A Jubilee tower, built in 1898, overlooks my home town, Darwen, seemingly to tempt walkers on to the moors. Getting up there involves what real ramblers call a moderate climb, which translates to quite steep for a good bit of the way. Despite this, it’s very popular locally – you’ll be sure to meet families, couples, joggers, mountain bike riders and dog walkers, young and old, with varying levels of fitness.
We all enjoy getting out into the fresh air, it seems, and the chance to see a panoramic view of the countryside from the top of the tower. Keen sighted people can make out the Isle of Man on a clear day, though most don’t linger long: it’s incredibly blustery, even when all is calm and sunny below.
If you’ve scrolled through my pictures, you may have spotted that some work is being done to deepen a large reservoir. I don’t think it spoiled the view, but it is blocking one of our prized public rights of way, diverting walkers on a more arduous path through woodland.
I never tread a public right of way without sensing the people who have walked before me, tracing out these paths into the hillside for hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years – and thanking my lucky stars that we have these ancient rights to ramble.
My experience of using Mesh for the first time
As part of this week’s challenge, we were asked to consider using Automattic’s new tool, Mesh. I confess I wasn’t sure after reading the Ts and Cs, so I didn’t leap straight in. Browsing through other blogger’s galleries and feedback on the Daily Post prepared me to expect some limitations and teething problems, especially on the desktop version I was planning to use.
However, I like WordPress, so I decided I’d trust them and do my bit to help by testing Mesh. It’s always good to try new things – and how often do we get a chance to shape the way something is designed?
I cropped the pictures square to suit the format, named them and uploaded them in sequence so I wouldn’t have to mess about with them.
My first try ended abruptly. I did something out of sequence, clicked the wrong button, and was alarmed to see that the first image was stretched out to landscape in the preview. The second image didn’t seem keen to load or delete and I was not sure of the way out of the programme.
Closing the tab did the trick. I went back in and deleted the first version. My second try gave me the result you see here, pretty much pain free. I followed these instructions and decided to ignore anything weird I saw in Mesh, but to wait till I could export a link and check out the effect in a draft on my blog.
Previewing in WordPress seemed more reassuring. I decided to change some of the captions and to drop them completely if the white text wasn’t reading out well against the picture, so was just a distraction. I didn’t even need to update the link to reflect the changes – the two systems worked together seamlessly and it was convenient to use the squiggle to hop back into Mesh to edit.
Tips for using Mesh
- The interface has a nice, minimal design but don’t expect to see the navigation spelled out for you. Some users may not notice the arrows or dots for scrolling through the pictures or work out that the home button is the squiggle.
- I’ve noticed when browsing other blogger’s galleries that spacing immediately after a Mesh gallery often seems to go awry. I sneaked a dot under the gallery as a workaround when a line break wouldn’t work.
- I didn’t anticipate the way Mesh flips a square cropped picture into landscape format on the full screen mode (and flips again to portrait when viewed on an iPhone). To get this right, you’ll need to select images that are effective when centred either square, portrait or landscape, and will look good displayed on a wide screen at a low resolution. A big ask!
My recommendation to my own visitors would be – don’t use the full screen view! Next time, I’ll upload a landscape – my gut feel is that may work better.
The Biggest pluses?
- The ability to send a link to a privately hosted gallery of images and videos anywhere we want.
- The recipient can download them, though I didn’t test this.
- It’s a great way to host videos and to save storage space in your WordPress media library if that’s becoming an issue for you.
The biggest negative?
That’s a no-brainer. Photographers will want the option to password protect or disable the facility to download their images. The current format actually tempts people to (in some cases illegally) download images, which I’ve never seen done so blatantly before.
At this stage, ‘keep it simple’ would be my advice to WordPress and the prospective user. I didn’t find it difficult to use but then I didn’t attempt to do too much as the user experience didn’t feel rock solid and reassuring. I’d need to do a good bit more experimentation before I felt fully in control of the image. It would be easier for the average user to get quality results if the full screen view kept to the square format, rather than cropping the shot, perhaps with the adjacent images greyed back to fill up the space on a wide screen.
Will I be using it again? I might, especially if I wanted to use a slideshow format, but I can’t see it becoming my go-to format any time soon. I can’t imagine it will be helpful from a SEO perspective. It does have real benefits as a free service, but the commercial side of me wonders what the cost and Ts and Cs will be a year from now. I suppose we can only wait and see.
Back to the challenge
To see other blogger’s version of a good day, including many more Mesh galleries, check out this week’s photo challenge.
Update 31st August 2015
Joen helpfully sent me some clarification about how (and why) Mesh currently crops images. I’m paraphrasing it here:
Embedded meshes are square. Mesh adjusts to the shape of the browser and shows images as large as possible. If your phone is in portrait mode, images are cropped to fit. Mesh will detect faces and crop images according to face position.
Apparently, there is a fit mode which doesn’t crop the images. The developers’ to-do list includes making it easier for users to work out how to switch between the two modes, and allowing us to choose to embed a Mesh in a persistent fit mode.