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 ;)).

MSN Search as a dictionary

While at the 2nd annual MSN Butterfly Tour the topic came up of using search to look up the definition of words.  I mentioned to the testers that it can be done by using the “define” keyword. 


For example, say I want to look up the definition of the word “sibilance” to make sure I’m using it correctly.  Typing “define sibilance” into the MSN tool bar or the MSN search page will return your typical search results, but at the top of the page you’ll find a definition of the word from Encarta.


MSN search supports a variety of phrases to tell it you want specific information.  You can get the same results as “define” by using the phrases “what is [word]” or “what is the definition of [word]?” (but typing “define” is, of course, fastest).


Here are some other cool searches:



Why waste time going to the bookshelf for a dictionary or encyclopedia?

Hey, I can see my house from here!

On Sunday most people got their first glimpse of MSN Virtual Earth (well, the PR started Sunday at any rate) and frankly… it’s pretty damn cool.  Imagine the useful features of Google earth… but in a web page… no software installer needed (unless, of course, you’re not running a modern browser, but then you’re probably on a 200 baud modem as well). 


The site is cool for what it is, but it gets better, the Virtual Earth team thought ahead and built in some cool functionality to allow people to create custom maps… so one of our architects did.  To the see the fruits of his handiwork go to the start preview, click the down arrow next to the “start preview” logo and select “MSN Bloggers Map” from the Popular Feeds/Staff picks section.  Voila, a list of MSN bloggers showing their office locations on a satellite picture. 


Think about how fantastic this is; we’ve made stalking accessible to the insanely lazy and clinically agoraphobic.

Eye scream, you scream…

From high school biology I remember that blue eyes is recessive and brown eyes is dominant.  I have blue eyes… so I have two recessive blue eye genes… should I have children, that’s all I can pass on.  If my wife had brown eyes then I’d know that our children would likely have brown eyes but possibly blue.  My education was useful up to the point I married a green-eyed lady (who here is old enough to remember Sugarloaf? Raise your hand… but don’t pull anything, please).


The other day while discussing genetics and eugenics with Imran my curiosity got the better of my and I did a search for an eye color calculator.  My search turned up a very nice page which happens to be hosted by our local Tech Museum.  My question has finally been answered: 66% chance for green eyes, 33% chance for blue.  Want to know your chances?  Make sure you know your parents’ eye color, your mate’s parents’ eye color, your mate’s eye color and your eye color then go to the Tech’s eye color calculator.  Note, if you can’t remember your own eye color you’re in trouble… if you can’t remember your mate’s eye color you’re in really big trouble.


Now I now the odds for eye color… if I could just find out if they’ll inherit her good looks or my idiocy.


eyeColor.gif

S’bout time

I’ve been jealous of my coworkers in Redmond for a while because the Seattle-area has a very cool system for monitoring traffic status.  It now seems that the bay area may finally be catching up. 


Traffic.com now appears to have real-time traffic reporting for the south bay (read: Silicon Valley).  I honestly don’t know when they started reporting in real time as last time I looked for real-time traffic in the south bay was a year or so ago.  Traffic.com offers traffic for a number of metro areas like New York, LA and San Francisco.  If your city is not explicitly listed, don’t despair, look for the closest metro area.  For example, San Jose is grouped in with San Francisco. 


traffic.gif


Where’s the beef?  Traffic.com gets some of its funding from ads but it is also a marketing tool for Mobility Technologies to help drive adoption of its telematics technologies (you can sign up for news from them on their products when you register for your free access).  Mobility’s travel data program gets federal funding (at $2M for specific metro areas) but they do end up sharing their profits with the government.  Mobility focuses on 3 markets: reselling data to broadcasters, selling real-time equipment to large agencies and finally telematics equipment to consumers.


Mobility‘s Traffic Pulse Networks® are automated systems for radio and tv broadcasters.  The material on their site reads like the brochures you might find on the desk of a tv or radio sales manager.  In short, buy our service and you’ll make money hand-over-fist.


The solutions Mobility sells to businesses and government (and potentially consumers with deep pockets) are focused on delivering the same type of information you get from the web page but in a customizable form.  I could see UPS buying into this type of service to get a leg up on FedEx.


The really cool bit for me is Mobility‘s telematics.  This is where we should have been ages ago, having real time traffic in our cars that link into the GPS navigation to intelligently route us around bad spots.  It’s not explicitly stated on their site but the 2005 Acura RL has technology from Mobility which links GPS with XM-transmitted traffic data.  Dare I say it?  That’s so boss.  Now, if I could only get the service in something a little more sporty.


Sources: Mobility’s web site, Traffic.com and the clever people who keep posting confidential Mobility business presentations in locations where Google can index them.