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Photo Sharing

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Photo sharing is the publishing or transfer of a user’s digital photos online, thus enabling the user to share them with others (whether publicly or privately). This functionality is provided through both websites and applications that facilitate the upload and display of images. The term can also be loosely applied to the use of online photo galleries that are set up and managed by individual users, including photoblogs.

The first photo sharing sites originated during the mid to late 1990s primarily from service providing online ordering of prints (photo finishing), but many more came into being during the early 2000s with the goal of providing permanent and centralized access to a user’s photos, and in some cases video clips too. Webshots, SmugMug, Yahoo!_Photos or Flickr were amongs the first. This has resulted in different approaches to revenue generation and functionality amongst providers.While photoblogs tend only to display a chronological view of user-selected medium-sized photos, most photo sharing sites provide multiple views (such as thumbnails, and slideshows), the ability to classify photos into albums as well as add annotations (such as captions or tags) and comments. Some photo sharing sites provide complete online organization tools equivalent to desktop photo-management applications.

Desktop photo-management applications may include their own photo-sharing features or integration with sites for uploading images to them. There are also desktop applications whose sole function is sharing photos, generally using peer-to-peer networking. Basic photo sharing functionality can be found in applications that allow you to email photos, for example by dragging and dropping them into pre-designed templates.

Photo sharing is not confined to the web and personal computers but is also possible from portable devices such as cameraphones, using applications that can automatically transfer photos as you take them, to photo sharing sites and photoblogs, either directly or via MMS. Some cameras now come equipped with wireless networking and similar sharing functionality themselves.

Revenue models

Photosharing sites can be broadly broken up into two groups: sites that offer photosharing for free and sites that charge consumers directly to host and share photos.

Of the sites that offer free photosharing, most can be broken up into advertising-supported media plays and online photo finishing sites, where photo sharing is a vehicle to sell prints or other merchandise. Paid sites typically offer subscription-based services directly to consumers and dispense with advertisements and sometimes the sale of other goods. These designations are not hard and fast and some subscription sites have a limited free version. Consumers can share their photos directly from their home computers over high speed connections through peer-to-peer photosharing using applications. Peer-to-peer photosharing often carries a small one-time cost for the software. Some sites allow you to post your pictures online and they will then project the image onto famous buildings during special events, while other sites let you insert photos into digital postcards, slide shows and photo albums and send them to others. Some free sites are owned by camera manufacturers, and only accept photos made with their hardware.

Online photo finishing

Because printing at home for consumers is potentially time consuming, costly, or low quality, a number of providers offer the ability to create high quality prints from digital photos, printed digitally on photographic paper. Typically the customer uploads their digital photos to the site and then orders prints and gifts which are then delivered by mail. To facilitate the sale of prints and gifts to family and friends, these sites typically offer a limited form of photo sharing. Because the primary revenue model is to sell the consumer back their digital information in the form of prints and gifts, the online albums typically do not allow friends and family to download the full size original images, and the images may be deleted if no purchases are made. Nevertheless, because the primary revenue model of the printing sites is to sell prints and gifts, the photo sharing service is free and hence attractive to many consumers.

Subscription-based photo sharing

In return for a subscription fee, subscription-based photo sharing sites offer photo sharing services without the distraction of advertisements or promotions for prints and gifts. They may also have other enhancements over free services, such as guarantees regarding the online availability of photos, more storage space, the ability for non-account holders to download full-size, original versions of photos, and tools for backing up photos. Some offer user photographs for sale, splitting the proceeds with the photographer, while others may use a disclaimer to reserve the right to use or sell the photos without giving the photographer royalties or notice.

From the turn of the 21st century, some sites began integrating video sharing as well.

Peer-to-peer photosharing

With the introduction of high speed connections directly to homes (broadband), it is feasible to share pictures and movies without going through a central service. The advantages to peer-to-peer sharing are reduced hosting costs and no loss of control to a central service. The downsides are that the consumer does not get the benefit of offsite backup, consumer ISPs often prohibit the serving of content both by contract and through the implementation of network filtering, and there are few quality guarantees for recipients. However, there are typically no direct consumer costs beyond the purchase of the initial software, provided the consumer already has a computer with the photos at home on a high speed connection.

Peer-to-server photosharing

While peer-to-peer solutions operate without a central server this can create problems since some users don’t leave their computers online and connected all the time. Using an always on server like Windows Home Server which acts as an intermediate point it’s possible to share photos peer-to-peer with the reliability and security of a central server solution. Photos are securely stored behind a firewall on the WIndows Home Server and can be accessed only by those with appropriate permissions.

Peer-to-browser photosharing

A variation on the peer-to-peer model is peer-to-browser, whereby images are shared on one PC with the use of a local (on the computer) software service (much like peer-to-peer) but made available to viewer through a standard web browser. Technically speaking this may still be described as peer-to-peer (with the second peer being a web browser) but it is characteristically different as it assumes no need to download peer software for the viewer. Photos are accessed by regular URLs that standard web browsers understand natively without any further software required. Consequently photos shared in this way are accessible not only to users who have downloaded the correct peer software (compatible with the software in use by the sharer).

Peer-to-browser sharing has, similar to peer-to-peer, reduced hosting costs, no loss of control to a central service, and no waiting for files to upload to the central service. Furthermore, universal web browser access to shared files makes shared files more widely accessible and available for use in different ways, such as embedding in, or linking to from within, web pages. As with peer-to-peer, the downsides are lack of offsite backup, possible inhibition by some ISPs, and limitations in speed of serving.

Web photo album generators

Software can be found on the internet to generate your own photo albums usually to share photos on the web, using a home web server. This is in general for advanced users that want to have better control over the look and feel of their web albums, and the actual servers they are going to run on.

Privacy and security

Online theft and photo fraud have become major issues in the photo sharing market. The US Ad Council recently created an advertising campaign[1] to warn users of the dangers of posting personal photos to public websites.

Photos classification

Photo sharing sites [2] usually propose several ways to classify images. Most sites propose at least a taxonomy where images can be grouped within a directory-like structure in so-called “galleries”. Some sites also allow users to classify images using tags to build a folksonomy. Depending on the restrictions on the set of users allowed to tag a single document and the set of tags available to describe the document, one speaks about narrow and broad folksonomies.[3] A folksonomy is broad when there is no restriction on the set of taggers and available tags. When there are limitations, the folksonomy is called narrow. Another mechanism is coupling taxonomy and folksonomy, where tags associated to galleries and artists are cascaded to the galleries and artist’s pictures. Broad taxonomies have interesting properties like the power law.

Online photo sharing websites

  • Atpic
  • Flickr
  • Fotki
  • Imageshack
  • Interartcenter
  • ipernity
  • Jalbum
  • Kodak EasyShare Gallery
  • .Mac
  • Panoramio
  • Photobucket
  • Phanfare
  • Picasa
  • Piczo.com
  • SmugMug
  • Snapfish
  • Shutterfly
  • Trueshare.com
  • Webshots
  • Woophy
  • Zooomr

Written by Dimas A. Nugroho

November 30, 2009 at 1:36 pm

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