Musings on Photo Galleries

Update (Mar 9th): Given my recent .Mac e-mail hassles, I’ve taken another look at Picasa and updated the comparison table with the results of testing their new iPhoto plugin (which was updated in the meantime).

Since my photo album is currently offline and I have already decided that I won’t be using PHP for it anymore, I’m currently pondering my alternatives.

Although I’m still quite likely to re-code a Snakelets back-end for SlideShowPro that serves the 2500-odd photos that are already uploaded to this box with mostly the same UI, I thought it useful to spend a while yesterday at least considering my alternatives, and have spent an interesting and relaxing evening playing around with a number of different solutions.

And since I love tables, I decided to summarize my findings for the three most likely options the average Mac user is likely to consider and share them with you:

Feature .Mac Picasa Flickr
Upload Seamlessly integrated with iPhoto and “iMovie”:apps/iMovie
Uploads 800×600 images by default unless you enable downloads (it then also uploads versions around 1600×1200)
Export plugin for “iPhoto”:apps/iPhoto
New version allows you to choose between uploading large versions of photos (which is still the default) or lower-res ones
Free standalone application or cheap third-party export-plugins (there are also export plugins for other apps, like Lightroom)
Better control of what gets uploaded, but too much manual overhead
Updates Drag a photo into the gallery in iPhoto and you’re done
Others can contribute to your gallery
Manual export again – you have to keep track of which photos were uploaded before Depends on your choice of software, but manual nonetheless
Metadata1 Only displays photo title/description by default
You can view most metadata by clicking on a photo
Displays title/description, more metadata visible alongside photo Selective metadata display
Tagging Not supported at all2 Imports and displays iPhoto keywords without any hassles, and displays geotags using embedded Google Maps Tags’R‘Us. Anything you care to add to the photo can be used, and then some
Organization3 One web gallery can have multiple albums and movies4, sorting done via iPhoto One gallery can have multiple albums, online sorting inside each album via web UI Anything you want. Albums, sets, etc.
Privacy Password-protected albums (user-level access control) Private albums (user-level access control) Fine control
Comments5 No Yes Yes
Searching No search options whatsoever6 Only searches titles/descriptions Anything you want (mostly tags and descriptions)
Mobile “UI” iPhone-only, of course Depends on device, iPhone UI is actually better than Apple’s in some regards Generic UI, third-party iPhlickr UI for iPhone
Mobile updates Yes (e-mail or MMS to e-mail, public addresses or otherwise7) No8 Yes (e-mail or MMS to private e-mail addresses, plus a number of third-party clients that use its public API
Download options Will serve entire gallery as a compressed archive
(large versions of photos uploaded in that case)
No fine control over which photos are downloadable or not
Individual photo download Individual photo download
(generates multiple resolutions for you)
Watermarking9 No No Depends on choice of uploader, but, basically, no
Storage 500 photos per album, or as much of the .Mac 10GB allotment as you care to use 1GB free 100MB upload cap per month10
RSS feeds Single feed Per account or album For just about anything you want
Overall look and feel Looks amazing on Safari and most browsers Meh. UI has brilliant aspects (tagging, Flash slideshows, etc.) and yet is utterly dim-witted in others (too many clicks for basic operations)
Management from multiple machines Web galleries can be managed from any machine using the same .Mac account11 Upload only Depends on tool
Pet peeves Apple doesn’t really “get” the Internet. Or metadata. Or mobile. Anything Google is always in beta Yahoo’s single sign-on idiocy
Risks Losing my patience with Apple Losing my patience with Google Having it turned into Microsoft Live! Photo Albums

In a nutshell, none of them do what I want, so I’m still very likely to roll my own. But it seems that I’ve found a .Mac feature (besides e-mail) that sort of makes sense.

I’m not very keen on the lack of tagging, or the nuisance of having to watermark and manually group my photos, but it’s starting to look like an attractive option.

Of course, given that Apple seems to give .Mac the lowest possible priority in terms of new features, the gaps I’ve found are not likely to be filled in anytime soon – even if it would make sense for them to extend their now almost complete IPTC tagging support and do us the courtesy of embedding Google Maps into the Gallery, I’m not holding my breath.

And before you ask, I’m not expecting them to do something like geotagging iPhone photos, either – it’s one of those “logical next steps” that they will probably never get around to implementing.

1 The only thing I care about is tagging, and yet Apple doesn’t allow for it.

2 Amazingly, none of them supports automatic date/event groupings – they assume you’ll manage things manually on a per-album or per-upload basis. Flickr makes it easier to do so, but it’s not automatic.

3 Lame. There’s no other way to put it.

4 This is not good enough if, like me, you have around three dozen albums (one per month over several years). Plus if a photo belongs to multiple albums, it gets re-uploaded – simple, sure, but dumb and wasteful of time, bandwidth and storage.

5 Don’t really care about this, but it’s interesting to note that some of them even allow comments via mobile.

6 I am at a loss why Apple doesn’t have even the simplest search features – even with multiple display layouts, text searching is a basic necessity

7 This works more or less OK (it even asks you if you want to import photos to your library if you choose to delete an album with external contributions), but has a couple of security problems that Apple really ought to fix:

1. The private e-mail addresses cannot be set and are variations on your username – which means they’re likely to be spammed.
2. The sender address is not hidden or masked – your phone number and/or private e-mail address will be visible to the world.

8 If there is a trivial way, I couldn’t find it.

9 After having a few of my photos pilfered a few years ago, I decided this was a basic necessity (it won’t stop determined thieves, but it is a visible warning that I care enough to go after them – metadata can only do so much).

10 Yes, you can upgrade to a Flickr Pro account (which is currently cheaper than a .Mac account) and remove these limits.

11 This is not immediately obvious – you need to go to iPhoto preferences and force a manual sync of your web galleries – to my amazement, it even synced metadata and tags, which makes their absence from the web view even more ridiculous.