On Digital Photo Storage and Sharing

Some people are content to choose one way to do a thing. I’m not like that. I am constantly re-evaluating the way I do things, trying to find the most efficient methods. Perhaps it’s a mental disorder. Maybe I should get help. I don’t find that it has much impact on my life, but it does generate a lot of thinking cycles in my head that might otherwise be used on more useful or profound thoughts.

Anyway, one of the things I constantly re-evaluate is the way that I store, catalog, and share my digital photos. Lately, I’ve been thinking about my next advances in this area, and after a little bit of research, I’m made some interesting discoveries.

Since my camera is not exactly [pocket-sized](http://prwdot.org/gallery2/v/geekiness/panasonic_lumix_dmc_fz20/), I don’t take it with me everywhere I go, and thus I don’t take photos every day. But between evenings, weekends, and vacations, I manage to do a fair amount of photography. I have over 17,000 digital photos stored on our Mac, dating back to the time I bought my first digital camera in the latter half of 2001. They are all stored in Apple’s [iPhoto](http://www.apple.com/ilife/iphoto/) software. I’ve recently reorganized my iPhoto library, thanks to a tip from [Win](http://www.hopenatalie.com/). I now have a separate iPhoto library folder for each year of photos. This speeds up iPhoto dramatically, as it doesn’t have to load data on all 17,000+ photos each time it starts up – just the data for that year. It’s particularly helpful since my Mac is over six years old, has a slow processor, and not a ton of memory.

After I get things offloaded from the camera and on to iPhoto, I put them online. For the past several years, I’ve been using the standalone [Gallery](http://gallery.menalto.com/) software. This PHP- and MySQL-based photo gallery is one of the best web-based tools out there for managing your own online photo gallery. It has recently undergone a major overhaul with the release of Gallery 2, and I have since upgraded our own photo gallery to use this new version. Gallery has many powerful features, particularly for allowing you to customize the look and feel of your photo gallery. You can change everything from the color of the background to the layout of the photos on the page. Our gallery doesn’t really have a lot of customization, but it’s nice to know that those features are there.

For a while, running your own gallery or borrowing someone else’s gallery was the only way to set up an online photo gallery. A few years ago, however, a service called [flickr](http://www.flickr.com/) was introduced. This slick web application allowed you to upload photos to a third-party website, manage and organize the photos, and share them with others. It also had a feature called ‘tagging’ which allows you to assign descriptive keywords to each photo, in order to have them automatically grouped with other photos sharing those same keywords. flickr has since taken off in popularity, and it now seems to be the most popular place for storing and sharing photos on the Internet.

I have always found flickr to be a cool and interesting tool, but in the past I have been divided in [my](http://prwdot.org/archives/2005/01/tag_redux.html) [opinions](http://prwdot.org/archives/2005/04/finally_a_use_f.html) of it. On one hand, I already have a photo gallery set up on my own web space, with thousands of photos carefully organized into albums. I’m already paying for the web space, so I might as well use it. And Gallery is a sophisticated, powerful tool, with the ability to tightly manage every aspect of your photo website. I also was never thrilled with the idea of flickr’s closed community – generally, the people using flickr mostly look at and comment on photos of other flickr users, and rarely venture outside to view photos in other gallery systems. This is similar to my thoughts on systems such as the Xanga and LiveJournal blogging services. The people on those services tend to read and comment mostly on blogs of other people in the same service, because it is easy for them to do so. It creates a closed community.

These days, however, the issue of flickr being a closed community is moot. It is now *the* de facto place to share your photos online. It’s now a [Yahoo!](http://www.yahoo.com/)-owned company, so they have solid backing and plenty of resources. There is a great community surrounding flickr, with lots of special interest groups. They have excellent, easy-to-use features for organizing, archiving, and managing your photos. And their pricing is great – $24.95 for an entire year of service with unlimited storage, or just about $2 per month.

So just how popular is flickr, and who uses it? Well, I turned to my own blogroll for answers.

There are 31 people on my blogroll who have photo galleries. Of those, 18 are using flickr. That’s 58%, or roughly three out of five. I’d say that makes it pretty popular! I can see the flickr promotion now: **THREE OUT OF FIVE USERS ON PETER’S BLOGROLL PREFER FLICKR. WHY DON’T YOU?** Eight people, or 26%, use Gallery. Not too shabby. Three people have their own homebrewed solutions of sorts, and two people are using commercial services like [Shutterfly](http://www.shutterfly.com/) or [Webshots](http://www.webshots.com/), services that are mostly geared towards people who want to get prints of their digital photos, and have online albums as a side-effect.

Something else to consider is what type of people have online photo galleries. 23 of 31 people on my blogroll who have online photo galleries are what I would call ‘tech savvy’ (74%). That is, they know enough about web technology that they could probably set up their own web-based gallery if they wanted to. Out of the 23 tech savvy people, 15 are using flickr (65%)! That surprised me initially – I figured that tech savvy people would want to set up their own photo galleries and have complete control over the way things worked. But nowadays it looks like techies want to spend less time setting up the galleries, and more time coding or doing other things. ( In fact, since flickr has an open API, the techies can write their own tools to take advantage of the existing flickr framework. For example, check out the excellent [FlickrExport](http://connectedflow.com/flickrexport) and [1001](http://1001.kung-foo.tv/) tools for the Mac. ) I have to say that I’m starting to agree with this sentiment. While it can be fun to set up your own gallery if you have the time, more often than not, I just want it to work. And I don’t want to be in charge of upgrading the software when new features are released or new security holes are found.

