in a montage of them but the single image looked very nice so we clocked out. At the bottom, we added a note that the images were loading. No sense being mysterious.
That, really, was as close as we came to anything resembling "the hard part." And it was kind of fun. The templates are the correct size, they're layered so you can play around easily enough. And when you have things looking the way you want, you can easily save a JPEG for uploading.
For individual slide shows, we'd do new upload screens and a new home screen icon. Using our Web site icon was a mistake because every show would look the same on the device home screen. It really should be customized for each particular show. And it was easy to replace it.
The Images. With that out of the way, we only had to select a few images and resize them. We used Photo Mechanic to look through our 109 images and pick 20 of them (pretty randomly since this was only a test). We copied them to another folder and passed them along to a resizing utility we wrote that also drops a copyright banner on them.
We resized them no larger than 1600 pixels on the long side. That doesn't fill the screen of an iPad but it's a nice size. In fact, we ended up using one of the bannered images for the upload screens. It's easy to edit this stuff.
The Upload page notes that the maximum file size per image is 2-MB. It also recommends a long dimension of 1600 to 2048 pixels. So we were on the short side of that.
Builder. Then we were ready for Builder. There are four steps to the process: Info, Brand, Album and Confirmation.
Info got all the required data from us in one simple form: the URL to your Web site, the label for the app icon, an email subject line, your email address, a phone number, an optional album password and, for the Professional option, a checkbox to remove the "Made by StickyAlbums" notice.
In the Brand section, we uploaded the JPEGs we created for our logo, app icon and loading screens.
In the Album section, we selected all 20 of our images and uploaded them. Then we checked the thumbnail crops and the arrangement.
Finally we confirmed that the album was ready to be completed and in the blink of an eye, Builder gave us a URL and sample email. Elapsed time? Maybe five minutes. We could do it in under a minute, though.
All of these screens are attractively designed, easy to read and helpful. Everything we needed to know, we were told. And we weren't told anything we didn't need to know, either.
The only issue we had with Builder was when we edited the album to remove our phone number. It disappeared from the Info form but still appeared on our album. Normally, of course, you would want your phone number to appear. But if you're a reviewer, you aren't normal.
When we asked support about it, the wisely suggested we clear our browser cache. That's a little more work these days in Safari (you have to enable the Debug menu) and on the iPad (you do it from Settings). But that solved the problem.
Viewing. We checked our album in our Web browser, since that's where we were. Then we took a look at it on an iPad. You can see our album here: http://moblalbum.com/YsfnRwd8KH/gallery/21336 with the password "honey." Try it on any device.
Downloading over WiFi was nearly instant. The loading screen just flashed briefly on the screen. And performance either using the auto play function of just skipping through the images was adroit.
It was very attractive, giving the images predominance but with clickable contact information for email and phone. There is also an easy way to share the album on social networking sites, so your album can go viral very easily.
At least on iOS 6 we were advised we could turn the album into a home page app icon. We did that and our icon appeared on the home page of the iPad.
Support told us that you only have to enter the password once for an album. But you also have the option to re-lock the album. Look for it at the bottom of the album page.
We were, as we said, impressed with the Start Here videos. They were short and sweet. And both the My Account and Builder forms were very clear with everything you needed to know right at hand.
That's more than enough to make you proficient with StickyAlbums.
But in the course of our testing, we had a few questions that gave us a chance to work with the support staff. In every case (and there were a couple), our questions were quickly addressed. When on one occasion the answer wasn't obvious, the support technician contacted the developer to get an explanation for the behavior that we were wondering about. And apologized for the delay.
Support was not only competent and helpful but unusually courteous.
You may have noticed in some of the screen shots that live help is also available. There's a lime green button on the left margin for it. We never actually needed that but we're impressed that it's available. StickyAlbums really could teach a few major corporations how to conduct themselves.
In fact, Nate believes the most effective way for a small company to compete with the big boys is via customer service. He's even phoned customers who email support questions if they have a phone number in their signature. Compare that to endless call center waits and mysterious dropped calls to see what he means.
So what's this cost? StickyAlbums offers three subscription levels: Trial, Starter and Professional:
- The Trial offer includes your first album of up to 12 images at no charge for one month of hosting but it includes the StickyAlbum logo.
- The $21/month Starter deal allows you unlimited albums of unlimited images (but 40 is pushing it in the mobile universe) with lifetime hosting (even if you stop subscribing) but with the StickyAlbum logo again.
- The $189/year Professional option includes the Starter deal but with an optional StickyAlbum logo. That's 15.75 a month, tax deductible. And you can charge the client for the app, too.
As he adds features to the product, Nate raises the subscription price.
It's not easy to evaluate something like this because, while it touches on features of other services, there aren't any comparable products at the moment.
Sure, you can create a home page icon from any Web site you visit. If it's a page on your own site devoted to a particular event and you've set up a slide show, you may think you've got this covered.
But StickyAlbum is simple enough you can actually create an album that lives on someone's mobile device with no more effort than sharing a link. No app store approval, no updates, no support overhead for you. And these simple apps are born to share, too. They function like an advertising engine. That alone justifies the annual fee for us.
Unlike a lot of great ideas, though, StickyAlbums is actually a pleasure to use. You won't balk at creating a new slide show for an event or a shoot. You'll spend most of your time picking images, not formatting them or updating code to display them. It just works with a nuisance factor of zero.
And as simple as it is for you, it's as accessible for your clients and their friends. All they have to do is share a link. You build it, they come.
Outright prolonged applause!