Thursday, June 15, 2006

Whither Photos?

I think the set of people interested in viewing my photos online is entirely contained within the set of people who read this blog. If you aren't in the former set, you can skip the remainder of the post.

For the rest of you: I have received an invitation to participate in Picassa Web Albums, which is basically Google's attempt to compete with Flickr. I've played around with the service a bit, and I like it, with one big exception: it only provides 250 MB of storage space. It can be upgraded to 6GB with a payment of $25/year, but (a) I'd eventually fill up that, too, and (b) I don't want to pay money if I don't have to.

When you have a few minutes, please take a look at my current photo dump - Timmy's House of Incandescent Sprinkles - and my potential new photo dump. Then, please answer these questions (either online or off):
1. Do the new features in Web Albums look useful to you as a user? These include commenting on individual photos, downloading entire albums, and slideshows.
2. If I switched to Web Albums, I would eventually need to cycle off old albums as new ones came on. Do you anticipate that you would want to search and view photos of mine, say, a year after they were first posted?
3. Please compare this set of photos with this set. Do you notice a big difference in quality? If so, is it big enough that the other would annoy you?

Thanks for your time. The two methods are roughly equal in difficulty as far as I'm concerned (more work up front on Blogger, more work later on for Web Albums), so my decision will be largely based on any input you may have.

For those who are curious, here's some background:

In the old days, when I was actively running a server, I rolled my own photo sharing: I just copied the photos to the correct directory on my hard drive and wrote up HTML pages for them. This was kind of nice in that I could have full-resolution photos online, but it was tedious work and I didn't bother very often. (I also didn't take many pictures.)

There are a lot more options these days, and I started playing around with them when I got my new camera. Nothing gave me everything I wanted. There's a lot I like about flickr: it has a great interface, I like the way it handles albums, it automatically picks up captions, and allows for comments on individual photos. Two things made me a little leery: by default, all flickr albums are totally open so anyone can search them, and the free account is a little limited (20MB uploads per month [but unlimited storage], photostream only holds most recent 200 pictures). They have a variety of ways to upload photos, which is cool, but the one I tried (uploading directly from Explorer) was annoying - it took forever, and silently skipped a bunch of my pictures without telling me.

Whenever I have a choice of products I tend to go with Google, so I also looked at their offerings. Google didn't have a single product; rather, there were three programs that sort of worked together. One was Picassa, which I love: it's a simple, clean, decently powerful program that lets you import and organize pictures; it'll pull them off the phone, timestamp and label them, and let you put in captions. It integrates with another program called Hello, which is designed to let you share photos with other Hello users; you can easily send a single picture, a whole album, or just a collection of images. However, I use Hello to communicate with BloggerBot, which allows you to create posts with your photos.

In theory, this was all wonderful. In practice, there are quite a few annoyances. One of the most glaring: captions you insert in Picassa are not passed along to Hello or Blogger; even though they freakin' display in Hello, you need to manually type (no copy-paste!) them in again. That's aggravating. Second, by default BloggerBot will create a whole new post for every single image you send it, which is obviously unwieldy - imagine 25 posts swarming your RSS feed every time I take a hike. After hunting through newsgroups online I found a way to get around this - you need to put in "||" at the end of each caption, which tells BloggerBot to queue them up - but once again this is annoying, and if I accidentally leave the "||" off halfway through, everything I've done so far will get posted. Finally, I haven't been able to find a way to give a title to posts created this way, either before or after. That means I sort of shoehorn a title into the very first photo's caption, since that will serve as a substitute title.

When Pat told me about Web Albums yesterday I was initially intrigued, then dismissive; it feels odd that, when GMail gives 2GB for email, they'd skimp on storage space for photos like this. The upgraded Web Albums costs the same as Flickr Pro, but Flickr's package is better - unlimited storage for life is far better than 6GB. I'd hope that Google would bump up the sizes on both the free and upgraded accounts when they move from "Test" to "Beta" to "Released." As is, the basic storage is enough for about 1000 images at highest (1600) resolution, more than that at lower (1024) resolution. My initial dream was to have permanent searchable and shareable online storage, and it doesn't look like that will be possible; sooner or later I'll need to move my stuff off their server. Still, that wouldn't be a huge problem. I have plenty of space on my own hard drive and plan on keeping all the originals - if anyone every wants a high-res version of a picture, no matter when it was taken or how I put it online, just ask.

UPDATE 6/21/06: I haven't heard any strong preference for either Blogger or Web Albums, so I think I'll go with the Albums. I like the way it syncs with Picasa, and Google has been pretty good in the past about improving their offerings so I'll hope that they do something about the storage situation. I've already uploaded about 1/5 of my available space, which does not bode very well.


  1. If you mark a photo as private then it can't be searched on flickr. You can set it so either just you see it, just registered "friends" can see it or just registered "family" can see it.

  2. I never delete photos off the page. If I think something's not needed I just mark it private and it looks to everyone else like it was never there.