There are still a few techie users who are using Gallery. One such notable person is [Matt “PhotoMatt” Mullenweg](http://photomatt.net/) of [WordPress](http://www.wordpress.org/) fame. He’s got a heavily customized Gallery installation that works really well for his situation.

Another interesting statistic is that out of the eight people on my blogroll who are using Gallery, six are using it either because I directly recommended that they use it, or were referred to it by someone else I recommended it to. In fact, three of those six people had their Gallery installation set up personally by me, and two of them are hosted on my own web space! I originally recommended Gallery to people because it was (relatively) easy to use, and I knew how to set it up, so it was a natural choice. These days, however, I would probably recommend that most people go with [flickr].

Gallery is currently still the place where I go to store *all* of my digital photos online. But flickr is starting to become the place where I put my “better” stuff. The stuff I want to have critiqued by the larger photographic community, the stuff that I think is particularly interesting. It is also a place to find new and interesting photos, learn new photographic techniques, and get ideas. Finally, it is also a community in which I can meet other photographers and other people with similar photographic interests.

Finally, I’m curious what the readers of this blog think. Would you be more likely to view and comment on our photos if I put them into flickr? Or do you like them in Gallery as they are now? What are your thoughts on flickr versus Gallery? Who knows, some day we may switch everything over to flickr.

To compare flickr and Gallery, you can check out our (http://prwdot.org/gallery2/), and my [flickr](http://www.flickr.com/photos/peterwood/) page.

4 thoughts on “On Digital Photo Storage and Sharing

  1. christine

    love this entry. thanks for putting the time into thinking things through and really digesting the options.

    I tried to use gallery back in like 2002. I could not get it to work, hated the interface, hated the layout and just felt incredibly meh about it. i hand built index thumbnail pages the way Flickr does sets for grouped pictures and made individual webpages or pop-up windows for a while. That got tedious.

    I’m not dumb when it comes to coding and design — I find that right now I’m busy as heck and getting my pictures up online goes so much faster with flickr. I don’t have to resize my pictures if I don’t want (I do for load time and quality of the shot, so when someone looks at the original it isn’t 2048 wide).

    I love it because it is easy. Building sets is easy. Posting to groups and sharing (ie: Barenaked Ladies concert pictures with other fans!) is easy.

    I’m lazy when it comes to my hobbies sometime, and flickr makes it all worth while for me.

  2. Peter


    Thanks for your input. flickr is definitely easier as far as uploading files, managing albums, etc. However, one thing that has made a world of difference for me is using the iPhotoToGallery plugin for iPhoto (only available for the Mac, obviously).

    This plugin allows me to select any photos I’d like to upload to Gallery, create a new album for them if needed, choose the album to put them in, resize them, and upload them. All from one compact interface. It’s streamlined my workflow to the point where it takes almost no effort for me to get my files into Gallery.

    There is a similar iPhoto plugin that does flickr uploading, called FlickrExport. It handles tagging, sets, resizing, titles, descriptions, etc. Very easy to use.

    So with those two plugins, it’s equally as easy for me to upload to Gallery as it is for me to upload to flickr.

    The biggest difference remains that Gallery requires some effort to set up and maintain. However, when you consider that you technically don’t have to maintain or configure Gallery after the initial setup, then it’s pretty much the same as flickr:

    1. If you don’t like Gallery’s interface and you don’t want to customize it using templates, css, and the API, you’re stuck.
    2. If you don’t like flickr’s interface, and you don’t want to write your own custom interface using the flickr API, you’re stuck.
  3. Michelle

    I have several photo galleries… and they all have their own mishmash of photos. I’ve had a Flickr account since I first heard about it, and an MSN Space photo album, MySpace, and a KodakGallery, and some other fotologs and photoblogs that I’ve now forgotten. I was ecstatic when Blogger, the blogging platform I’ve been using for 3 years, finally had photo capabilities. Hurrah.

    Every once in awhile I think about getting my Flickr account spiffed up into shape… but I can’t be bothered at this point. I love the community it fosters, and a lot of the features, but there are only so many sites you can visit on a regular basis and for me Flickr’s not making the cut.

    I visit people’s galleries usually when it’s pointed out in blog entries that there is something new or a photo linked into the entry, that gets me in the gallery door.

  4. Peter


    I didn’t realize you had any photo galleries… so I didn’t include you in my statistics. 🙂 I’d be interested to have links to your galleries. I did know that you post photos to your blog, but those don’t fall under what I would call a gallery, since there is no centralized place I can go to see them (as far as I’m aware).

    I’m all about consolidating my photos into one place, which is another reason I’ve been hesitant to upload things to flickr. I don’t want people to be confused about where to go to see my photos. Is it flickr.com/photos/peterwood, or is it prwdot.org/gallery2?

    For now, the answer is gallery2, but I have started uploading a few choice photos to flickr. I do this mostly for the benefit of the flickr crowd, who, as a general rule, seem not to like browsing outside of flickr. I know there are some of our flickr-using blog readers who do browse outside of flickr, which is why I say it’s a general rule. It’s also somewhat for my benefit, because although flickr folks tend to be homebodies, they do have a great depth of experience and can be very helpful with comments and criticism.


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