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Social Engineering to shape site traffic?

Recently I dropped off a couple of rolls of film at Costco. They have absurdly low prices for developing a roll and returning a photo CD containing reasonably high resolution (1024x1536) images. But I screwed up and checked the option for online photos when I dropped them off.

So after I got home I attempted to download the images. Kodak's online photo site had the option to download en masse as a ZIP file, which was unexpectedly great.

There were three size options for the images: small (480 x 640), medium (768 x 1024), and high resolution (1024 x 1536).

I selected the 'large' option and clicked the next-step  button. The same page is returned, now with a message saying something like: "high resolution images are not yet available. Please try again tomorrow. In the meantime, please select a medium or low resolution image size to download." In this returned screen the high res option was grayed out.

This made no sense to me. Why should the high resolution images take longer? They are probably the source data for the low res images anyway.

Ok. So I selected medium, which proceeded to give me a Save dialog and downloaded a 2mb-ish file.

I was curious. I backed up to the initial download screen (prior to the high res option grayed out), selected high-res again, and clicked the next button.

It worked this time. A save dialog came up, and the file that was downloaded was about 12 mb. I opened the zip file and it contained nice big images.

I proceeded to look up the next roll and I did the same steps. I first tried high res, got a "try again tomorrow" message, and downloaded a medium res group. Backed up and was able to download the high res group after downloading the medium res, only a few minutes later.

It occured to me that this may not simply be a state-dependent quirk of this web site. It may be deliberate programming to avoid bandwidth load as much as possible.

My thought is this: the first attempt to download high resolution images is ALWAYS denied. The user is allowed to download the other two (smaller) types. But this acts as a trigger to allow the site to allow downloading of the high resolution images.

IE: In my theory - Kodak/Costco have decided that they want to conserve bandwidth. A certain number of users will be satisfied with the low or medium size images and will simply forget that they have high resolution images available. Most users will "respect" the advice to return tomorrow, and so many will forget that they had these images available, which are about 4-6x larger. A hacker such as myself will try to work around it and will find out that a simple state machine keeps the high resolution images unavailable until smaller images are first gotten.

Oh yes, Kodak's site expires images after about 1 month. (for a roll dropped off on May 25, expiration is July 11.)

Seems like a "perfect" way to economize to me, and most people will not notice.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, June 03, 2004

I don't quite understand though.

First, 12MB for the high-res, and only 2MB for the medium-res? Given the sizes you've described, the large only has twice as many pixels.

Second, bandwidth generally costs 0.50 USD up to 5.00 USD (at the extreme) per GB. For the 12MB download then, that's a cost of 6 cents to Costco, even at the higher price. Considering the size of Costco, I'm quite certain they get a very good rate.

Edward
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Plus lower resolution  doesn't print nicely. Therefore if you still want nice prints you have to go back to the lab.

Dino
Thursday, June 03, 2004

There are people who still use film? I thought I was the last to switch.

MilesArcher
Thursday, June 03, 2004

The medium images are 768 x 512 and average 120K each. The high resolution images are 1536 x 1024 and seem to average about 400KB each. The medium res's zip file was about 3 meg, the high res about 12 meg.

The economics seem pretty skimpy, but I can imagine some PHB telling the web site developers to make the consumer "fight" for the highest quality images. What I encountered seemed to be a simple state machine behavior, and appeared to have nothing to do with time required to "process" digital images.

I use film for special occasions because the weight of the camera is a LOT less, and because response time and reliability in a variety of situations for a mediocre film camera is vastly greater than that for even a top notch digital camera. IE: battery life, response time, autofocus speed, low light performance - all usually better than digital.  I also use a digital for less important occasions, for "record" shots, and also for when I don't want  to bankrupt myself.... Each have their place.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, June 03, 2004

I didn't point out the obvious: the high resolution image is 2x the height and width of the medium resolution image. Hence the high res image has 4x the surface area of the medium res image, and 4x the pixels.

As loosely validated by the resultant JPG image sizes.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Or they just want you to look at their sponsor ads twice, with a day in between each viewing so you have fresh eyes each time? Maybe they're doing a pay-per-view campaign, or people do click the 2nd time who didn't click the first.

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, June 03, 2004

If they did it intentionally they're idiots, probably ex-dot.bombers who don't understand that you need paying customers to run a business.

But Mark is probably right, they want you to come back a second time to see they're ads again.

Tom H
Thursday, June 03, 2004

MarkTAW, long time no see.

Anon
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"response time and reliability in a variety of situations for a mediocre film camera is vastly greater than that for even a top notch digital camera. IE: battery life, response time, autofocus speed, low light performance - all usually better than digital."

FWIW, I had very good results a while back borrowing a friend's Nikon D1X, which is basically a professional Nikon SLR body (F1-style, I think) that happens to be digital. It works with standard Nikkor SLR lenses (no difference in AF performance that I could perceive) and had superb shutter action. Shutter lag was non-existent and some kind of buffering made it possible to make half a dozen rapid-fire shots (3/sec or so, IIRC) before it insisted on slowing down. Adequate low-light performance (there's an ISO 3200 mode), though I didn't compare directly to results from my Nikon N70 film camera. Battery life was never an issue for me.

The D1X is (was) a few thousand dollars, but it looks like most of the same features have recently become available in the D70, a digital version of the N70. About $1000.

I'm not really a serious photographer, though I do know a few pros who are now wholly digital. Not saying there's anything wrong with film, but the truly high-end digital stuff seems to be getting very, very good... and obviously the convenience and long-term cost advantages of digital are a big plus (though I still occasionally wax nostalgic for the days of dodging and burning with the smell of fixer wafting through the air...)

John C.
Friday, June 04, 2004

As far as I can tell a digital SLR is about three times the price of the equivalent film one.

I still am tempted to by a cheap 3 megapixel digital camera and wait a couple of years for the price of digital SLR's to come down.

Stephen Jones
Friday, June 04, 2004

>> As far as I can tell a digital SLR is about three times the price of the equivalent film one.

Exactly... a digital camera or SLR with the kind of quality and characteristics that beat film cameras is well over $1000. They're like plasma TVs - great, but a luxury item.

Bored Bystander
Friday, June 04, 2004

I have a little experience with digital cameras, and a lot of experience with analog v. digital recording.

I found a cheap-crappy fixed-lense non-slr Canon Elph in Disneyland. I hate each and every picture that comes out of that camera, with a few notable exceptions.

I own a Pentax K-1000 (I think it's achieved near legendary status by now) and I love it each and every picture that comes out of it, with a few notable exceptions.

My digital cameras are finicky and I have to coax good pictures out of them, but it's not impossible. I'm sure a better camera could get better results.

Digital picture disks of my photos from developers typically look like crap, but are such high resolution that you may be able to shrink them down to something nice looking.

I want to set up a darkroom in my bathroom.

I'm sorry, what were we talking about?

www.MarkTAW.com
Saturday, June 05, 2004

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