Searching for a PictureLife replacement
Following the near-demise of PictureLife, I keep finding myself, almost weekly, trying to find a replacement, but none seem to offer the critical data export or portability that I need. I’ve learnt a harsh lesson from trusting a service that stored my data in a semi-proprietary manner – I chose PictureLife because I could export my photos as zipfiles with all the metadata, but then neglected to do so, and so found I only had the S3 bucket which did have all my photos, but without the metadata I had created to organise them.
So – I’ve spent another two hours on a Saturday evening looking for a service that allows me to store my photos in the cloud, organise them as I see fit, share them to friends and family, yet still retain full control of them, including exporting with metadata at any time.
And there is nothing out there.
Well, there’s lots out there, but none of them gives you full control. For example:
- Google Photos is by far the best service, practically for free, but in sharing all your data with Google, you’re exposing every place, person, and memorable thing you’ve done in your entire life, to a megacorp and government who’ll be up to who-knows-what around about the time your kids are trying to get a job. (“2035: President Trump II has decreed that all families photographed in the past with muslims or mexicans will be declined permanent visas to the USA”). Think this is irrational? China are doing it already. Also – with Google Photos, it’s still tricky to get your data out in a structured manner.
- Flickr also offers free storage, but again, bulk download is a bit of an unknown. You can bulk download natively, but possibly without any metadata since added. There are various client-based apps to download photos with metadata, but again, how long will they be around? Will Flickr change its APIs? If they fail to maintain tag access, then all your metadata is locked up forever.
- Shoebox is a close contender to PictureLife – everything is fully managed; you can share; the photo storage is free, and you pay for storing large quantities of video (which I do have). But the bulk export is simply a single button – once the zip is generated, you get a link to export all your photos. If you accumulate hundreds of Gigabytes, it’s not something you want to do every month as a precaution (and you should do this at least every month, considering the story of Everpix, PictureLife, Loom, etc).
- Everalbum is another new cloud storage photo manager. How do you export your photos? Well, from iOS, you can do ten at a time. From web – one at a time. Bulk export is ‘in the future’, says the help topic from December 2015.
OK – so, let’s admit that we can’t trust third-party photo hosting companies with our photos. What about major cloud storage providers? Surely if their entire business is storing data (Hello Dropbox!), then we can simply retain the data on our computer and sync it file-for-file with that cloud storage service. We presume they don’t go away – and if they do, we still have an original copy ourselves, no worries!
So, we need either a good photo album front-end for that provider, or otherwise, another third party (fourth party?) who can run a thin front-end on top of that cloud storage to make all our photos beautiful, editable, shareable and accessible.
Well, of course, that’s what PictureLife was: they used Amazon S3 for the storage, for which you could use your own S3 bucket, and then offered the timeline, memories, geoview, Aviary editor, and all sorts of other excellent tools, while you retained ownership of the photos. Unfortunately, in order for them to operate such a large multi-user system, all the metadata and organisation was in their system and inaccessible if the lights suddenly went out – as they did.
So what else is there?
- Dropbox is the obvious contender – your photos are right there on your drive, and the same in the cloud. Sharing is easy, as almost everyone has dropbox, and Photos and Videos appear and stream effortlessly. But their organisation is basic, and they’ve recently discontinued their photo management frontend, Carousel.
- Microsoft’s OneDrive does offer file-and-folder-based storage while also offering Google Photos-level organisation, galleries, sharing, searching, etc. as a front-end. It’s good, and again, most people will have an MS account, but again, you wonder how much Microsoft will be peering into your metadata in the future.
- Unbound is one of those ‘fourth-party’ apps – a simple mobile app that reads from Dropbox, but gives you gallery and calendar views. It’s an entirely client-based app, rather than a service, which means you get thumbnail caching and other features on your phone, and it’s more private than trusting a ‘broker’ sorting your photos for you, but it suffers from the limitations of this, such as not offering memories, or a geoview with all your photos on a zoomable map.
- CloudGallery is another front-end app over cloud storage, working with Dropbox, Google and Flickr, and offering features based on the APIs of each. Again, if you’re using Dropbox, it turns out that you can’t use features like Timeline or filter because Dropbox doesn’t actually make much photo EXIF metadata available through its API, which rather scuppers the ‘front end app’ requirement entirely. There’s also no features for tagging or rating.
So, in effect, there’s not much. Many are 80% there, and PictureLife was 95% there, but none are all the way. There does seem to be a gap, something The Verge acknowledges itself:
“It’s a strange time for photo storage. It’s never been more important, and yet even the biggest consumer internet companies barely seem to be paying attention. On one hand, I can hardly blame them — it’s a proposition that has proven singularly unprofitable. And yet I still can’t believe there isn’t a billion-dollar business to be built out of our collective need to remember.”
At the same time, Everpix, the great original ‘photo management, storage and enjoyment start-up… that failed’ admitted themselves that the business model is hard, as The Verge reported:
“And while the product wasn’t particularly difficult to use, it [….] required a commitment to entrust an unknown startup with your life’s memories — a hard sell that Everpix never got around to making much easier.”
It’s so true.
And so, you wonder which business model would work. Probably in this day and age of Google Photos, OneDrive, and iPhoto, there is none – the masses will go for the free/integrated option, and sadly, the people who care about things like privacy and portability don’t comprise a large enough market segment to make a business viable. Mylio is my current favourite, and walking this curious line between a selling point as a ‘easier, better sync tool than Lightroom for serious photographers’ whilst their marketing is still the consumer-land ‘making your memories accessible and safe’. Mylio is incidentally awesome, except of course it has no significant cloud hosting, so no sharing, social, or streaming videos.
Perhaps there’s space for a ‘fourth party’ service in the same way Boxcryptor works with Dropbox and others – you pay for dropbox, and then you pay Boxcryptor to act as a software and cloud service layer to encrypt your sensitive files. Similarly for photos, you could pay for the cloud storage service, perhaps one you’re using day-to-day already – and then pay a smaller monthly fee to a separate cloud-service provider who acts as the front-end to your photos, providing the collection, sharing, access, etc, but whom you are not trusting with your photos’ storage.
Of course, this was largely what PictureLife were, on Amazon S3. With that gone, perhaps this could take the form of an enhancement to Mylio Cloud for Mylio, where happy customers pay an additional fee for Mylio to broker access to data stored in another cloud service; many of the parts are there.
Footnote: It’s interesting to see that TheVerge
makes similar comments, along with an excellent review and table of the contenders, these being the usual suspects plus PictureLife, the latter which he sagely noted was a ‘cautious’ prospect following its acquisition by StreamNation. Their preference was for Google+, ironically three months before it was shut down and transferred to Google Photos, or PictureLife, also now effectively defunct.