When I look at all the different photos services out there, there are 4 main capabilities I want…
- A great experience for viewing and sharing my new photos with friends and family. I’m not really into sharing my photos for the world to see.
- An easy way to find and enjoy photos from the past.
- A backup of the photos I care about most. I can get this elsewhere, but then that is another task I have to set up and manage.
- A rich developer platform. I am biased here because I am a developer. However you should care about this even if you aren’t. You will benefit from the creativity of the worldwide developer community finding new ways for you to enjoy your photos that your chosen photo service hasn’t though of, or perhaps hasn’t done a very good job at.
Sharing New Photos
So how about those new photos on Facebook? How is it? In my opinion it is the best at serving the purpose of sharing my photos with friends and family because it is where the highest concentration of those people come together on the internet. Of course your audience may be on Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, or somewhere else. What matters is that you put your photos where you audience is going to see them. Beyond that, all sorts of shortcomings become visible. The max resolution of photos on Facebook is a paltry 2048×2048. I mentioned this in my blog post on choosing a photo service. TVs and monitors are exceeding those dimensions far more often now.
It isn’t too uncommon for me or a friend to want to know which camera they used to take a photo. On Facebook we have to ask the question because Facebook strips all metadata in the photo when you upload it. All the nitty gritty details about the camera, lens, settings, etc is perhaps not a huge loss for family and friend photo sharing. However for the more hard core photo communities of public photo sharing, these are essential pieces of information about a photo you expect to be able to see.
Personally, I like to share the location of my photos. It is a richer experience for those viewing the photos and it is also nice for me when I want to look at old photos and perhaps I forgot where the photo was taken. My phone has the location stored in the photo. However when you upload the photo to Facebook, in order to make the location visible to everyone on Facebook, I have to set the location explicitly in the Facebook UI. This is an unnecessary hurdle when eliminating as many clicks and taps as possible is essential to retain users attention. Google+ on the other hand shows me a little map next to a photo (along with all the other metadata in my photo) and allows me to remove the location altogether, or to share the location for all the photos in the album. I don’t have to search and select a location from another set of UI.
Facebook has a not too discoverable feature called shared photo albums. The gist of it is a photo album, that you invite other people to add their photos to. So for example, we spent a weekend with a few other families and I wanted to easily access all the photos from everyone that weekend. I created a shared album and invited them to it. One family added their photos, the other didn’t. For the photos that were added, great! The problem is, people are busy, miss things, can’t figure out how to use feature sometimes, etc. The real opportunity here is not to create another feature where people have to actively manage their photos more. Facebook knows who was there that weekend because we all either posted photos to Facebook or were tagged in photos posted by others there that weekend AND they all have location information in them. A great photo experience would be something akin to Google Stories where Facebook sees that everyone is probably at the same event/activity and suggests to us that we have a combined view of all our photos that we can all see with one click.
If you are tired of reading, know that in this area, Facebook gets an F-, 0%, complete failure in my opinion.
My anniversary was a couple months ago. I wanted to go on Facebook and find photos from our wedding weekend posted by me and friends. There are really 5 main variables at play here in this scenario to help me find the relevant photos. Album, time, location, people’s photos, people tagged in photos.
Not everyone made an album of their photos from that weekend. Most are just uploaded to the default Mobile Uploads or some other generic album. Even if they all did put in an album, there is no way for me to search all my friends photo albums. I would need to go to each of their profile pages. This is consistent across all aspects of photos, I can’t search for anything, it is all browsing. Most of the browsing is not at all optimized to be efficient. Lets say I was religious about creating albums and I uploaded all my photos to Facebook, there would be hundreds of them. Browsing for a specific album in their UI would be horrendously slow.
How about I go right to the date of the wedding. I can use the Timeline for looking for photos by time. However this requires me to scroll through an entire year’s worth of Facebook posts, not just photos. There is no way for me to go to a specific date in just a few seconds. And then, at the end of all this I am only in one person’s timeline. I wanted to see photos from all my friends who posted photos from the wedding. This brings me to the next big problem with finding photos or anything on Facebook. You can’t combine variables when trying to find anything. Of course this idea is already dead in the water because of the previous point that there are no searching capabilities at all, only browsing.
Ok, so lets say I am determined to browse for photos. On the date of our wedding, there were not actually many photos posted relating to the wedding. I found many photos from friends posted days, weeks, or even months past the actual wedding. OK, I get it, you just want to enjoy the wedding festivities and worry about posting later, the way it should be. Remember what I said about Facebook nuking all metadata associated with a photo when you upload it? That includes the date and time the photo was actually taken. So now, rather than our wedding photos showing up as being taken on the date of our wedding, they are scattered across the multi-month timeframe in which people got around to uploading them to Facebook. I find this very odd for Facebook to do. They want every last detail of your life down to the minute practically on when it happened, yet when I post photos I have a history of when I added it to Facebook rather than when it the photo was actually taken.
People Tagged in Photos
I know myself and others are tagged in photos, so I could use Facebook’s ability to see photos I’m tagged in, or photos me and a friend are tagged in. However this alone is insufficient get photos from the 10s of people who were at our wedding and narrow it down to our actual wedding date rather than all the other times I’ve seen these people.
My last hope, location. We were married in a church we never went to except for our wedding. Hidden away on your profile page, there is a way for you to view a map of all your posts. It is very clumsy to use compared with every other modern map out there. Of course I can’t search it, because why would I want to search to jump right to a location? And it is only my photos! I can go to a friend’s profile page and view their map, one by one, and it would take forever. But then the real kicker in all this is what I mentioned earlier. Facebook doesn’t leverage the location in your photos. You need to add the location in Facebook’s UI on your own. So chances are people probably don’t even have the location on the photos.
This may seem like an exceptionally complicated scenario, however I don’t believe it is. All the big events in life happen with other people, somewhere, sometime. We remember some set of those variables, and naturally want to use them to find photos from our past. We all have holidays, graduations, weddings, big birthdays, anniversaries, religious events, etc. and want to see photos from them again.
One last example that is completely different. Lets say I want to see all the photos me and my friends have posted that have a baby or kid in them doing something cute. In my experience people love to comment on these sorts of photos and I’d bet I’d do pretty well if I could search for all photos that have a comment with ‘cute’ in it. Just like all the other pieces of data associated with photos, I can’t search comments either :(.
I already touched on this a bit for Facebook in my post on choosing a photo service. This is really quite simple. Facebook stores a low quality version of your photo with none of the metadata. Do not rely on it as your primary backup of photos. Maybe your 4th or 5th backup is ok, a low quality photo is better than no photo!
This warrants its own blog post. Stay tuned.
Facebook is a social network which many of us get a lot of benefit from. From my point of view though, they are currently focused on getting as much information out of people as possible, so that information can be shown to friends, and encourage them to share even more information. Facebook is a giant personal information vacuum, showing what it just sucked up. This only helps me with new photos, and fails at just about every other photo scenario. After 7 years as a user of Facebook, I am sorely disappointed. I use Facebook to augment my experience with photos, sharing in particular, but beyond that Facebook has not demonstrated to me that it is serious enough about photos that I should consider it as the primary home for my photos online.