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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

By Request: Photo sharing on the cheap and simple

Subscriber Nolan writes in with a question about photos:

This fall I am getting married and instead of giving all of my information to a “free” website like the knot I decided to make my own site with Squarespace. So far it has been fairly easy but it has led me to another thought — photos.

No, my wife-to-be didn’t let me get away with not having a professional photographer. I’m curious if you have had experience or tried a photo sharing app?

Nolan’s got some specific criteria for the app he’s looking for: private, paid, and with good app support.

I’ve dealt with a problem very much like this before. A few years back, my family had a big reunion to coincide with my uncle and aunt’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. Several of the people there were taking pictures and we wanted an easy way to share all of them—but more than a few of the folks were on the less tech-savvy end of the equation. So, what to do?

After going through available options at the time, I settled on a surprising candidate: Dropbox.

Why Dropbox? In the end, it handled much of what I was looking for in a photo-sharing solution, and more than a few of those criteria seem to overlap with Nolan’s requirements

First: privacy. There are plenty of apps that offer cloud storage, but Nolan—and many others—are understandably wary about putting the photos in the hands of big companies like Google, Apple, or Amazon. Dropbox may still be a big company, but I generally trust that my files remain my files. And, in terms of data security, Dropbox stores them locally on my computer, rather than only consigned to living some place in the cloud and downloaded on demand. (Plus, Dropbox’s version history helps insure that your data is safely backed up.)

Second: Sharing control. Dropbox provides a couple options for sharing content; it’s easy enough to share a folder with specific individuals if they already have Dropbox accounts, but one of the advantages of the service is that it’s also relatively simple to just send a private link, which simplifies matters for those who don’t have—or don’t want to sign up for—a Dropbox account. You can even secure that sharing link with a password, in case you’re concerned about others peeping in on your photos.

Third: Collaboration. This is one of the places that Dropbox really shines for me when it comes to photo-sharing. A lot of other services make it tricky to collect photos from a variety of sources. For example, in my aforementioned family reunion situation, I wanted to have the ability for anybody present to contribute to the overall collection of pictures, without jumping through a lot of hoops. Dropbox has in the last year or so added the ability to make file requests, which allows people to upload files to somebody else’s Dropbox. (Previously, I relied on tools like the now-defunct Send to Dropbox, which allowed people to email attachments and have them automatically imported to a specific Dropbox folder.) You should be able to upload photos to a Dropbox file request no matter what platform you’re coming from.

One of Nolan’s other concerns was that he was looking for a paid service, as he doesn’t like the idea of Facebook or Google trying to pull in revenue from looking at his photos, even if it’s just for machine learning purposes; Dropbox is free, true, but it gets its revenue from charging for more storage space, so it’s less concerned with scraping information from people’s content.

He also wanted to insure that the service in question had good app support on both iOS and Android. Dropbox ticks that box as well.

Now, there are some downsides to Dropbox as a photo-sharing service. For one thing, it’s not really designed for photo-sharing, so while it’s possible to get a reasonably useful thumbnail gallery view, it lacks many of the bells and whistles for sorting and searching pictures. You won’t get any of Google’s fancy machine-learning features that identify specific people, for example. More recently, Dropbox has added some photo-centric features, including the ability to create albums that you can share links to, but they seem to lack some of the fine-grained access controls of your standard folders.

All things considered, though it’s not specifically designed for the purpose that Nolan had in mind, it seems like Dropbox might very well be the ideal tool to accomplish just what he needs.

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at dan@sixcolors.com. His latest novel, The Nova Incident, comes out in July and is available to pre-order now, so do it!]

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