Replacing Flickr

Chad on www.flickr.com

Yahoo’s lack of innovation is one thing, but what really drives me bonkers about Flickr is the terrible video support. Maybe 1 in 10 of my video uploads are successful. I take a lot of short vids on my iPhone and even on my 60D I think they should be viewed within context, alongside the still photos that were taken at the same time. Isn’t that the whole point of having video capability on your digital camera? To enhance the still photo viewing experience with sound and motion? The video problem became so frustrating that I have begun the hunt for a Flickr replacement.

My ideal photo/video sharing site would have the following features:

  • upload videos
  • marking of photos as private
  • uploading from iOS devices
  • activity stream (see below)
  • BONUS: custom domain name

I do not use Flickr as a portfolio site. Flickr fills two roles for me:

  1. Photoblogging: Anytime I attend an event, or even see something interesting while walking around, I shoot and post it to Flickr, oftentimes straight from my iPhone. This is why I like Flickr’s default view of all photos in descending order. It is an activity stream, like a blog. I do enough of this that I don’t want to flood my blog with photos.
  2. Private photo sharing for friends and family: I use the heck out of Flickr Guest Passes. They are great because you don’t have to ask someone to join Flickr to view the private photos, plus they get to see the private photos in context alongside the non-private ones. The only negative for using Flickr to share pics privately is that it sucks for downloading photos, something that MobileMe made quite easy.

I used to use MobileMe for private sharing and Flickr for public sharing, but once I discovered Guest Passes I was able to consolidate my photo uploading. Any replacement should not require me to significantly increase the number of steps in my workflow. Furthermore, splitting off my private photo sharing to another service also is a step backward since I want my friends and family to be able to see my public photos as well.

Over the past three weeks I have spent time with SmugMug, Zenfolio, 500px, ZangZing and Google+. Below are my judgements of each.

SmugMug

The 799lbs gorilla in the photo sharing space. More directed towards pros than casual sharers like myself, SM seems to be eating a lot of Flickr’s lunch lately. Uploading video is smooth and their iOS app is serviceable. Using a custom domain is dead easy and SmugMug offers extensive customization. However, it has an overly complex organization scheme (eg. categories > galleries) and is too dependent on albums. This impacts their privacy options as you cannot mark individual photos for friends/family and have to do so at the album level. It also means that there is no general Activity Stream equivalent. I was able to figure out a workaround using their brilliant Smart Albums to simulate an activity stream. If only their Recent Updates module could filter out photos based on keywords, then things would be simpler. Two other complaints I have are the terrible URL schemes and of course the terrible UI. If I am going to use a tool nearly every day, I want to enjoy using it. That said, SmugMug is a strong contender to replace Flickr.

Zenfolio

Zenfolio has been eating a bit of SmugMug’s lunch recently, mostly due to its relative simplicity. It has a much better UI, but still feels like Windows XP. Zenfolio also offers custom domains. Customization isn’t as extensive, but you can get sites to look decent. It just takes some work to make sure your site doesn’t look like it has been hit with the ugly stick. Like SmugMug, Zenfolio is dependent on folder structure. The Collections feature is nice though, and I might be able to leverage that to make a public Activity Stream. Zenfolio does have an iOS app, but I didn’t bother trying it. Zenfolio is definitely less of a pain to setup than SmugMug, but I think it would be too much of a pain on a day to day basis, at least in the way that I want to use it.

500px

The main thing 500px has got going for it is UX. It is beautiful. And the Stories feature combined with Flow allows me to photoblog and flexibly create albums as necessary. However, with no privacy features, video uploads or way to upload from my iPhone, 500px is out of the running. Excellent for a straight portfolio site though.

ZangZing

Here is another site with a beautiful interface. I really enjoy using this product, but once again, no video sharing and no iPhone app make it a non-starter for me. Also, the uploader requires Flash, which is a major #WTF in this day and age.

Google+

I actually thought I might give Google Plus a try. Here is a product that is optimized for sharing to specific individuals, groups, or the public at large. They do have an iOS app, crappy as it is. The Activity Stream functionality is there. Videos are no problem; and it is being hyped as a new community for Flickr refugees and photogs at large. Maybe I am doing it wrong, and need to spend more time with it, but Plus doesn’t seem satisfying. I think the issue is accessibility. Flickr and other services have a gallery or RSS or other ways to passively view photos. Plus is very album centric. And since most of the people I am sharing with are not on Plus,
it seems I am forced to email everyone for each photo I upload. Moreover, like I’ve mentioned above, I don’t really want to flood Google Plus stream with photos. Even though I update my Flickr feed all the time, I don’t expect people to look at it every day. It should be accessible to the period browse though. Google Plus deserves more exploring I think.

And the winner is…

The result is I think overall, indecision. There is no clear winner. Photo sharing is obviously an area with tons of opportunity for innovation judging by all the alternatives out there. If I was of a mind, I would try and tackle this problem myself. Anyone out there want to tackle this problem with me? 😉

After looking at the competition, overall it seems that Flickr satisfies most of my needs. Despite Flickr’s shortcomings, I am already well invested into it. Furthermore, the Flickr Community (something that I have not talked about) still has a ton of inertia. It is not worth abandoning just yet. It has been 4 years since Flickr introduced video. Is my hope that they will fix it futile? Rather than searching for an alternative to jump to, maybe I should put my energy into petitioning Flickr to solve their video problems.

If you have any suggestions or recommendations for photo/video sharing that you think I should look at, please get in touch.

Author: Chad Kohalyk

Bellatrist, communitarian, tech contrarian. Generous with Likes. http://chadkohalyk.com