Wednesday, April 07, 2004

smugmug review: full res image sharing and photo printing

smugmug - easy photo sharing with the world's best online photo albums

I've signed up ($25/yr w/ referrer code, $30 otherwise) with SmugMug, after previously using iPhoto's bundled photo service and Shutterfly, and experimenting with several different approaches to sharing images on the web (including use of the excellent iPhoto BetterHTMLExport app with my own pages).

SmugMug combines the usual online photo sharing and printing with remote full image storage (unlimited number of less than 8MB images, supposedly). It's the full res capability that's their real strength and that's how they justify their $30 fee.

They have a referrer program. If you use my coupon code (or click on the link) you get $5 off and I get $10 off my renewal. Here's the coupon code: sTHk2jeMi228c.

A few nice things:
1. They have a nice little OS X application that works with iPhoto albums to semi-automate uploading.
2. They publish their ICC settings for better printing results with embedded color profiles (I use sRGB).
3. They allow viewing in multiple resolutions with integrated print ordering.
4. You can mail images in.
6. Images have resolution-specific persistent URLS and can be included in blogs and other pages by reference.
7. Albums have a range of security features and some community features. (Some of the latter make me wonder about their customer base, the terms of service do formally exclude porn images.)
A few issues with the OS X Uploader:
1. No true synchronization - the uploader appends images to existing albums.
2. No upload of titles and comments.
3. No creation of albums; you must create albums via the web interface first. The paltry documentation/UI doesn't tell you this.
4. Bug: If you close the upload window, there's no way to reopen it. You have to quit and restart.
Other issues:
1. Their album UI and organization isn't as good as Shutterfly's.

2. This is not a replacement for off-site backup. I don't see how one can download an entire album en masse. If the house burned down, one would have to recruit friends and family to tediously download the full images one at a time. Of course if SmugMug goes out of business ...

3. As with ANY ASP-type service, if they go away or become miserable, all the work you've done (captions, organization etc) is gone. Not surprisingly, they encourage you do to a lot of this onsite work. That's what's known in the industry as "lock-in" [1]. When you get locked-in, you can't switch -- even if there's a much better choice. Most of digital life nowadays is about choosing how much lock-in is acceptable and how to mitigate it.
I'd like them to:
1. Open the source for the iPhoto uploader so the OS X community can enhance it.

2. If they use web services, open them for the entrepreneurial OS X community to produce uploader solutions.

3. Provide an option for a GRANDMA interface that would have
a. Larger text
b. Fewer controls
c. Sizing controls at the top of the photo.
d. Back button from the single photo view.
In terms of overall site functionality I want:
1. One click ordering by grandma with no login and all charges paid out of my account. (So what if someone finds the hidden URL? They can send $20 worth of photos to grandma??) See also for more details:
1. Decent service for image sharing, I've not tested their print ordering service yet.
2. Shutterfly is still my preferred service -- I hope the competition will incent them to do full image sharing.
3. SmugMug has the potential to be great - if they survive.
4. Remember the lock-in effect.
[1] Lock-in by file format control was the core feature of Microsoft's rise to vast monopoly.

Update 5/25/06: Still use them, still like them. I use PictureSync to upload images and their new Java uploader.