by David Lottes LTLS Communications Manager
It is now easier than ever before to share your images. Emails, blog posts, web site pages and social networking sites are all covered with photos, logos and graphics. This is a result of an explosion in online file sharing services. I'm going to use a few examples to introduce you to some image hosting services, explain the differences between them and hope you find one that suits your purpose.
The first question to ask yourself is, what is the purpose of the images? Do you intend to share them with the general public, only family and friends, on multiple sites, are they story illustrations, fine art pieces for sale, documentary images for insurance claims or do you just want to move them off your hard drive to free up space? Some services are rich with features for sharing and others are almost exclusively meant to be used as online storage.
The most storage centered service I use is MyOtherDrive.com. This service allows you to make your images completely private, visible to the public or visible only to customized groups of people you have invited to see them.
Another service called photobucket is at the other end of the spectrum. When you upload an image to photobucket you can automatically share them on blogs, message boards and emails etc. Using photobucket you can retouch your images, add enhancements and order products along with creating slide shows, albums or single images to be posted anywhere on the web. There is nothing to download when registering for an account so you can access your images, product options and editing tools from any computer with access to the web once you create an account.
In between the basic files storage services like MyOtherDrive and the all in one image sharing services like photobucket there are services such as flickr and Picasa Web Albums. These are subsidiaries of email account companies Yahoo! owns flickr and Google's gmail operates Picasa Web Albums. Both require that you establish an email account with their parent company to use the image hosting service. The flickr service offers users the option to allow a stock photo company called Getty Images to browse through your photos and potentially license them from you for commercial use. So the possibility of earning money from your photographs does exist if you host them on a flickr account. Another unique feature of flickr is the ability to create and share maps that show where your photos were taken. Another service called CommunityWalk includes this feature but is primarily a map creation tool and not designed with emphasis on photo sharing. The weakest link in the flickr service is it's photo editing tools. A very limited palette of tools only allows labeling, rotating or deleting of an image. The assumption is that you have prepared your image for viewing using some other application before uploading it to flickr. Piccassa Web albums has most of the features of Photobucket but it requires the user to download an application to use the editing software. That means you can only access all the tools from a computer that has had the download installed.
Photobucket flickr and Picassa Web Albums all have the ability to create slideshows that turn your still images into moving pictures. Sites like YouTube and Animoto are in the moving picture business. YouTube is the place to upload your video files and share them online. Animoto takes your still images and combines them into slideshows that can be shared. The slideshows from Animoto are considered some of the best in terms of the transition effects between images and they have a complete library of royalty free music for users to choose as accompaniment.
All of these tools have their own sets of issues and challenges when first learning to use them. Yahoo!, Google, YouTube and even Photobucket have FAQs, online communities, and tutorials to walk you through the more difficult techniques and help you make the most of your images. The great thing about these tools and user communities is their "open source" nature. Often the potential of these tools aren't fully realized by the people who created them. Users are constantly coming up with new ways to re-purpose the applications and finding new applications for the products. Getting involved with these communities by simply reading the information or asking how to questions could lead you to become an expert yourself and build a network of relationships that may include professionals from all sorts of disciplines. Sharing information online can be intimidating but I would encourage you to exercise your best judgment and participate as much as your comfort level allows to make the most of these services.
The usefulness of these sites are many, create backups of your files, online access to share your photos and a variety of special features to improve your presentations. But keep in mind that all these sites have their own terms of service and reserve the right to change them at anytime. It is very important to read these terms before signing up. In addition, maintain your own archives even after you have uploaded them to an online hosting service. Move copies onto an external hard drive or simply burn copies onto CDs or DVDs for storage. You never know if the terms of service will change or when a company will go out of business. Even if you're using the hosting service to edit your photos and add enhancements using their tools you should be able to download the finished image back to your own computer and them move it to your own storage solution for safe keeping.