Commentary
9/21/2005
10:58 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
Commentary

Langa Letter: Analyzing New Kinds Of Image-Sharing Services

If videos or photos are part of your work, these new services can help, Fred Langa says.



Process-control, quality assurance, real estate, insurance, surveying, construction ... the list of industries and business types that have come to depend on photographic and video documentation is large and growing, especially as inexpensive digital cameras and camera phones proliferate.

Even in businesses where photos and videos, per se, aren't central, they may still find widespread use in specific activities such as asset management, human-resources documentation, trade-show activities, Web-site illustration, instructional materials, brochures and catalogs, and so on.

A number of free and by-subscription services have cropped up to help make better use of some of the billions of digital images being captured each year: These specialty file-sharing services let their users place photos and videos -- and in some cases, any file type whatsoever -- in private or public areas for sharing, group collaboration, archiving, for illustrating auction sites, for use on message boards, in classifieds, on live journals and blogs, in online photo albums, and almost any other use you can think of.

Although you can use an ordinary Web site for sharing photos or videos, many of these specialty image-sharing services offer easy-to-use custom tools that are optimized for processing and organizing visual materials. There's no domain name to register or maintain, no hosting service or server to worry about. And, because these services are free or extremely low-cost, users can create accounts as needed and on their own, with no Webmaster assistance required. Uploads usually require only a Web browser and a password to the site -- no Web-site-creation tools are needed, and no special knowledge or training (e.g., HTML) is required. The sites usually even present the uploader with a finished URL for easy sharing of the uploaded materials, with no behind-the-scenes Web site knowledge needed.

Free? How Do They Survive?
Some of these services are totally free, and we'll get to those in a moment. Others, such as PBase, offer free trials, then charge a minimal amount for ongoing service. Pbase is one of the best image-sharing services, but even so manages to get by on relative pocket change: Pbase charges a paltry $23 yearly for 300 megabytes of photo storage, with additional storage space available in 300-Mbyte increments, with a modest quantity discount available.

In terms of photos, 300-Mbytes will hold something like 1,200 jpgs at an average of 250 Kbytes. (Higher-resolution photos would consume more space, of course; lower resolution photos would consume less.) The space is recyclable; once photos are deleted, the space they occupied is returned to the available pool. Pbase places no limits on the number of downloads, and assesses no extra charges for bandwidth consumed. As such, it could be a great way to host photos for a Web site that otherwise resides on a bandwidth-metered server: The basic pages could come from the Web host, but the bandwidth-intensive images could come from Pbase.

Unlike fee-based services, the free services do it a little differently: Most of those are supported by advertising, which raises two issues. First, most of these free sites prohibit "hotlinking:" that is, you can't link directly to your photo or video, in isolation. Instead, your visitors will see your image or video on a complete page, as set up by the free service; the page will include their ads around or alongside your image or video. That means these services may be OK for basic photo and video sharing, but won't work if you want to embed your images or videos on another page, such as on your Web site or on (say) an auction site: All you can do is link to the image-hosting service's own pages, which will display your photos and videos, along with their ads.

And that leads to the second issue: While many of the image-sharing services are safe for work environments and are "family friendly," others support themselves with ads mostly or entirely of an overtly sexual or "adult" nature. So, you need to be careful in choosing free sites to make sure the content that will surround your photos and videos meets with your, or your company's, standards. (In contrast, a paid site, like Pbase, contains no advertising of any kind, and seems to police its users more rigorously, and so appears to avoid this problem.)

But perhaps the best way to sort out these differences is to look at some real-life example sites

