Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Me and My Photos (Part 1)

Most of us have discovered how we can share our photos with our friends using Facebook, Flikr, or Google+. There are other choices available to you (Twitter, Picasa Web Albums, Photobucket), depending upon who's watching, and what features you want when you post your photos. This is our chance to talk about which of the choices will really meet your needs.

First, let's rule out some of the poor choices.  Here are my top two.

The first inviolable rule for me with a photo sharing site is that my friends and readers must not be required to create an account and log in before they can see the photos. Kodak's poorly conceived Photobucket site is the poster child for this broken architecture.  I know they tell you that "it's free to register for an account" and they've even made it (apparently) easy to log in by allowing you to use your Facebook or Twitter account for credentials, but there's this little problem...

When you return to the site after having been away for some time, do you remember your username and password for their system? Maybe you write it down somewhere (not recommended) or maybe you're willing to simply have them reset the password every occasional time that you log in. But tell the truth. How much trouble are you going to go through just so that you can see your friend's puppy pictures? (Update: Seems that Kodak has a new site called Kodak Photo Gallery that uses the same broken approach, but they also made it easy for you to buy other stuff from them. How thoughtful!)

The other poor design choice is a pet peeve I share with many people about Facebook.  The system for displaying new photos is irrational and causes a great deal of confusion.  At first, it seems great because they make it quite easy to share the photos from your computer, phone, or from a growing variety of other devices that you use to get your photos.  (Ironically, even as Kodak files for bankruptcy, they have just released a camera that shares directly with Facebook.)

The problem comes with how the albums are shared.  If I add a photo to an album (a popular choice for that is "Mobile Uploads") the last three or four photos from those albums are posted on my wall along with any comments people have added to the album.

What that means is that if I post a photo with the owner of a great restaurant I'm visiting, it may show up on my wall with a photo from the club last week, or a photo from my friend's wedding ... and whatever comments my friends had about those will be dragged along too.  Someone reading on FB today will see that I've added a photo, may be able to guess which one is new, and will generally have little idea which comments are related to the photo.

A scenario just in case that doesn't seem infuriating enough to you:

Imagine that the last photo I posted to my album was one of our family dog with a litter of new puppies.  If I post a snapshot of myself with a new girlfriend at a concert today, it appears in my news stream along with the prior photo of the dogs. Unfortunately one of my friends commented about the puppy photo with "the bitch looks a little tired, you should probably get her a stand-in"

This is the comment that will appear under the display of the new photos.

Okay, this is minor annoyance but c'mon. This has happened to my friends several times (not the "bitch must be crazy" comment exactly, but something similar). Did no one at Facebook notice this?

On the other hand, there are good and useful sites that allow sharing in a fashion that really works.  Facebook is not too bad if you curate the photos carefully. (Mostly this means you must carefully segregate them into appropriate albums, and adding photos to an old album will probably misfire in some way you can't predict until you see it.)

We also like Picasa Web Albums from Google for its presentation and upload options. Google offers software you can run locally (Picasa) that allow you to curate and make simple edits to photos.  The software connects directly with the web platform to allow you to share the photos online using the resolution (from near thumbnail to original dimensions) and privacy options that you select. (Update: Google has announced that it will be re-branding Picasa to be "Google Photos" to bind it more readily to the Google+ platform.)

When the photos are online, then you have the choice to share the link to a specific photo, an entire album, or even a slideshow. Sharing can be public so that everyone sees, or it can be limited to people you select (although in that case of couse, they will have to log in somehow to identify themselves), and the photos or slideshow can be embedded easily in other web content.

The service has the right features and I would wonder that it's not more popular for sharing if it weren't for the widespread acceptance of another very useful sharing platform - Yahoo!'s Flikr.

This platform also allows you to place the photos online at the resolution you select, share with the population you choose, and to craft slideshows and albums in a way that works.  It's likely that Flikr's long history as one of the most popular photo sharing platforms has given it the edge in the field.

Conclusion: If you want to share photos with your friends and family, or more critically with your team at work, or with clients, you will want to consider using Flikr or Picasa Web to give you the most useful and professional presentation. (Update: While writing this article, I checked in at Flikr to recall its features and options.  Several of my page requests ended at an error page that asked me to try again later.  This usually means either that the host company is either rolling out a new option and is in transition, or that they are backing out support for the service. So your mileage may vary.)

In part two of this article, we'll take a look at two options for turning your photos into a movie.