Even in the 21st century, friends and relatives always promise to share their photos after a party, vacation, or other special event–but hardly anyone ever does. Why? Because, despite recent advances in photo sharing, it’s a pain in the backside.
The time-honored method of sending out pictures is via e-mail attachments. But this approach limits the number of snapshots you can send, and creates organizational hassles for the recipients. Two popular photo-hosting services–Flickr and PicasaWeb–offer ways take your snapshots to the Web, but not everyone loves Flickr’s confusing interface or PicasaWeb’s antiseptic one. And what about sharing on the run, such as when you’re away on vacation? Surely you don’t have to wait until you get back to your PC?
If you’re tired of letting your best pics languish in an online gulag, it’s time to look at some approaches to photo sharing that go beyond the basics.
Get Into Photo Networking
You already know about social networking. But while Facebook and MySpace are great for keeping in touch with buddies, they’re not so hot for sharing pictures. Your photos need a social network of their own. For example, suppose that you take a vacation with a group of friends. At the end of the trip, everyone has a camera full of photos–and no easy way to swap them.
Enter Phanfare, a Web service designed specifically for photo-based networking. Like many online photo-hosting services, Phanfare lets you upload your pictures to a Web album and then share that album with others. And because (like Flickr) the service offers shared group albums, other users can add their own photos. Thus, everyone who went on the trip can contribute his or her snapshots to the same album, complete with captions and comments.
Phanfare really shines with its laundry list of sharing-centric features. Friends and family members can view slideshows, of course, but there’s also the option of background music: a selection of such classical music as Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” or the option to use any song uploaded from a user’s PC or iTunes library. Sharers can easily download individual photos or entire albums at high or reduced resolution. And they can order prints and photo gifts from third-party services such as Kodak Gallery, Shutterfly, and Snapfish.
In short, Phanfare is a well-rounded, easy-to-use service. Newcomers can obtain a free account with 1GB of storage. Upgrading to unlimited storage will run you–and each other sharer–$55 per year. Though Flickr is a better deal at $25 annually for unlimited storage, it doesn’t offer batch downloading and has fewer printing and gift options. The extra $30 buys you an interface that’s much easier to use and family-friendly sharing features that simplify distributing your pics to any member of your group who wants them, while keeping strangers from flipping through your snapshots.
Automate Your Photo Sharing
Flickr, Phanfare, and PicasaWeb all require users to upload their photos to them. That seemingly minor task is one of the chief impediments that discourage busy people from putting their pictures online. Memeo Share takes a slightly different tack, supplementing Web albums with automated sharing between PCs.
After installing Memeo’s software on your PC or Mac, you designate one or more folders as “shares.” The app then automatically uploads all photos that you store in or ad to those folders to your online account (and optionally resizes them for faster uploading), and it syncs to the PCs of friends and family members (your Sharing Circle, in Memeo parlance) who are also running the Memeo software.
If you’re on the receiving end of new photos, you still have to import them manually into your preferred photo-management program. Also, you’re at the mercy of your friends’ judgment to some extent, since you get every single photo your circle elects to share, not just the ones you want. For the moment, Memeo offers no way of ordering prints or gifts either (though that option is in the works, according to company reps). So despite offering an expedient method for swapping photos with your personal network, Memeo Share isn’t ideal.
Like Phanfare and Flickr, Memeo offers a 1GB account free of charge. Uunlimited storage costs $5 per month. The biggest downside may be that the service requires everyone in your circle to download and install yet another program. (An informal survey of my own circle revealed that many users can’t tolerate another System Tray resident.) Phanfare, for its part, employs an excellent Explorer-like tool that’s conveniently browser-based. (An optional desktop client is available for both Windows and Mac.)
Sharing on the Run
It’s one thing to share photos when you’re sitting in front of your PC, but what about when you’re at a wedding? Or on a beach in Bermuda? Or backstage at a Decemberists concert? Wouldn’t it be great if you could send those photos out to your peeps in something closer to real time?
If you’re shooting with a cell phone that supports e-mail, you can. But instead of sending shots to a handful of contacts, why not ferry them straight to your network? Phanfare, for instance, will automatically add to your albums any photos sent to a special e-mail address–just head to the Settings page to enable e-mail uploads, choose a password, and designate who gets to see e-mailed images: friends, family, and/or the public at large. Phanfare also has a free iPhone app that automatically uploads iPhone snaps to your account.
Windows Mobile users can publish photos directly to their Windows Live Spaces pages by installing the Windows Live for Windows Mobile app. Just open any photo, press Menu, and click Send to Your Space.
Practically any phone can whip together a photo blog on the fly: Just e-mail or MMS your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. In return you’ll get the Web address of your newly created blog, along with a “claim token” to enter at Blogger.com when you get back to your PC. If you already have a Blogger account, you can link your phone to it for future photo posting.
Of course, cell phones take notoriously bad pictures. Ideally, you would be able to share photos straight from your camera, even when you’re out and about. The $130 Eye-Fi Explore–a 2GB SD memory card with built-in Wi-Fi–makes that possible. Just find the nearest Wayport hotspot (there are about 10,000 of them in the United States), and the Eye-Fi will automatically upload your photos to an online photo service. It currently supports more than 20 such services, including Facebook, Phanfare, and Shutterfly. In addition, the card geotags each photo so that friends and family will know where it was taken. The Eye-Fi is compatible with all cameras that use SD media.
Let’s face it: Not everyone has a computer (or has the tech savvy to install photo-sharing software or to navigate photo-sharing Web sites). In fact, some of the people we most want to share pictures with are not inclined to use high-tech photo-sharing tools at all. As a result, sharing your digital memories with remote grandparents or luddite cousins can be a chore.
Fortunately, even the digitally disengaged can receive shared photos thanks to HP’s A10 Printing Mailbox. This highly automated gizmo downloads photos (and e-mail) via a regular phone line and prints them on the spot, enabling you to push pictures to grandma even if she doesn’t own a PC.
The $150 A10 pairs with a service called Presto ($150 per year or $15 monthly), which turns your photos and e-mail messages (along with those sent by friends and relatives) into nicely formatted, themed documents and then delivers them to the printer.