It’s remarkable that Flickr survived Yahoo! and Verizon. Some news reports suggest that Verizon thought it would be too much cost and trouble to find a buyer for Flickr. Had SmugMug not made an unsolicited offer, Verizon would likely have shuttered Flickr.
That would have devastated this blog. The vast majority of the photographs you see here are hosted there. It would have been a staggering job to fix the blog, a job I don’t have time for. Down the Road would have met its end.
Ferdy Christant is a wildlife photographer and software developer who built a photo-sharing site for wildlife photography. He wrote a compelling, although rambling, defense of SmugMug recently; read it here. He makes a strong case that SmugMug bought Flickr to return it to profitability and operate it for the long haul.
Christant paints SmugMug as a longtime business run by competent leaders who took a big risk on money-losing Flickr. He believes that SmugMug’s focus on building a sustainable business through the photography community, rather than on being a high-flying, billion-dollar tech unicorn, offers real hope.
I’m going to step out on faith and believe Christant. But a good reason bolsters my faith: SmugMug moved the entire Flickr service to Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS is Amazon’s cloud computing service. You rent servers from them, and run your software product and store its data there. It is risky, time-consuming, and expensive to move a big software product and all of its data to a new host. I work in the tech industry and have been a part of such projects — I know what I’m talking about. And AWS itself is expensive. I’ve seen the hair-raising monthly bills at some companies I’ve worked for who used a fraction of Flickr’s capacity. You don’t move to AWS casually. You don’t do it at all when you plan to wind down your service.
The free Internet is a myth. Running a software product and storing its data costs real money. The more popular the service, the bigger the money. My little blog costs me about $500 a year in costs related to running it and storing its data. Flickr probably spends that much every fifteen seconds.
Many sites have been free to use since the dawn of the Web. At first, many big, valuable sites hid their very real costs from you by burning investment capital. After the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, new Internet companies focused hard on how to monetize their sites. Most of them chose an advertising model. Some of them went with a membership model. The software product I help build today had a membership model until just a couple years ago. We got by. We changed over to a targeted advertising model and the money started gushing in. I’m sure you’ve noticed that the advertising model has won on the Internet.
Flickr seems determined to keep a membership model (though they do show some ads to non-members). To use a broadcast TV metaphor, that makes them much more like PBS than NBC. PBS relies on people like you giving them money to keep going. So does Flickr. But really, what you’re doing is paying for the value you get.
If you use and like Flickr, I echo Don McAskill: become a Pro. It costs $60 a year. Click here to upgrade. If $60 is big money to you, I understand. I’ve been there. But if you can readily afford $60, do it. You’ll unlock unlimited photo storage and a bunch of other goodies. And you’ll help keep Flickr’s lights on.
Flickr’s not perfect. Its community is a shadow of what it once was. Its past owners have made some baffling and sometimes stupid decisions. Some of SmugMug’s decisions about Flickr have proved controversial. But set it all aside. Flickr remains valuable and, in some ways, a gem. It’s a place to explore photographs, a place to share your photography, a place to host your photography for use all over the Internet. It deserves to continue.
The Rainbow Bridge on Route 66 in Kansas Canon PowerShot S95 2013
Route 66 passes through exactly one county of Kansas on its way from Missouri to Oklahoma. Kansas makes the most out of its 13 miles of this famed road. I’d tell you more, but I’d rather you go see for yourself!
I will show you one thing: this 1923 March Rainbow Arch bridge, designed by James Marsh. Marsh held the patent on this design. Hundreds of Marsh Arch bridges were built from the 1910s through the 1930s primarily in Iowa and Kansas, but also in a few nearby states. 17 are known to still stand. All of them are in Kansas and only one is not still open to traffic.
This one is still open to traffic, although one way westbound. A new bridge was completed 50 feet away in 1992 to handle modern traffic volumes.
Most of Indiana is flat. Flaaaaaaaaat. Ice-age glaciers covered the northern three-quarters of the state. Where the glaciers stopped, the terrain starts to get interesting. The closer to the Ohio River you get, the hillier Indiana gets.
A college friend introduced me to the pleasure of driving country roads, especially late at night. He and I used to go out after midnight and explore until we ran low on gas. He took me home with him one weekend, to his parents’ home in Crawford County. It’s one of Indiana’s southernmost counties, and it’s largely taken up by the Harrison-Crawford State Forest and the Hoosier National Forest. He took me out to see “the forestry,” as he called it, and we drove some delightful roads cut into the rock as the land sloped toward the Ohio River, dense forest surrounding us. The roads were full of curves and hills, including blind curves at the tops of hills and the bottoms of hollows. He navigated them all confidently, expertly, and at high speed, which regularly took my breath away. He told me he didn’t drive as aggressively as he normally did, because he didn’t want to frighten me! I vowed to return one day and drive them myself.
