I love taking photos and videos of family events for posterity, often to the annoyance of my family. Memories are very important to me, and the idea of digitally recording events has always appealed to me vs the old shoe box full of flammable and yellowing photos. When it comes time to storing and share my digital memories, the options are varied. To whittle down the list of online offerings, I have a couple of basic needs that I look for. Everything I consider must be at least compatible with my iPhone and Mac, as well as some sort of web interface. When it comes to taking photos, I believe in “the best camera is the one you have with you” and that means my iPhone 6 Plus even over the beautiful Leica lens of my beloved Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 (even with Eye-it wasn’t able to mimic smartphone capability and smartphone cameras are only getting better). My iPhone is always in my pocket and the bulk of an additional camera is a deterrent from carrying anything but my iPhone. I’ve never been someone who takes photos of sunsets and flowers, but I respect some of the amazing photos that people take and share. To me, my moments are just as precious. Obviously I’m not interested in photos that disappear after 10 seconds like Snapchat – yawn.
First and foremost, I need my photos be presented on Facebook. Facebook is, for the most part, the social network where my friends and family live. Facebook is where real contextual conversation and friend interaction happens. They also provides fine grained control over who can see my media. Other networks are either subsets of my Facebook friends, or a public broadcast platform to strangers such as Twitter where I don’t want to present photos of my kids.
Second, I need my photos to be potentially removable from the site in their original form. I was bitten badly by Everpix when they went into non-free mode and were unwilling to get my uploaded pictures back to me in any form whatsoever. Google frequently cancels services. I am in a sense using an online service as a backup and want to make sure that backup is always there for me. I don’t want to upload my high quality pics to a service only to find that what I get back is lower quality. I don’t want my pictures silo’d into something that my Facebook friends have to go to another site to see or have to register for another account or have to make 10 clicks to get into. Any other form of sharing such as email is rudimentary and just gives the recipient no sense of presentation.
Flickr – All platforms. Tons of free space. The 1TB that Flickr gives us is immense. I have over 44,000 photos going back 20 years (some are scanned prints) and I am at 4.5% of usable space – the remaining space is more than I will be able to use in my lifetime. I can see that people who are into serious photography who might be using RAW format would be the primary target for that amount of space.
Unfortunately, Yahoo still hangs on to the idea that it wants to sort of create its own social network so Flickr has no real idea of integration with social networks. Albums and photos need to be set to completely public in order to share into Facebook, so all my photos are set to private by default. Automatic photo sync. Photos kept in original format. I do like the new Uploadr app which lets me auto sync photos from certain folders on my Mac, which means I can auto upload any pics I get in iMessage, which means also capturing any media sent by my green-bubble non-iPhone friends: capturing almost all media that I’m in contact with. Photo sorting and organization on Flickr is greatly improved with the new Camera Roll feature. I hope this is a sign that the service will be getting more attention in the coming months instead of languishing unattended for yet another few years.
WordPress – Completely public presentation. Manual upload. 3GB space for the basic account, pay for up to 13GB on the Premium account and unlimited for the business account. I’m past the days where I once ran my own PHPGallery site so I don’t want to build web pages or manage a site when it breaks – I just want to upload phones and be sure that it works, not make me do more of what I already do at work. Not Facebook friendly. Photo organization is redimentary.
Dropbox – All platforms. Sharing is not linked to anything like Facebook. It’s just a filesystem so you do whatever you want with your files and folders. Booooooring. Beyond the initial free 1GB account (or is it 2GB these days?), you can sign up for their Carousel app which does automatic sync and gives you some bonus space. Otherwise you are invited to pay for all the storage you can use. No real presentation for recipients – just a disorganized online shoebox. Not Facebook friendly. No Uploadr equivalent to get photos from alternate sources. Sharing and collaboration are primitive.
Microsoft – All platforms. Same as Dropbox, except Microsoft provides OneDrive app to do the syncing. Also no Uploadr equivalent to get photos from alternate sources. Sharing and collaboration are primitive. You get 15GB of space these days for free. I feel like this is another company that could offer 1TB of space, but if you want more you can pay for it.
Facebook – All platforms. I’m not aware of any limits on the number of photos you can have. Photos and videos are separated into different albums, although Moments app tries to bridge this. No auto upload from mobile and no autocapture capability for photos on my Mac, although interestingly Benny Wong does just fine in this area with the Timehop Mac app. Collaboration on the platform with Shared Albums is really good in getting moments that you yourself weren’t able to capture. Photo sorting is a little frustrating – one large set of pictures was set to sort by time the photo was taken and it was a jumbled mess. The real drawback – video quality is surprisingly horrific for uploads.
Apple – Automatic photo sync. Photo and video quality is fantastic. The 5GB limit of the basic account is anemic, but Apple knows how to monetize so you always have the privilege of paying for more space. Only captures photos that I take – anything else relies on my saving the photo or on Uploadr via my Mac. Sharing via Photos relies on other members being iOS users. Apple could add more audience by providing some similar functionality to Windows and Android users, but that’s not the point of their halo effect. As much as I’d like it to be otherwise, however, not everyone I know is an Apple user. Photo organization here is what everyone would expect from every service. As such I can only capture and share photos with my Apple gear, but not have any meaningful backup.
Google – All platforms. Data export through Google Checkout is awesome. Sadly, image quality is altered for unlimited uploads – you can only store unlimited photos in lower than original quality (they call it High Quality). Uploading original photos in highest quality results in using up your allotted space (currently says 16GB for me) and having to pay for more space. Google was one of the big players in the space wars when 1GB online was a big deal, now they’re holding back just like the rest. Google Photos Assistant and Magic are genius level features – I share those back into other services. Automatic photo sync since they already had that capability in Google Plus, but this is a backup of last resort. No Uploadr equivalent to get photos from alternate sources unless you’re still counting Picasa.
Instagram – Many but not all platforms (ahem, iPad). Disorganized mess. Connected to Facebook. No auto upload.
Twitter – Please. No. Stop.
I cannot keep my photos in any one single place where I can trust that they will still be under my control in their original form. Being native to Apple, I have to use Photos in iOS and Mac to share, but I cannot keep them there since I am unwilling to pay for the extra storage and photos basically age out of the system for me. Automatic syncing to Flickr works as my backup for storing full sized photos. Facebook is my preferred sharing platform. I use a lot of connected automated means of capturing photos from everything else, including IFTTT to capture media that I’m tagged in like Instagram, but that tends to be such a very small amount.
If there were any areas of improvement in the above flow, I’d say:
- Facebook should auto capture my photos from mobile and desktop, making sure everything is private by default.
- Apple should provide a lot more space especially to those that have invested in multiple iCloud capable devices. The limits should be 5GB per device for the basic account.
- Yahoo should integrate Flickr sharing permissions with Facebook to get some granularity. All the above services should as Facebook is now the de facto backbone for all social networks – stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Sorry Twitter.
- Flickr or Apple or both should pay attention to the AI magic of Google Photos’ Assistant. This only improves presentation and it’s the future.
- Stop with the stupid stickers on photos. I don’t want to explain to kids 20 years from now why there is a thumbs up hand in the middle of one of their most cherished photos.
- Facebook needs to stop making my videos look like blurry photos of bigfoot escaping into the woods. This is a crime against humanity in 2015.