Picture sharing sites

Over a year ago I started trying to find a photo sharing site. Now, many moons later, I have finally narrowed down my search and chosen the perfect service… all three of them.


My criteria:


After years of running my own server off my DSL line at home I finally came to the realization that it would be cheaper to pay a web hosting service and my site would be tremendously faster.  Outsourcing had one big negative: I no longer had unlimited photo storage (and I love to upload photos). 


Here’s what I needed from a photo sharing service:



  • Unlimited storage – I will eventually have 100% of my digital pictures online for sharing and as a backup of my important memories.
  • Easy to use – I’d like to get my whole family using the same service… I don’t, however, want to be tech support for it.
  • Per-gallery security – I will have some pictures that I’ll want to lock down for privacy.

I also was hoping for the following features:



  • A custom domain – By putting pictures at pictures.little.org I will never have to tell people where to go… even if I change providers.
  • Fully customizable UI – I don’t like having to have a site which looks “stock”.  
  • Comments – While I think most of my friends are too lazy to add comments to my pictures (heck, I’ll never add them to theirs), I want to post old family pictures and have my parents tell me who is in them.

The added bonus:


I harp on this a lot… BACK UP YOUR CRAP!!!!!


By picking a photosharing site with unlimited storage you are protecting yourself from the inevitable time when your computer will crash.  Think about it: you don’t have negatives anymore.  If your computer crashes, you will loose all your pictures.  That’s a terrible risk to take with your best memories.


The site:


Well, there isn’t just one site, there are three.  The one that will work best for you will depend upon your personality, preferences and, quite likely, your friends.  For ease of selection I have arbitrarily divided the world into three groups:



  1. The social crowd (teenagers, college students and Pablo)
  2. Your average person (my sister, for example)
  3. The power user (computer and photography geeks)

The best social site:



The coolest features in Flickr revolve around tagging and sharing of pictures.  You can add comments to friend’s pictures and even annotate specific regions of a picture (this is great for labeling people in a picture or pointing out that a friend’s fly is open).  A strong social bent makes this service perfect for the high school/college crowd, at $25 a year for unlimited pictures (upload bandwidth is throttled) Flickr is also the least expensive (so it won’t cut to deep into Pablo’s beer budget).


The best everyman site:



My absolute favorite feature of Phanfare is how quickly a gallery is uploaded and posted to your site.  The trick is they use the desktop application to resize the picture before it’s uploaded to the web site, and later they upload the full-sized image in the background.  Phanfare also has the best support for videos and the largest range of image formats.  For $50 a year you get unlimited storage and a fast, easy interface.


The best power-user site:



I love the annotation features in Flickr and the ease of use of Phanfare… but when push came to shove I really wanted to have more customization than either of the two other services offered.  Smugmug is also great for professional photographers as it allows users with a pro account to completely re-brand the site and charge for prints of their pictures.  Adding more wood to the fire was Smugmug’s exposed APIs that allow third-party developers to expand the Smugmug functionality.  There are three plans, all with unlimited storage: $39.95, $59.95 and $149.95 (note: use this coupon code and get $5 off – btqOt6mLHMm4Y).


Top Feature comparison:










































































Feature      
Unlimited Storage Yes (metered upload) Yes Yes
Custom UI No Preset Templates Templates or CSS
Custom Domain No Yes Yes (for pro only)
Per-gallery password Yes (per picture) Yes Yes
Comments Yes No Yes
RSS feeds Yes Yes Yes
Video clip support No QuickTime, MPEG and AVI MPEG-1 only
Upload via e-mail Yes Yes Yes
Published API Yes No Yes
What’s special Annotating photos Uploads in the background Pros can sell pictures and set prices
Awards    

  Editor’s choice for 2004 & 2005


Top rated site for 2005

Press/news Flickr Phanfare Smugmug
Yearly cost $24.95 $54.95 $39.95 to $149.95


But wait, there’s more:


If you go with either Flickr or Smugmug, be sure to go looking for software which uses the published APIs.  Omar has created some handy tools for Smugmug and there are also nifty tools for Flickr.


As a bonus, both Flickr and Smugmug support geotagged pictures… take note travelers, this is a killer feature.


My personal verdict:


What’d I pick?  I was torn between Phanfare and SmugmugPhanfare supports many more image and video formats but is just not as customizable as Smugmug.  I elected to miss out on the variety of file formats in favor of the customizability (it’s really all about looking good ;)).