It took me nearly 20 years to keep that vow. Over Labor Day weekend in 2006, I drove south from Indianapolis on a loop that included Crawford County and the state highways my friend showed me there.
I brought my camera, an Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (review here), and one roll of Fujicolor 200. I should have brought five rolls! Recently I found the photos in my archive, freshened them all up in Photoshop, and am resharing this great solitary road trip with you here.
As I researched roads to include on this trip, I found a Web site for bikers that said that State Road 45 would “make a man out of you.” That was all I needed to hear; it was on my list. I drove its length. It is at its best in Brown and Monroe Counties — a wonderful curvy, hilly road for the 20 miles to Bloomington. Narrow and shoulderless, this road demands your full attention and is a handful in spots. These pictures are taken in Brown County west of Trevlac. This photo points eastbound.
In Brown County, SR 45 passes between the Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood State Forests, which makes the road seem secluded. Except for some bicyclists and a pickup truck, I had the road to myself. It was warm, and my windows were down. The sunshine broke through the trees and left its patterns on the asphalt. The breeze rustled through the trees and the birds sang. It was just me and my car, a little red Toyota Matrix, which you can see in the distance. It was a so-so handler; if I didn’t slow down for the curves the body leaned hard and the tires squealed. Its 5-speed transmission added a little fun, at least.
In Monroe County, the woods disappear and civilization slowly returns as country homesteads line the road. The twists and hills remain, however, and are every bit as much fun. But as SR 45 meets Bloomington, the road loses all its charm. On the other side of Bloomington the road widens and thin shoulders appear. It meanders with the rolling terrain for about 25 miles. It’s a pleasant drive, but it won’t quicken your pulse. All pleasure disappears when SR 45 multiplexes with SR 58. The road is straight and flat the last nine miles or so to US 231. I took US 231 south to Loogootee, where it meets US 150.
From Loogootee to about Shoals, US 150 is multiplexed with US 50. It twists nicely in places, and is moderately hilly. Trees alternate with farms for a classic Indiana pastoral scene. The drive is pleasant, especially on a sunny day as my day was. It would make the perfect Sunday drive for two, chatting happily with each other as you glide along the curves.
After US 50 breaks away northeasterly from US 150 near Shoals, the Sunday drive is over. Wrap up your conversation with your companion, keep your hands on the wheel, and watch the road, because US 150 becomes gloriously twisty and hilly through a lovely wooded area. There aren’t many places to pull over on this segment, and so I got only one photo. Unfortunately, I bungled the shot and it’s too blurry to share.
US 150 leads straight to Paoli, which I’ve written about here. Its square is a big roundabout. I picked up SR 37 there, and followed it to SR 62, where I headed east toward Corydon, where I’d made arrangements to spend the night.
On the way I stopped in Leavenworth where, at the recommendation of a friend, I stopped for an excellent chicken dinner at The Overlook. They call it that because it overlooks the Ohio River. This photo is from a few steps east of the parking lot. I just love this photo.
From there I also took a photograph of SR 62 eastbound as it curves and descends into Leavenworth.
My belly comfortably full, I drove on to Corydon. The first-rate curves and hills require full attention, which was tough to give because my system was wigging out over the massive sugar rush brought on by peach pie and ice cream after dinner.
Next morning, I drove back westward on SR 62, which is very curvy, hilly, and desolate all the way to just past Mariah Hill, some 50 miles away. I normally like to gape at the scenery as I drive and sing along with the radio, but to do either along this glorious road would inevitably have meant braking too late for a curve and finding my car mangled in the rock.
I stopped near the entrance to the Harrison-Crawford State Forest, 6 miles west of Corydon, to take a couple photos. The road through here was lovely, thickly wooded and cut deeply into the rock. The morning was chilly, the sky was mostly overcast, and a light mist filled the crisp air. The muted light that spilled through the trees and mist onto the roadway seemed to float ephemerally just above the asphalt.
SR 62 offers few places to pull over. I was glad that I could turn around and park in the pulloff area in front of somebody’s mailbox here. There were two houses by this pulloff. One was a pretty shaky looking frame house that was either unpainted or painted in that shade of gray that looks like weathered wood. But right next to it was quite a sight: a house that had caved in on itself.
From Dale to Boonville, SR 62’s curves broaden and come less often, and the tight, enclosed feel of forest, rock, and guardrails departs for open farmland on either side. After Boonville, SR 62 straightens out entirely. Additional lanes were being laid all the way to Evansville.