Examples

  • PBase (see above, as well); by subscription, starting at $23 per year for 300-Mbytes of storage; supports jpg, gif, and png file types, and Zip or TAR compressed collections of jpg, gif and png files. Allows direct hotlinking to your images, so your users don't have to go through Pbase pages to see your photos. No ads appear on the Pbase site pages. The TOS ("terms of service") specifies no porn or offensive content, and appears to be well enforced.
  • Putfile; free (ad supported); allows jpg, gif, png files (maximum file size 2-Mbyte each); wmv, avi, mpg, mov, asf, asx, mp4, 3g2 (max: 10-Mbyte each), mp3, mid, wav, midi (max: 10-Mbyte each), swf (max: 10-Mbyte each). No hotlinking allowed (your uploaded files must be viewed in the context of a Putfile page, with its ads). Main ads are by Google, and aren't offensive. TOS specifies no porn or offensive content, and appears to be well enforced.
  • TinyPic; free (ad supported; also accepts donations); allows png, gif, jpg, bmp (max size 250-Kbyte per image); creates a compact "tinyURL" style final link. No hotlinking. Main ads are by Google, and are not offensive. TOS specifies no porn or offensive content, and appears to be well enforced.
  • ImageHosting; free (ad supported) and paid; no allowable file types specified, other than "image;" free account offers 10-Mbyte total storage, 10-Mbyte of download bandwidth per day. Paid accounts offer up to 2-Gbyte storage and 1-Gbyte daily traffic; costs range from $18 to $153 per year, depending on level of service desired. On free pages, main ads are by Google, and aren't offensive. Hotlinking is allowed. TOS specifies no porn or offensive content, and appears to be well enforced.
  • Photobucket; free (ad supported) and paid; accepts jpg, gif, png, bmp, swf (max size 250-Kbyte per image, 25-Mbyte total storage space, and 1.5-Gbyte of bandwidth per month for free account; 1-Mbyte per image and 1-Gbyte total storage for paid account, with no bandwidth restrictions. Paid accounts ($9 for three months to $25 per year) also allow image upload by FTP, E-mail, or Windows XP Publishing. Hotlinking is allowed. TOS specifies no porn or offensive content, and appears to be well enforced.
  • RipWay; free and paid; any file type (including MP3, hence the "ripway" name); free account offers 30-Mbytes of storage, plus unlimited downloads for yourself, and 10-Mbytes of daily bandwidth allowance for public access to your files. Paid service is $5 to $40 per month, and offers up to 400-Mbytes of storage and 4-Gbytes or monthly bandwidth for downloads. Hotlinking is allowed in premium accounts. TOS specifies no porn or offensive content.
  • ZippyVideos free (ad supported); allows avi, mpg, wmv, asf, 3gp, mov, rm, swf; anonymous upload 10-Mbytes per file max; free registration increases size limit to 20-Mbytes per file. Main ads are by Google, and aren't offensive. No hotlinking allowed. Has a "family filter" and a special "18+" category to try to segregate potentially offensive content into one area; appears to be reasonably well enforced.
  • YourFileHost; free (ad supported); allows all file types, (not just images, video, audio) with a maximum size of 50-Mbytes per file. Main ads are by Google, and are not offensive; "partner site" list may contain suggestive names. TOS specifies no porn or offensive content, but appears to be only loosely enforced; this won't affect your own content, but if your visitors explore the site beyond the content that you post, they may encounter inappropriate material.
  • RapidShare; free (ad supported) and paid; unusual in that there are few restrictions on the upload side, other than a 50-Mbyte file-size limit. Apparently all file types (not just images, audio, video) are allowed. The site puts its restrictions on the download side: Free accounts allow only one download at a time, make the downloader step through several pages before actually beginning the download, and have limits on the available bandwidth. Premium accounts allow for parallel downloads (up to 200 simultaneous users), lift the bandwidth restrictions, and provide support for download accelerators and broken-download recovery; and the downloads start immediately, without having to step through intervening pages. Premium subscriptions are available by day or longer, prices start at about $1 for a 24-hour subscription, and go down to about 25-cents a day for a 6-month subscription. Uploaded images aren't browseable by the public; you have to know the URL of a specific file/image to get in. This means that it doesn't matter what other subscribers have uploaded to their parts of the service; your visitors will only see the files/images for which you've provide specific URLs. Hotlinking is allowed on premium accounts, but not for free accounts.
  • Flurl; free (ad-supported); allows wmv, asf, mpeg, mpg, avi, swf, jpg, gif, mp3, wav (max size 10-Mbyte each) file types; "Porn and illegal content is not allowed," but this restriction apparently is only loosely enforced; also has "mature" upload/search to segregate some of the more potentially offensive content.
  • The Good, The Bad....
    All the above just scratches the surface of this burgeoning field, as this Google search suggests. There are many, many other services -- but many of those include content that only the most desensitized person would find inoffensive; many are not safe for work, and are definitely not "family-friendly."

    And that's where you come in. I've tried the services above, and have found them to be the best of the bunch. (You should have seen the ones I didn't list. No, on second thought, it's just as well you didn't!) But I'm sure there are other good file/image/video/audio hosting services out there.

    What's your experience with image, video, and other file-sharing services? Which have you used, and to what effect? Have the free services been adequate, or do the fee-based services offer enough to justify the price? Which are the good, the bad, and the "must-avoid?" Join in the discussion!


    To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Fred Langa's forum on the Listening Post.

    To find out more about Fred Langa, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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