I've been saving pictures on the Internet for nearly a decade. And I remember when it first become feasible with Facebook and then even better with Flickr to do so. I remember the early days, I used to carry around a CD-RW at my high school with all my photos and gifs that I wanted to save and share. Why haven't things changed much since then?
I should also say, I really like to take pictures and I always take a lot. I don't even think I'm good at taking pictures but more often than not, I'm always "that guy". But I also justify it with, "Future Me will thank me when I can see what happened long after I've forgotten it."
So I was sad to hear last week, photo saving service Picturelife was forced to sell out to another company. About a year ago, another service I was really hoping was going to make it also had to shut its doors, named Everpix.
There's really no easy way for me to save photos from all my devices, organize, and then easily share every single one of my pictures. Here's what is wrong with current incumbents.
Google+ could be my favorite, since the Google+ interface in terms of photos really is quite good. Uploading photos is easy, and my phone will automatically upload everything when it's plugged in and connected to WiFi so I don't have to worry about battery life.
Also, I really really like how Google+ does the automagic editing of photos and videos. Supposedly Facebook does it too but I don't think they can even come close to comparison in quality.
It goes wrong however when I try to view and share my pictures. And while on the phone it maybe be fine but in the browser there isn't a computer possible that can endure the memory onslaught of having so many photos loaded in the DOM at once. Just watch the Chrome Task Manager and sort by memory to see after just 15 seconds of scrolling how there is well over a gig of memory for just that one tab. This means I get to look at photos from maybe this month alone before it starts to lose that smooth scroll feeling and the tab will eventually crash after a year or so of my photos.
Another problem is sharing. If I want to give someone a link, I have to first make some silly post on Google+ before I can give someone a link. Just, why? I want to share photos like I share Drive documents, just give me a publicly viewable link and let's be done with it. We are way beyond the pretense that Google+ is new and maybe eventually everyone might use it because everyone has a @gmail account. Google+ has a lot of users I'm sure but my family, girlfriend, and friends do not click on the G+ notifications at first instinct like we might do for Facebook.
This is all unfortunate because Google+ I think has the best view for looking through your photos. They are intelligently spaced into time, videos and auto-gif'd images are shown as gifs, and landscapes are show in their full wide beauty.
Given all this being fixed, I would probably pay the $20 - $120 a year to store them all.
Dropbox is also quite good at automatically keeping my photos together but they too fall short in the mass photo collection that I would like to see.
Basically, like Google+, Dropbox can easily get photos off my phone and on OS X, Dropbox will automatically upload photos it detects from an SD card if I would let it.
The problem comes when wanting to go through your pictures. Viewing the Carousel online interface I'm assaulted with all photos that ever existed on my phone. Also, why is Dropbox uploading photos people send to me or groups I'm in on WhatsApp? Stahp. Also immediately you can tell that Google+ is years ahead in intelligently grouping together photos in terms of time and place and Carousel is years behind. Also, there's no auto-awesoming of photos, I could probably make time to sit down and edit the best of my photos, but why would I do that when I can have G+ do them all pretty well and spend no time? Where it does have an advantage is performance and sharing, I can scroll for days and not be graphically slowed down. The problem is that I'm scrolling through literally every photo, versus in Google+ where I'm seeing the best of what I've taken that day thanks to Googley Image Recognition Magic.
Furthermore, Dropbox is not fun when trying to manage your auto-uploaded camera photos. When moving thousands of images, the web interface will time out and even though I can reload the page and see that all the photos have been moved into the folder I specified, no acknowledgement was given to me before the tab crashed. This makes me worried, and I think is just exemplary of the fact that Dropbox has a ways to go before I would trust putting my trove of photos with their service if I'm forced to manage them via this interface.
Compounded with the uncertainty I have with Dropbox hiring Condoleeza Rice and the privacy of my data. I'm hoping that something will come which will make the sharing part of photos as easy as it is on Dropbox.
The last contender which has been in my repertoire since 2007 has been Flickr.
Flickr has been with me through high school, and until I started paying for Pro during journeys through Europe and my various study abroads. I've used it basically as a really affordable back up all these years at $25 a year for unlimited space which beats all the other competitors.
Now, with Marrisa Meyer on board Flickr has been offering a free TB of space since May 2013. Which means I don't even have to pay anymore and still get all the reasons I've used Flickr this whole time.
The major problem with Flickr is that for all the faults above, despite the "better, brighter" promise Flickr hasn't really changed at all since when I started using it.
The photo stream is more HD and visually appealing but all the ways I can manage my photos, organize, and upload them are pretty much the same. Try to bulk upload thousands of photos to Flickr reliably and you'll see what I mean. As well, their organize panel was amazing for 2007 for batch organizing photos and out of all options is still one of the best. But it's still the same thing it has always been and doesn't scale well to tens of thousands of photos.
There's no auto-magic, the phone app barely has auto-upload but I can't pick and choose what I want to upload like Dropbox and across the web and app worlds the loading times are always inconveniently slow.
Worst of all, there's no button of mass export. Google and Dropbox both make this very easy. But unless I use some Github based script that will download all my photos in bulk via the Flickr API, I could not find an easy way to do this.
The sad part is that, I'll probably continue to use all these services to have peace of mind about my lifetime of photos that I have forever.
What I really want is just one placer that I can trust, on all my devices, has strong native apps, with the intelligence one expects of services in 2015. It's a big ask, I know but it's something that is going to get even more important as we have even more devices capable of taking high quality images and 4K+ 240FPS video.
This is something I would definitely pay for to have the peace of mind that my photos are stored safely, edited automatically, and I can share and have access to easily.
The frustrating part is that I'm just still waiting in the year 2015 for someone to connect all the dots and price it just right to make it work for everyone.
Update - 2/9/2015
Just after I wrote this last article, I read that Google had just acquired a company called Odysee. It's as if Google instantly read my mind as this part caught my eye:
One of the interesting things about Odysee — “especially designed for people who take a lot of videos and would like the option of saving them at their full quality” — was that it shifted the storage option to your own computer rather than any public cloud. At the same time it had developed a caching feature that let users access those pictures even if the computer was offline or working on a slow Internet connection.
Hopefully Google can integrate Odysee into Google+ Photos quickly.
Update - 4/29/2015
The Verge (one of my favorite sites) has put up a pretty good comparison between all the the different services.
The TL;DR is that they all have a lot of parity, so pick a few and have redundancy, but pay for one and get the extra features. Also, Google+ is still winning in my mind but is far from perfect.