I made my way down to SR 66 and headed back east. As SR 66 hugs the Ohio west of 231 and draws near to the Hoosier National Forest, the terrain becomes more rugged and the road rises and twists to meet it. This stretch of road is just as exciting as SR 62 from Corydon to Dale, with the extra excitement of hugging the Ohio River without guardrail much of the way. It’s, uh, refreshing to round a curve and see only water out the window. This photo of SR 66 near Cannelton gives a sense of just how close the water is.
This photo is from the same spot, pointed westbound.
Here’s another view of SR 66 near Cannelton.
At Rocky Point, the Ohio River turns south as SR 66 goes more or less straight. About five miles later, the river swings back to the north and SR 66 hugs the river again. Up the road a bit, just past Derby, there’s nothing between you and a long drink, as this photo shows.
When SR 66 intersected with SR 62, I turned back toward Corydon. My memory says that this photo is of SR 62 westbound, where it meets and then multiplexes SR 37. Anyway, this photo shows how heavily wooded this part of the state is, and how deeply some of these roads are cut into the rock.
East of Corydon, SR 62 has a few moments of brilliance but otherwise becomes a fairly standard two-lane state road. At a friend’s urging, I stopped for lunch at Polly’s Freeze, a last-of-its-breed ice cream stand near Edwardsville, where I had a cheeseburger, fries, and a terrific chocolate malt.
At this point, I’d run out of film. My trip continued, though: SR 145 to French Lick, where I picked up SR 56, which merged with US 150 and brought me back to Paoli. This stretch was just as much fun this time as it was when I drove it the day before.
At Paoli, I drove the southern portion of the town-square roundabout and kept heading east on SR 56. The road is pleasant with broad curves and some long rises through Hoosier farmland. The road is wide, but has no shoulder in many places. After about five miles, the curves end and the hills begin to roll. It’s a pleasant drive. Some of the road had been freshly oiled.
Where SR 56 met SR 39, I turned onto SR 39. It’s narrow along its 14 miles with mild to moderate twists and a few really sharp curves, including several 90-degree turns where the road flowed in line with county roads. It’s clear that SR 39 was cut from farm roads. I would have loved to take photographs at many places along this excellent road, but there were no places to pull off. In hindsight, I probably could have just stopped in the road, because I never encountered another car. It was just me and the seat of my pants cruising this forgotten gem.
SR 39 flowed into SR 250, which flowed into SR 135. As SR 135 edged into Brown County and the northernmost portion of the Hoosier National Forest, motorcycles were everywhere as it’s a popular biker destination. And no wonder — the late-afternoon sunshine spilled richly through the trees’ branches as the road dipped and swung and climbed for about 13 miles to the tiny town of Story. It made me wish I had a motorcycle. Boxed in by motorcycles with few places to pull over, again I could not take photographs of this lovely and challenging stretch of road. I’ll have to plan differently next time.
Beyond Story, the curves and hills become less intense, but the drive no less lovely, until SR 135 intersects with SR 46 near Nashville. It multiplexes with SR 46 for a few miles and then heads north again as it goes through Nashville. North of Nashville to Bean Blossom, SR 135 curves a little bit here and there, but north of Bean Blossom it’s just a simple country two-lane highway all the way to Greenwood, and then a city-grade highway into Indianapolis; the same stretch of highway on which I began my trip.
After making this trip, I learned that the first people to settle Indiana did so just north of the Ohio River among the very hills I drove that weekend. These people included young Abraham Lincoln and his family. What difficult country to tame!
I originally wrote this trip report here, on my old HTML site. Someday I’ll deprecate that site, as I publish only on this blog now. I didn’t want to lose this post, so I copied it over here and edited it for length.
💻 I like to think I’m a writer because I write six days a week on this blog. I’m also a photographer, and a software developer. But Jacob Falkovich says that we all might be better off not pinning ourselves down to such identities. ReadPredictable Identities 24: Anti-Identity
💻 Alister Scott worked from home for over three years as part of a company with workers all over the world. This is a growing trend in tech companies. He writes an experience report that sheds important light on why this life is hard and can be unrewarding. ReadThe future of work? An essay.
Promoting your blog and its posts is work, and it takes time. If you want to put your blog in front of more people, however, you have little choice but to invest the ongoing effort.
Facebook has proved the most valuable way for me to promote this blog, which is a creative and personal blog. I don’t know what’s best for other kinds of blogs. I’ll explain how I do it, and why I think it’s the best option for creative/personal blogs like mine, in this post.
