Photo Sharing Even the Folks Can Handle
RECEPTIVENESS to new technologies often seems related to age. For example, more 13-year-olds than 63-year-olds understand phrases like “Waz ^?” and “N2MH.” (In case you’re over 13, those expressions are cellphonese for, “What’s up?” and “Not too much here.”)
So it was with pride that I watched my parents “get” the magic of digital photography after our family reunion last summer. On the final night, I treated them to a laptop slide show of our week together. They dug it.
So much, in fact, that my mom asked if I could make her some prints.
I smiled confidently. Here, I thought, was an opportunity to lead my folks even further into the modern realm. The Web is crawling with sites that are designed for sharing photos and ordering prints of them.
I posted mine on Flickr.com, the biggest of them all. I told Mom to peruse the pictures and click Order Prints for each one she wanted on paper.
Unfortunately, Flickr was the wrong tool for that job. The terminology is confusing — quick, what’s the difference between a Photo Group, a Photo Set and a Photo Stream? Worse, it takes seven mouse clicks, two pop-up menus and two dialog boxes to order one print of one photo. My mom wound up spending hours on what should have been a 10-minute job.
A lot of families are gathering at this time of year — for graduations, picnics and barbecues. Maybe, by seeking a better photo-sharing site, I could spare other families the exasperation I put my mom through.
My dream photo site would be free; would impose no limits on photo size or quantity; would let you order a print with just one click; and would let you pick up the prints at a local drugstore instead of waiting for the mail.
(Some of these sites require you to upload one picture at a time, which is like mowing your lawn with toenail clippers. Therefore, my original wish list also included, “Must offer a mass-uploading program.” But then Zach, my 16-year-old intern, told me that “everyone” just uses PictureSync, a free, elegant, effortless program that can batch-upload photos to any sharing service. Nice. It’s at picturesync.net.)
After examining eight free photo-sharing sites, I discovered that each specializes in a different area. In other words, Flickr’s clumsiness as a peruse-then-print store wasn’t necessarily its fault; it was mine, for misunderstanding its talents.
Here’s a rundown.
FLICKR.COM With 525 million photos posted so far, Flickr may be the largest photo site. But its strengths are social interaction and personal expression, like a visual blog. For example, 75 percent of Flickr photos have been made available for public browsing, commenting, downloading and subscribing. (On many rival sites, you couldn’t make your photos public if you wanted to.)
Flickr’s Groups concept lets complete strangers collaborate on theme-related collections. There are 300,000 such groups on Flickr: collections of Nikon photos, of macro (superclose-up) photos, and so on. (For a really good time, click the Groups tab and search for “stick figures in peril.”)
SHUTTERFLY.COM This service is free, all right, and it offers unlimited storage. The slide shows are attractive, complete with crossfades and speed control. You can retouch photos, crop them, add borders and otherwise get them ready for ordering prints. As on Flickr, other members can submit their own photos to themed “collections” that you establish.
And, lordy, does this site make ordering prints easy. In fact, selling prints — and calendars, photo books, jewelry, greeting cards and so on — is Shutterfly’s real mission; sharing photos online seems to be only an afterthought.
For example, you can view the thumbnails of only 12 photos at a time, no matter how big the browser window. Similarly, Shutterfly imposes a maximum photo-viewing size, and it’s not so big.
Finally, the public can’t view your photos — only people you invite can. That could be good or bad, depending on your point of view.
WEBSHOTS.COM This site is a hybrid of Flickr (public photos, comments, search box); Shutterfly (order prints, luggage tags, magnets, books); and Times Square (the free account is cluttered with ads). Webshots also caps your free storage at 1,000 photos, a limit that goes up by 100 for each month that you’re a member. As on most of the services here, some limitations go away if you upgrade your account for $25 a year.
Webshots’ specialty is sharing photos online; handy buttons let you send a photo by e-mail, link to it on your Web site, share it on Facebook.com and so on. The slide shows are awesome, complete with subtle zooming and panning — and you can link to or e-mail the slide shows, too.
Unfortunately, you can’t just flag each photo for printing as it goes by. You must enter a special print-ordering mode, several pages deep, and choose from tiny thumbnails.
KODAKGALLERY.COM Kodak Gallery (formerly Ofoto.com) follows the Shutterfly model. It lays the gift-ordering features on thick, and is restrictive about photo sharing; for example, you can’t share with the public.
On the other hand, you can pick up your prints an hour after ordering them at a CVS drugstore (although you pay 23 cents each instead of Kodak’s 15). Flickr, Shutterfly and Snapfish also offer local pickup — at Target, for example.
Over all, both Shutterfly and KodakGallery are terrific. Note, though, that Kodak doesn’t let your pals download the full-resolution photos (to print at home, for example) unless you upgrade to the $25-a-year plan.
PHOTOBUCKET.COM Photobucket stands out because it accommodates videos and Flash animations, not just photos. And you can embed your photos onto your pages at MySpace, Blogger, Friendster, Facebook and so on, which makes Photobucket even more Web-wired than Webshots.
Cheapskates like me, however, will be put off by the crushing limits of the free account. You can’t post any photo larger than 1,024-by-768 pixels (smaller than 1 megapixel); there’s a one-gigabyte storage ceiling; and no slide show can contain more than 10 pictures. You can do much better.
Picasa Web Albums is ad-free, simple to use and loaded with powerful features. For example, you can upload your photos to it directly from iPhoto (on the Mac) or Picasa (on Windows). And one click generates the necessary HTML codes to embed a photo or an entire slide show into your own Web site — sweet.
You’re offered three thumbnail sizes when working with your albums. You can reorder the photos in an album or slide show just by dragging them. Slide shows are stunning and nearly full screen. You can order a print with one click; you can download the full-resolution originals; and both public sharing and commenting are available.
The only weirdness is that Google hands off printing to either Shutterfly or something called PhotoWorks (your choice). That’s the only part of this service that doesn’t feel utterly seamless.
YAHOO PHOTOS (photos.yahoo.com) Yes! Yes! This one’s free, it’s unlimited, it’s got both public and private photo sharing, you can edit the pictures, and your audience can rate, tag or add comments to your photos. Slide shows are big and clear, and — yes! — there’s a one-click Order Print button.
Unfortunately, Yahoo Photos is about to shut down. Having bought Flickr, Yahoo’s executives figured there’s no sense in running rival sites.
SNAPFISH.COM Now we’re talking. One click begins a slide show, complete with speed slider, background-color control and a relatively huge photo size. Moms, dads and grads can flag the shots worth printing with a single click.
All the usual goodies are here: electronic sharing with family (although not with the public); editing and cropping tools; and a catalog of photo prints, posters, mugs and decks of cards. All of it is designed simply and clearly, making it impossible to get lost.
There are paid subscription options — to upload videos, for example — but the free account is everything a family shutterbug could desire. Storage is unlimited if you order something once a year.
The bottom line. Next time my mother wants to review my photos on the screen and order prints with one click, I’ll use Snapfish or Kodak Gallery. And next time I just want my friends to be able to see and grab copies of my pictures online, I’ll use Picasa Web Albums.
All three of these services are free, devoid of advertising, quick and technologically foolproof — no matter how old you are.