Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Problem With Photo Hosting Sites

Digital Cameras are great.  But what to do with all the photos you take?

You bought a digital camera, now what?  Printing out photos is one option, but using an inkjet printer is more expensive than taking Polaroids (remember those?). You can go down to the photo store and print them out as well.

But increasingly, people like to put their photos online, which has a number of advantages.  You can "send" them to people by sending them a link to the photos that are posted to a photo sharing site.  You can look at photos online anytime you want, which is a lot of fun.

But one problem with this model is that a photo sharing site can go broke, and you may "lose" all those photos.  Or they change the rules, formatting, or access to your photos, such that they way they appeared when you posted them, changes over time.

Suddenly, you have dozens of albums uploaded to "Ershotz Online" and find that they are part of a Spammy advertising page!

I have uploaded photos using several techniques so far:

Webshots:  Webshots started out OK, then decided to put my pictures into an oddball non-jpeg format that I couldn't use.  One nice feature was that you could order a photo on a T-shirt or mug or mouse pad.  Then the SPAM ads started, including the annoying video ads with blaring audio.  It became embarrassing to send Webshots links to friends.  It was like SPAMMING your friends.  Worse, I cannot "move" my photos from there without finding and uploading them all over again.  The photos appear tiny, surrounded by ads and garbage.

UPDATE:  Webshots decided to "move in a new direction" and took all the photos out of my albums, discarded the captions (and comments) and threw them all in one directory in random order.  A month later, they deleted them.  Lesson learned!  The Internet is not forever!

Facebook Facebook had a clunky but usable photo feature initially, where photos could be stored as JPEGS and even hyperlinked, so you could "host" photos there.  No more.  Now they have a dorky "display viewer" that shows the photos in a small format.  Navigating the photo editing page is a nightmare - how you get to the edit page is by accident half the time.  The latest gag is "tagging" photos - you may find your name and face "tagged" in a photo - perhaps an embarrassing one posted by your friends (remember that party?  Well, you're online now!).  Facebook is all about getting more people onto it and less about providing things people want to use on it.  Facebook allows you to send a link to your photo pages to outsiders - but for how long?

Web Page:  Most ISPs provide free web space as part of  their e-mail or internet package.  If you are astute at HTML programming, you can create your own pages with photos, such as this page I created (Riparian Day in Key West) or this page (Shifting in Sandals) or this page (Sur La Plage).  HTML coding isn't for everyone - and uploading (FTP transfer) of files (and particularly supporting JPEGS) can be tricky for some folks.  Programs such as Front Page can make creating HTML easier, of course.  And you can just upload photos to a directory of course (which you have to do anyway, if want to create an HTML page).

UPDATE:  A web page is OK, provided you stick with the same ISP forever and ever, amen.  But since I moved on from my old ISP, those web pages eventually evaporated - and all the photos and HTML was lost!

Google Sites:  You can create HTML pages fairly painlessly using Google Sites, which is free. I used this to migrate my old website as the site storage space is free - and fairly extensive.  You could upload photos and create captions as I did with my other web pages, fairly painlessly and easily using Google Sites.

Snapfish, other sites:  I have not tried these, but would be interested to hear reader comments.

PICASA: is Google's photo hosting site, and unlike many competitors, including Webshots and now, Facebook, you can post JPEGS to Picasa and they surprisingly remain as JPEGS and are not converted to some weird proprietary format.  And Picasa doesn't ask you to "tag" people in their photos.  Unlike Facebook, Google isn't trying to get you to con all your friends into "joining" some proprietary site like Facebook is - or tagging your friends without their permission.   Do no evil, right?  Facebook needs to learn that.  Moreover, Picasa can be used to host photos, so you can take a photo, upload it, and then paste the URL for the photo in to your eBay listing, web page, or whatever. And of course, all of this is free.

So far, PICASA remains one of the few Photo Hosting sites that has yet to screw the pooch.

UPDATE:  They screwed the poochPICASA is no more, and if you had photos there, you had to migrate them to another site.  Once again, we learn the Internet is not carved in stone.  In fact, about five years seems to be "forever" on the Internet.  Google decided to concentrate on Google Photos, and no word on how long that will last before they latch on to something else.

* * * 

The main problem with any of these techniques is that you have no control over the sites your photos are posted on.  For example, I created HTML pages on Starpower (and old ISP that was an outgrowth of the Erols video rental chain).  My account expired when I left Virginia, but the pages remain tucked away on a server - and I cannot edit or delete them.  Someday, at a time not of my choosing, perhaps some tech will notice this and delete my content. (UPDATE:  Years later, they finally wiped the server).

Other sites may go out of business or decide to no longer support your pages.  Microsoft has done this on occasion, as has Google.  So you spend hours uploading data and "grooming" a site and then BAM!  It disappears.

And with others, the format or ownership changes over time - like the way Webshots has gone so commercial (UPDATE: and then went away) or that Facebook can never seem to leave well enough alone.

Of course, these sites aren't running for free - they want to generate revenue.  And if you are not a paid subscriber, they make no money other than from Ads.  So you can't blame them for trying to use your content to raise revenue.

For example, my pictures on Webshots generated over 5,000 hits a week - often more - as they detail repair procedures for BMWs, among other things.  This creates a lot of click-revenue for Webshots, but does nothing for me, personally.

And of course, trying to go through your digital photos and find a photo is often next to impossible.  Looking a thumbnails or directories labeled IMAGES00001-02-07-2009 is hard to do - like going through slides or mounds of old photos not in albums.

Lately, I find I take fewer and fewer photos, for several reasons.  First, I never look at old photos very much, and showing them to others is a sure way to insure a snooze-fest.  Second, they detract from the Now - they create an artificial electronic barrier between you and reality.  Instead of experiencing life, you end up thinking about framing your next shot - looking at life through a viewfinder.

And digital pictures, since they don't use film, end up creating an endless montage of photos - often duplicates and triplicates of the same shot.

Sometimes, the best times are when the camera is left behind!