In case you have negative feelings about Facebook
Welcome to the club. I may quit Facebook someday as I think it has become a net negative for society. But until then, I’ll milk it.
Be realistic about your prospects
Despite my promotional efforts, Facebook drives but a fraction of total page views. In 2018, Down the Road gathered 212,035 page views. Only 14,815 of them came from Facebook. In contrast, search engines delivered 57,965 page views with no effort on my part.
None of my other deliberate promotional efforts have been as effective as Facebook.
Creative blogs have legitimate, but limited, appeal. Facebook may be the best way to reach people who will enjoy your work, but it won’t unlock Internet fame.
However, sometimes one of your posts will really resonate. My post about Traders Point, Indiana, (here) got a lot of traffic after I shared it on Facebook in a couple Indianapolis and Indiana history groups. It turned out lots of people were curious about that former town’s history. Every now and again someone will reshare it and it’ll get another couple hundred views. Most of its 7,300 all-time page views have come from Facebook. But that’s about as good as it gets.
Why other social media is less helpful
I also promote my blog on Twitter, but to little effect. I think it’s best for echoing outrage, and I don’t post anything outrageous. I admit I haven’t worked very hard to build a giant Twitter following, which would help. But I’ve talked about it with fellow photo bloggers and we all have the same experience. Twitter just doesn’t generate engagement with creative content.
I used to use Instagram to promote my blog, but because you can’t put links in posts it did little good. That limitation is by design — Instagram wants you to keep scrolling to see the ads. I built a decent following by seeking out other film photographers and following them. A good number of them followed me back. I put a link to my blog in my bio. I’d post a photo there from every new blog post, tell about what was on my blog today, and added “link in bio.” Almost nobody bit.
A few times, Reddit has brought a lot of visitors to my blog. Reddit has subreddits about anything you could ever blog about, and offers a vast audience. But Reddit aggressively frowns upon all but the most occasional self-promotion, and bans users who flout the rule. I’ve gotten traffic from Reddit only when someone else shared one of my posts there.
I know some people find Pinterest to be a good way to promote their blog. From what little I’ve seen, blogs about crafts, interior design, fashion, and the like do best there. I know little about Pinterest otherwise.
The key to Facebook is Groups
Your best bet today is to promote your creative blog in Facebook Groups, given the sheer number of people on Facebook.
Join Groups related to things you blog about. I’m in a bunch of film-photography and film-camera groups as well as groups about old roads, roadside architecture, and roadside attractions. I’m in groups for the Indiana cities and towns I’ve lived in or visit a lot. I’m even in a couple groups about heartfelt personal writing. That covers my blog’s subjects! To find groups, type keywords related to your blog’s topics into the Facebook search box and see what turns up.
Read and heed each group’s rules. A few forbid posting links, especially to your own blog. Some groups don’t mind if you share links to your blog if you participate in the group otherwise. Some groups are happy for you to only share links don’t as long as they’re directly related to the group purpose and are interesting to members. In all cases, it’s good etiquette to Like and comment on other posts in the group. And don’t carpet-bomb any group with your links. You’ll be seen as a gadfly.
You can also create your own groups, although it takes some work to promote them to build a following. Whatever you blog about, others are interested in it too. A couple other film-photo bloggers I follow created a group where members share photos of the old cameras they buy (here). The group creators use it specifically to share posts from their own blogs, and encourage shares from other bloggers (like me). I’ve used that group to share every last one of my film-camera reviews. It’s helped bring people to the blog, and some have subscribed.
Even if groups already exist for your favorite topics, you could create another one anyway. There appears to be room for many similar and overlapping groups. I’m in a bunch of old-car groups, for example. Some are general and some are specific, such as the one that’s for photos of entry-level models only, with no chrome and dog-dish hubcaps.
How to share a post in a Facebook Group
First, create a Facebook Page for your blog (instructions here). My blog’s page is here. Link your blog to your Page using WordPress Publicize (instructions here), so that each blog post automatically posts to your Page. This makes it easier to share your posts to groups.
You can also build a following on your Page, which can lead to new blog subscribers.
From there, here’s how you share a post in a Group.
On your Page, find the post you want to share.
Click the Share button. A menu appears. Click Share in a Group.
A popup opens. In the Group box, type letters from the group name. A list of groups appears. Click the Group you want.
Click the Include Original Post box until a checkmark appears. This shares your post with a link to your Page, which helps build your Page following.
In the “Say something about this” area, type a custom introduction to the post.
Click the Post button.
As group members interact with your share, it’s a good idea to respond, at least by clicking Like on comments. That encourages them to keep interacting with your shares.