Ember

I've had my eye on Ember since it's release. It's a well designed image library with a number of image collection and organisational tools. In particular it's tagging and collection functionality are very cool. I'll admit that it was Ember's level of polish that initially attracted me though it's a long time between my first taking notice and my decision that it was worth ponying up the currency for the purchase. As much as I love well designed software for it's own sake I can't justify buying it on those grounds alone (well… sometimes, when it's just pocket change).

What eventually won me over was, ironically, Pinterest. I've used Pinterest quite a bit of late for collating ideas on various subjects and made some use of it's social features. I liked the idea of moving what I'd started on Pinterest to a more private platform with wider functionality. When Ember's iOS apps launched recently, with iCloud syncing, I had found my solution. Pinterest is an interesting concept, fundamentally it is an image gallery — though unlike more traditional platforms such as Flickr it's sources are websites as well as images from your photo library for example. Ember parallels much of this functionality (though not all of it) and expands that functionality in a way that I feel is more conducive to manipulating your collected images as a resource rather than a social stream.

As a social platform Pinterest inadvertently directs you to the role of editor. It is a performance art to which your connections are the audience. There is a need to fulfil a self-imposed standard of quality as with any social interaction. Pinterest encourages selectiveness.

Ember is the opposite. Ember wants you to be gluttonous; to suck up anything that interests, pleases or intrigues you. The bigger your library becomes the more powerful it's tools become and as there is no stream to continually populate the value of any individual item does not decrease over time — it never drops off the bottom of your feed, displaced by the fashion of the moment. Alone, the ability to store images is something that we've been able to do forever — it is being able to manipulate this library that gives Ember its value. There are two primary methods of defining subsets of your library: tags and collections. Tagging is largely self explanatory, but collections are quite interesting.

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 19.09.51.png

There are two forms of collections, the common-all-garden collection and the 'smart' collection. A standard collection is manually collated. Consider that you are planning to redecorate your home and have a wealth of art, furniture and colour scheme relevant images. A collection allows you to pick and choose from them on an individual basis to build up a reference for your project. Simple and effective. A standard collection benefits from the precision of your own judgement but requires effort on your part to maintain it for so long as it is relevant.

A smart collection lacks the selectiveness of a regular collection but instantly makes use of every relevant image you have previously collected and ever will collect. You define the parameters of the collection from what tags are present to the image source or the dominant colour, in whatever combination is suitable, and the collection is automatically built from your library. One day you decide that you need to see all the earthy-coloured landscapes in your collection and they're there with a few clicks and any further additions are automatically captured. You can set up smart collections for broad tag based searches, allowing the tags you assign when you add an image to a collection immediately, and the more keywords you tag to an image the more specific your smart collections can become.

Of course there are search features, integrated RSS and other functionality I have not even touched upon. For my needs, Ember seems to be pretty much ideal.