I bought my first digital camera in the late 90s, it was a 1-megapixel Kodak that weighed about 14 pounds. I took terrible pictures onto my spacious 16MB compact flash card, which I copied onto my Toshiba Tecra (running Windows 98). The ~500K files had fun names like DCP0001.JPG, and I created folders named “Family” and “Vacations” and even created subfolders like “1997” and “1998”. Every now and then I’d email a picture or two to a friend or family member, who would look at it in email, and promptly delete it. Printing a picture was generally a nuisance, and my best guess ratio of pictures taken to pictures printed was around 500:1.
Fast forward to 2009. My Canon SD850is takes 8MP pictures onto a 2GB SD card (small by current standards), each of which is ~4MB large. iPhoto automatically sync’s the pictures, which have fun names like IMG_0001.JPG, and stores them in folders named “Apr 5, 2009” and similar. Every now and then I email a picture (a manual, tedious process since I don’t use MacMail) to someone, who looks at it and promptly deletes it. Printing a picture is generally a nuisance, and my best guess ratio of pictures taken to pictures printed is around 500:1, though might actually be as low as 1000:1.
So what’s changed? Well, I can use Flickr, Photobucket, Facebook, Kodak Gallery, or one of many other sites to host and store my shared photos. The most recent version of iPhoto also has built-in tools to share with Flickr or Facebook, which has certainly improved the process a lot. Of course, I believe in maintaining a certain amount of privacy to familly photos (which represent >95% of my pictures), so only my “Flickr Friends” can actually see most of the pictures I take. Which means I have to manually generate “shared links” and manually email these to my family, since the bulk of them are not on Flickr. Further, most of these family members need occasional assistance in either saving local copies or printing photos (and before you go making comments, these are college-educated people who speak multiple languages and have many other fine skills).
In other words, photo sharing still sucks.
The whole concept around requiring membership to sites is stupid, though in an industry where metrics are “registered users”, it’s clear why these companies want it. Terrible user interfaces dominate these products and services (go sit with a regular person and watch them navigate Flickr for a while – you’ll be stunned at how confusing it is). Printing photos is easier, yet still a royal pain because most photo collections are unmanaged. Managing photos is near-impossible due to the change in usage patterns from film cameras (instead of being film-conscious and taking a minimum number of pix, we now opt to take as many as possible, since we know the storage is effectively unlimited).
None of the services seem to recognize the concept that we might, on occasion, want to use a removable drive instead of the one in our computers. Photo backup, the single most important feature for digital pictures, is effectively a non-existent feature. I actually know people (again, smart people) who opt to purchase new memory cards when they fill up, rather than synching to computer hard drives. Facial recognition is finally making the rounds to facilitate “Tagging” – another feature that makes the techies happy yet utterly alienates everyone else. Other confusing terminology has resulted in me receiving dozens of unprintable photos, yet the sendor being completely unaware that they aren’t sharing full resolution pictures to someone else.
As the kids today say, epic fail.
Here’s what I’m *still* waiting for:
- Automatic Backup: Okay, if nothing else, build more backup features. Ask anyone who’s ever lost photos how upsetting it is. Heck, Geoff Barrall pretty much started Data Robotics (the Drobo company) because of losing photos! Nobody should ever lose a digital photo, ever. Ever!
- Group Albums: I have a BBQ, and create an album on Flickr called “JT’s MegaAwesome BBQ”, and give a link to all the attendees. Anyone with a matching email address can, wait for it, upload the photos they took. They don’t need to “register” or “create an account”. They don’t need to download special software. They don’t need to “synch” something.
- Standardized Tagging: Oh look, there I go calling it Tagging again. Call it categories or keywords or tags or whatever you want, but here’s the thing – standardize it. Make my iPhoto tags automatically transport to my Flickr tags and have them easily usable when I want to print on SnapFish. Also, auto-suggesting tags as people type (based on popular tags) would sure help create a consistency around terms (rather than seeing photos tagged with “Paris, France”, “Paris”, “Paris 2009”, “Paris Vacation” etc)
- Improve the Sharing/Printing: Every photo program or web service should have BIG buttons that say “email to someone” or “share”. Pushing these buttons should make it really obvious as to whether or not they are sending the Original/Printable version, or just the quick one to view on their screen. Further, when the recipient receives pictures, make it really obvious to them as to whether or not they have received a printable version, and if not, an obvious way to get it.
- Work with more address books: Don’t make me “friend” everyone on a proprietary system. Just talk to my local or gmail address book (or Facebook friends, or Plaxo contacts, or whatever), let me save groups/names, and easily update those I want, when I want. Even *evite* has this part figured out!
- Support numerous, flexible storage systems: If I have some pictures on my local drive, others on my wife’s computer, more on my USB drive, some online, and others on my NAS or Pogoplug, so be it. Somebody needs a photo sharing system that is able to understand the concepts that (1) photos are unique, (2) multiple copies of the same photo will exist, (3) photos will be stored in numerous places, (4) some of the storage locations will not be available at all times (ex: backup drives), (5) all photo metadata should always exist with the photo, regardless of location, (6) facilitating moving these photos around is a good thing. Got it?
I’m sure there’s a lot more to be done to improve the overall sharing experience. Better search across photo networks. Better systems for favoriting across multiple sites and services. Smarter album/set creation and management. The list goes on. What’s amazing is how far we came for a few years (until about ~2005ish), and how little we’ve progressed since. I believe there remain tons of opportunities for existing players, and if none of them make any smart moves, then maybe some new little players will emerge to take them on.