Well, I've just spent the past hour (or more although I've lost track of time) geeking out with two free photo sharing services: flickr™ and Picasa™ Web Albums. I've been using Picasa for some time now and I have to say that for me, it's the benchmark for all other online photo service products that I try. In addition to those two services, I've also tried: Yahoo!, Snapfish, WalMart, SamsClub, and Flock with Photobucket, just to name a few.
Yahoo! Google is cooler
First, I started out with Yahoo! Photos. I used to be an avid Yahoo! fan and used many of the bundled services like the home page, email, photo albums, social network (360), groups, calendar, address book, etc. I really loved the fact that Yahoo! provided a one-stop shop for just about all of my web needs. I liked that it was easy to use and the interface was consistent for the most part. One of my most favorite features is the ability to customize just about everything within your user account from colors and layout to content and services.
Then, sometime last year, Yahoo! announced they were closing down their free online photos hosting service. Tsk, tsk, Yahoo! Bad Yahoo! That was a bad move on their part IMO. I am a very loyal Capricorn and when I find something I really like, I am as loyal as they come. I used to sing the praises of Yahoo! and I've sold several friends and family members on why they should have a Yahoo! account. When they closed down the photos section, that left a bad taste in my mouth and it sent me packing and on a quest to find a better deal somewhere else, especially for my photo sharing needs. I've since moved on up to Google with a dee-luxe apartment in the sky where the beans don't burn in the kitchen. (More about that later.)
One nice thing Yahoo! did was allow you to choose where you would like to port your existing photos to. Nice of them to not leave you high and dry. At the time, I chose Snapfish. I thought fish food seemed cute. A couple of my other friends used it and they seemed to like it. I thought it was cool that you could share your library with other Snapfish users much like Yahoo! did. So, I scooted over my pics to them and kept them there for a while.
Here is what I don't like about Snapish. They bombard you with marketing offers to purchase prints from them. They even send little packets and stuff out to your house in case you want to put a roll of film in a baggie and send it out to them for processing.
Ok, I have some keyword tags for ya: Toddler and Working Mom. Even though I work from home, I just don't want to and don't have the attention span needed to mess with that stuff. I use a digital camera for a reason: I'm a first-time parent who is blindsided by the fact that this being I grew inside of my body at one time is now a growing and changing little person of his own and it's happening faster than I can keep up with and the only way I can cope with this is to freeze moments in time so I can visually savor them and look back at them in my iPhoto Library and think remember when — 3 months ago, sniff, sniff.
I am very much addicted to taking snapshots of my kid and then forcing other people to look at him. I live so far away from my family and friends back in PA that this is one of the few ways I can feel close to them. I need to be able to take boatloads of pics of him in all his cute outfits (when I actually do put clothing on him) and film and SLRs just don't address my needs for that. Now, I am not opposed to using traditional film and when I want something really special, I'll dust off my old Minolta and lenses and do it right, but truth be told, the digital is just more handy right now.
Anyway, back to the Snapfish gripe. Here's the rub: if you don't purchase anything from them in a certain amount of time, they delete your photos. Crap! That's lame, but I guess they have to pay their bills somehow. Buh bye Snapfish, thanks for the ride. I suppose my sign in account will still be valid for when I want to view other friends' photos. I hope?
Oh, that's the other thing I don't like about Yahoo! or Snapfish...I hate it when they make you create a login or account that you have to sign in to view the photos. This is annoying. This is NNF!!! "Not Nana Friendly." If my Nana can't do it easily enough without a lot of fuss, then it is not TheMacMommy Approved!
I'm all for having the need for privacy and I can see why people would feel weird about sharing photos of their kids for all of the world to see with all the pervs and weirdos out there. So, any public photo service should allow you to lock down your albums if you like. Picasa does allow you to mark your albums as private and you can choose who can view the albums. There is still that extra step of issuing some special instructions to participate in that, but I think it's worth the tiny bit of extra effort to protect your privacy. I usually don't have this need, but I like the fact that it is available.
I liked Photobucket for a little while, but then something I had set up expired and I forget the other reasons why I didn't go back to them. I got turned off and that's all that matters. I'm ruthless! I'm brutal, I tell ya!
Big Box for Bucks
Ok, so then I tried some other online photo hosting services that big box stores like Wal-Mart and Sams Club offer. Or course, you have to be a member of Sam's Club in order to use their services, but that is true of many bulk stores out there. WalMart just plain sucks because they have absolutely no drag and drop interface. Even if I didn't keep my photos organized in iPhoto, I'll be damned if I'm going to hunt around navigating through folder levels on my hard drive to try and locate all the photos I want to upload. Screw that noise! Give me the GUI baby! I want to be able to drag my pics from my iPhoto browser and plunk em into something and see the progress. I multi-task in just about everything I do and I want something that will allow me to do 3 other things with my computer while that task is cookin.
Now, I will say that Sam's Photo Club (if you are so inclined to be a member) online photo service is something I DO use when it comes to getting actual prints made. I will also say that I have a beef with this service as well, however, I will grumble and do the work around only because the instant gratification I get from being able to pick up my prints the same day outweighs the couple of extra clicks I have to make to beat it into submission. Plus, the photos are a little cheaper than Wal-Mart's prints and Sam's Club does have the best gas prices right now in my area. Plus, it's also where we buy diapers and other bulk items, sooo, if we're going to plan a trip to the ultra big box store, I try to also plan to be able to pick up my prints in an hour. ANOTHER nice feature about Sam's Club online photos is that I am able to do one of 2 things when it comes to sharing prints with family: (1) I can save money on postage by having the prints made all the waaaay over in PA and then a family member can pick them up. (They can also pay for them if they want to!) (B) I can also create gifts or pick out different sized photos and ship them directly to family members. This comes in really handy for getting photos out to my Grandmom and Nana who prefer something they can hold in their hands, not look at on a computer screen.
