Why Photo Sharing Is Still Broken

Every month of every year, I have the same problem. I got together with some friends or family, we all took photos, and I never get to see them all in a single unified view, and some not at all! This boggles my mind given that digital cameras have been around more than a decade and the internet has permeated almost every aspect of our lives.

With physical prints, getting a single album of photos from all people involved in an event was logistically challenging and expensive because it involved physical goods. When you got everyone together though, you could easily go through and view all the photos for an event in a comfortable and consistent manner. Sadly in the digital world, things are not much better, perhaps even worse, but for different reasons.


People have their photos locked up on their phone/computer. Or if they do put them online, they post things to their account on their service of choice. So not only are my friends’ photos not in a single album ‘Friends Camping Trip 2014’, they are in a different account and possibly even different site. It is unrealistic to expect everyone to use the same photo service as there are so many with different capabilities.

Coordinate Beforehand

Up front planning is even difficult to wrangle people into combining photos in the same location, except for the more devoted photographers. Of the dozens to hundreds of people I overlap with in a given year in terms of photos that I’d like to see in common albums, they photos are likely stored across dozens of different online services. There are features within services such as Facebook and Google+ (perhaps others as well) that make it relatively easy to share photos with a specific group on a specific event. Facebook for example has Events. You invite people to the event and have an entire social experience built around that within Facebook, including sharing photos for the event. Seems simple enough, if you could just get everyone to use Facebook AND post their photos to that event. Problem is, not only do people want to share the photos with that group of people in the event, they also want to share some of the photos with their friends and family who weren’t there, so they know what they are up to.

What does the future look like?

I’m convinced photos logically associated with a given album/event from multiple people will be physically/digitally stored across many different services. That is just the way things are going to be. Facebook has little incentive to integrate with Flickr, just as much as Flickr has little incentive to integrate with Facebook for photos. This seems silly even though some sort of integration to allow seamless viewing of related photos for an event/album is what people want and need.

Sites like Flickr, ThisLife, PictureLife, and the list goes on and on, exist to store your photos, let you annotate them in various was, and share them out via various social media outlets.  I’ll call this the fan out scenario, allow whoever I want on the internet to view the photos I choose through the services I choose.

Possible Solution

What we need is the funnel scenario.  All my family, friends, and other photos that I want to see in a logical group, brought together in a seamless photo viewing experience.  In its most basic form, the logical group could be the party we were all at, the weekend we spent together, or anyone who was at the hockey game last night.  All that matters is that the group of photos is meaningful to you.

There are services out there that pretend to do this. Pixable is one example.  Really though, all Pixable does it let you connect your various accounts where your photos and friends photos exist, and lets you view some fairly unintelligent sets of photos.  There is a wealth of metadata associated with photos these days.  A service could easily see that I tagged John in a photo at lunch time on Saturday.  John also posted a photo at lunch time on Facebook Saturday.  Basic logic tells me that I would like to see both of these photos as part of a logical group, “Lunch with John.”  Location is another excellent data point to help associated photos together.

Google+ Stories actually try to do a lot of these things, but with my own photos.  Why not extend this to my friends’ photos as well?

The next untapped innovation in helping me enjoy the photos of my life more, is unifying the experience of viewing the logical groups of photos that are important to me, regardless of where those photos are stored.  With mixed quality, developers APIs exist, the data is improving, and the time is ripe for someone to solve this problem.