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A few things that have been on my mind lately:

1. Idiots are their own worst PR nightmare. Let ’em talk long enough, they’ll shoot themselves in the foot. No need to do it for them.

2. Laziness is an addition, just like alcoholism. And it has enablers. Don’t be one. Next time someone asks you a question instead of looking it up themselves, send them this link:

3. It seems to me that people are much less shutter-happy than they were a few years ago, and are more likely to put away the camera. Has the novelty of digital allowing us to take thousands of photos worn off? Do we have photo fatigue?

4. Food really does taste better on pretty new dishes.

5. I used to think that writers were just being hyperbolic when they talked about sirens “screaming”. Now I know better. They mean it literally.

6. Summer’s not over yet. There’s still almost a month to go until NHL Preseason begins.


As many of you know, Yahoo Photos, which I’d been using for some time now, is in the process of shutting down. Yahoo’s acquisition of online photo sharing and social networking site Flickr earlier in the year led it to the not-so-unreasonable conclusion that having two competing technologies was maybe not the best idea, and it opted to focus on the service that best reflected where the Web was going.

There have been a few bumps in how Yahoo has managed its transition, but overall, it hasn’t been too bad. Users were given plenty of notice, were offered seamless transition to a number of different sites (including Flickr, of course), and were provided with a lot of information in plain English on the how, what and why. While I could quibble with the details – and many have, on the surface it’s not difficult to understand Yahoo’s strategic decision.

The challenge

At any rate, I’d been a typical Web 1.0 user when it came to online photo sites; for me, this was simply the electronic version of an album. Upload ’em, categorize ’em, point links towards ’em, send my friends and family to view my vacation photos or the cute pictures of my friends’ cats. Not exactly earth-shattering. In fact, I readily admit that I still print (gasp!) most of my photos, too, and store them in real-life, physical albums. Remember those? I’m not quite sure why I still do so, and admittedly I’m doing that a lot less these days, but there’s something sentimental and secure about having an actual album full of photos. Not to mention that the coffee table book is much easier for people to spontaneously flip through when they come over than the online album. But I digress.

All of this to say that I was disappointed in Yahoo’s decision to close Yahoo Photos. I had thousands of photos uploaded and organized, I was linking to them from all over the place, and I rather liked the “new and improved” version of the photo software that Yahoo came out with last year. Not to mention that it was entirely free, while most of the other services including Flickr charged a fee to access the good stuff. The prospect of moving the photos and learning a whole new system wasn’t appealing.

The choices – the good, the bad and the ugly

But dutifully, I did my research. I looked into the services where I could automatically transfer my photos: Flickr, Kodak Gallery, Shutterfly, Snapfish and Photobucket. I signed up for free trial accounts at all of them and started playing with the features. One by one, I rejected all these services as not quite meeting my needs for one reason or another:

  • Flickr, the most powerful and well-known, did the sharing and social networking stuff really well, but was limited in how many photos you could share with the public and in how you could organize them. Only allowing free users to display of a limited number of photos, categorized into a maximum of two sets? Nuh-uh, not cool. Not when there are so many free options out there. Even paid users, who now get this nifty “collections” feature, can only store a sub-collection OR a set inside a collection. So I can’t have, for example, a collection called “Travel” that stores a set called “Quebec City 2007” and another collection called “Trip 2006”, the latter being made up of 19 sub-sets for this larger trip. It means I have to build the structure from the bottom up instead of from the top down, which is very counter-intuitive.
  • On the flip side of that, sites such as Photobucket and Kodak Gallery did the sharing and organizing part quite well, but didn’t quite get it in terms of interface or usability. In short, none of the sites did what I wanted them to, and I was starting to get frustrated.
  • Then I entertained the notion of simply using Facebook as my main photo site. After all, most of my friends are on Facebook already; we’re all uploading, tagging and sharing photos there anyway, and I’d already uploaded most of my recent good ones anyway. Was Facebook simply going to make other photo sites irrelevant and obsolete? In which case, what do I really need an albums site for, anyway? Why do the work twice? But as much as I wanted that to be the answer, it wasn’t quite there yet. Facebook is still too closed to the general public. While Facebook does have public URLs to share albums with non-Facebook users, I can’t, for example, grab a photo from Facebook and post it to my blog, or email it to my friends outside of Facebook. Albums are limited to 60 photos apiece, there’s no collection or sub-album capability, and there’s no public “main photo page” where I can send people to view all the photos from a trip, for instance. I can’t arrange how I want albums displayed, either. It’s a great social networking tool, but not a great albums tool. So I kept searching.
  • I looked into Picasa, which Yahoo specifically didn’t list because, of course, it’s owned by rival Google (who, we all know, will soon own the world). Picasa, as users know, is a very powerful platform for organizing and editing photos on your home computer, but was fairly new to the online game and I wasn’t at all impressed by what they offered in terms of web and online albums.
  • In the same vein as Picasa, I found Sharpcast, an innovative tool using synchronization technology to allow me to organize my photos offline and immediately update my online web albums from any computer. I was so impressed, in fact, that I signed up and moved all my photos over there manually – a chore not as cumbersome as it sounds thanks to the aforementioned syncing technology. The local client is really fantastic, with drag-and-drop capabilities and quick updates that should make even Microsoft nervous. There’s something to this, definitely.But ultimately, the Sharpcast bubble burst for me as well. The business model seems murky – are they a syncing and backup company, or a photo sharing site? It’s hard to tell. Plus, feature requests for simple, basic things languish for months, with the same form answers from developers. For example, Sharpcast lets you create sub-albums in a hierarchical structure in your offline client, but when they get shared as web albums, the structure is completely flattened. So instead of directing users to my “Trip 2006” album, I have to send them to 19 different URLs for each sub-album within that trip. Who wants to have to click a different long, cumbersome URL to see the photos from Australia as to see the photos from New Zealand, anyway?