The Sams Club online photo service will also allow you to make edits online like red eye reductions and cropping and rotation. It will also allow you to do a little bit of social networking in that you can share the albums with other friends and family members via email, but they probably have to log in to something or have an account to be able to see them. I have yet to test this out really thoroughly because I don't have much of a need for it with this service.
Also, they DO have a drag and drop interface that IS compatible with iPhoto, however, only if you use Safari, NOT Firefox AND it isn't working right now like it did a couple of months ago when I used it. Boo hoo. Right now I don't have a choice but to actually export my selected photos from iPhoto into a folder (to be deleted later) and then use the bait and tackle method of navigating to the folder and selecting each photo one by one and then clicking each upload button. I'll do it, but not happily and only because I'm too impatient to wait for prints to come in the mail, otherwise I would probably try to order them off of flickr or Picasa. One of these days I might try it.
Wal-Mart/Sam's Club web management seems to be notorious for being unfriendly when it comes to providing web content that the rest of us can use.
Ok, so now back to reviewing flickr against Picasa. I'm not so sure why I went on this anti-WalMart tirade, but hey, they need to get their act together!
So between flickr and Picasa, It's a close match and I like them both, but I learn more towards Picasa though and it's still my favorite. If they took the blogging capabilities of flickr and added them to Picasa, you'd have a hands-down winner in my opinion.
When it comes to special features in photo sharing services, flickr comes out ahead for blogging capabilities because you can upload your photos while posting a blog at the same time. So far, I have composed this entire blog post inside of the text box that is provided with the flickr photo upload, but I have to say, it's probably not the best method for if you write war and peace novels like I do. Too many times during writing this I kept wishing I was inside of the blogger text publisher because I would have liked to have created several hyperlinks by now to reference some of the services I've been ranting about.
[I had to come back days later (when I got the motivation) to edit this post in blogger so that I could format the text and add hyperlinks where I wanted to.]
Overall, this is probably the most useful thing I can see about flickr. It's a cute and handy tool for if you just want to select a photo from your photo stream, write a little blurb that relates to the photo, maybe make some photo edits, maybe put a cool border on it using the 3rd party flickr toys and then plunk it into your blog. I also like that you can include a cool little photo widget on your blogger blog, but then again, Picasa allows you to embed a slideshow that streams from your web albums and I think they are both pretty cool features.
When it comes to flickr, I personally can't really see anything extra or great, aside from the built in blogging features, that I can't do with Picasa in some form or fashion. In fact, when it comes to speed, flickr doesn't cut it for me. I uploaded the same set of photos using flickr and the iPhoto Picasa plugin and even while I gave flickr a head start, Picasa STILL finished first. Also, I like the little diddy that Picasa plays when it's finished uploading the photos. It makes a cool little sound that some day I'll hack and make it play some Van Halen guitar riff instead. Just that fact that I could even do that if I wanted to is cool enough to rock my geeky world.
Another downside to flickr is that there is no free iPhoto plugin so you have to go and open an additional app and have another window open and positioned just right on your screen so that you can drag the photos from iPhoto into the flickr photo bay. AND, flickr does not retain the comments from iPhoto like Picasa does. The only real upside to flickr is that, for now, it seems to be the more popular kid in the class. If flickr makes a free plug that work with iPhoto '08, I would maybe have a harder time deciding between the two.
The fact that you can add other Picasa web albums using iGoogle's gadgets is just very appealing to me because I use Google's iGoogle as my home page when my browser launches. Just recently, I was able to get several family members to join the iGoogle/gmail machine and now I have one whole tab/page that is devoted to everyone's photos including my own. I use several different gadgets depending on how I like to view photos. I like to view album listings as well as slide shows.
Both flickr and Google make you join a certain camp in order to be able to socially network within one another. Google still has an advantage over flickr for me because you can also add a flickr gadget onto one of your iGoogle pages and you'll also see photo streams there from friends and family who choose to use flickr. So, even though flickr may be more popular than Picasa, it's not like you have to leave the confines of your iGoogle account to be able to photostream images from flickr and social network that way. (sticking my tongue out and saying nanny nanny boo boo)
So, Picasa still wins from this vantage point. So far nothing else out there has impressed me as much as being able to use all of the built in free features of the marketing giant such is Google. I suppose it means selling your soul when it comes to giving out precious pearls of personal marketing data, but they're going to get it some how anyway. That's how I look at it. Big Brother is always watching and I'm sure its Red-Headed Stepchild isn't too much farther behind (whatever it is) when it comes to all of this social internet schtuff. We choose to expose ourselves if we want to be able to share, so what's a little more internet codependency here and there? So what if they target market me in the end. I'd rather have diaper and teething gel ads thrown in my face instead of ads for "male enhancement" drugs for which I don't even possess the proper equipment for the product anyhow.
Well, I hope this in-depth review of online photo services is helpful to someone. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest! Whew! So much for my first post of the new year being about resolutions and stuff, although I am working on another post that's been in draft form for some time now.