    In addition, it’s hard to feel confident that, as the web advances, Sharpcast will keep up. The developers over there seem to have lost all interest in the photo site, and it’s generating next to no buzz in the community, leading me to believe that it will soon become an evolutionary casualty of digital Darwinism. Heck, a quick search on Facebook for an application that would let me display my Sharpcast web albums led me to the shocking discovery that, not only does such an application not exist, but there’s next to no hits for a Sharpcast search on Facebook at all. One group for employees that has no activity, no profiles, no fans, no mentions, no buzz. And as we all know, on the web, if nobody’s talking about you, that’s as sure a death sentence as there ever was.

    In case anyone’s interested, my photos are all accessible at Sharpcast for the time being. But that’s just a temporary solution.

The lightbulb moment

The whole synchronization issue got me thinking, though: How many different places do I even want to have my photos stored? I already mentioned Facebook, where I had redundantly been uploading photos. I also have been maintaining travel blogs for a few years now on Travelpod, and have uploaded hundreds or even thousands of photos to those blogs from the road, creating albums there. Add to that my Yahoo Photos albums, and of course my original files stored on my hard drive, and managing all of that was becoming very hard work.

See, what I really want, when it comes to photos, isn’t one site to upload them and another site to edit them and a third site to share and tag them and a fourth site to print them. I don’t want to have photo albums residing in my Travelpod journals, the same photos in my Flickr community, the same photos again in my Sharpcast web albums, more photos in an FTP directory for this blog, and the same photos again on my hard drive. That’s too much focusing on the channel and not nearly enough on the content, as far as I’m concerned. After all, these are all the same photos.

And it’s only going to get harder, not easier. Right now I take photos with my camera, download them via card reader or USB, edit and organize them with local software, and post them online to various channels. If camera phones haven’t already turned that model on its head, the iPhone surely will. Now when I go to Brisbane and take a photo of me holding a baby koala, I won’t have to wait to go to an internet cafe to upload that photo to the web and show it to everyone; I will be able to do it instantaneously – and get instant feedback as well. It’s already happening. Synchronization, in other words, is becoming critically important.

Sharpcast and Picasa are onto something here, but they don’t quite take it far enough. Picasa’s model is still heavily focused on online photo organization and editing, but frankly, all I need for that is Windows and my favourite photo editing software (usually Photoshop for most people, or whatever comes with their camera). Sharpcast, for its part, is pinning its business model on the threat of a disk wipeout and the security of having an online backup. But most people have backup systems in place already, and I feel like they’re not really leveraging the full potential of their technology.

Flickr is attacking the problem from the opposite end and not quite getting there either. In addition to the shortcomings of the software itself and the very annoying organizer (which I’ve been experimenting with since moving my Yahoo photos over there by default), Flickr doesn’t sync up well at all with your photos stored on your laptop, desktop, or any other channel. Once they’re on Flickr you can share them, comment on them, tag them and pass them along, but getting them there in the first place is a royal pain.

The opportunity

All this to say that I believe there could be a very big win here, for the first company that truly “gets it”. In all probability, it will be one of the major players. So if you’re Flickr or Picasa or Facebook, and for some reason you’re hanging out here, here’s a bit of a cheat sheet. To really win the space, here’s what I believe is necessary to offer me:

  • Yesterday: Online Photo Albums. With all the buzz and hype about sharing, syncing and channels, don’t forget to give me a really solid web album platform that can exist in and of itself. Allow me to upload as many photos as I choose, as often as I like. Let me structure albums in a hierarchical fashion, choosing names, themes and cover photos at will. Let me drag, drop and move them around to arrange them any way I like. Store sub-albums within albums, and give me unique URLs and permissions so I can share them with whomever I like – and hide them from anyone I choose. Let me crop, lighten, retouch and rotate them. Allow me or anyone I allow to order prints. This may seem like old news, but there is not a single photo site on the web today that I know of that does this even remotely well. And if you don’t have the solid foundation, how can you build from there?
  • Today: Online Social Photo Networks. Let me share my photos with people in my social networks, on my email list, or in my forums, groups or communities. Let me or anyone else tag them – not only for people but also for subject matter – and let these tags show up across multiple channels. Give me an application so I can load my photos in Facebook. Let people comment on photos, discuss them, share them in their aggregators or news feeds, post them to their blogs or forward them along to their friends. Let me start a photo group, so multiple people can post photos from a community event or occasion and discuss them amongst themselves. Let me upload a video to my photo album and click to share it in Youtube. Give me RSS capabilities for all my photos and allow people to subscribe to my feed. Allow people to digg my photos, bookmark them, add star ratings to them, or even customize the RSS feed they get from them.
  • Tomorrow: Total Synchronization. In addition to the above, let me sync my content across online and offline channels. A photo is a photo is a photo. It should exist in one place, from which I can share and post it absolutely anywhere. If I change it, edit it, move it, tag it or delete it in any online or offline channel, it should update automatically everywhere it exists. Allow the creation of reciprocal links to the content, so that the photo of my friend’s cat could, theoretically, show up as #1 on Google’s search rankings. After all, if the web community likes it that much, why not? Move away from a focus on the channel, and move towards a focus on the photo itself.

Sounds simple, right?

What do you think? What photo sites are you using, and what do you recommend? Where do you think online photo sites are going? Let me know.


Digital revolution update


I’ve officially succumbed to pressure and joined the digital revolution. My new camera seems to be a lot of fun. I played tourist in Montreal yesterday, walking around all the places crowded with map-reading Americans, snapping photos of Chinatown, Old Montreal, downtown, Mount Royal… The verdict? There’s actually something to this digital thing. It’s lots […]

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