I've been taking photos for a long time, as I'm sure many of you have. Where my story might differ from others is that I've also wanted to share my photos online for a long time.
At first, I tried linking to photos from the pages of my personal site. This was an easy solution, but let's face it, it didn't look that great. Plus, it was annoying to have to manually place the photo in a folder and create a link to it. It wasn't a professional solution. I wanted to be able to present each photo on a page by itself, and display additional data that would make it interesting for someone to view it. But all that would have required lots of work for each individual page, and my time was limited.
I then tried using the web gallery options that come with Photoshop and Dreamweaver. This still wasn't what I wanted, but at least each photo got a thumbnail and its own page. Plus, the HTML pages, thumbnails and photos were all packaged nicely in a single directory that I could upload to my web server. This worked for a while, but still, I wanted more. I wanted to display more of a photo's meta data (exposure information, date taken, camera used, etc.)
I never got into the Flash photo galleries I see on so many photography sites nowadays. I found the navigation was always annoying, and I was disappointed to see people lock their photos in Flash so site visitors couldn't download them. That's like keeping books locked in libraries and only letting people read them there. People should be able to save photographs to their own computers and use them as desktop backgrounds, or put them in screensavers. They should be able to enjoy good photography.
Then I tried Gallery 2. This was an all-in-one, database-based solution that required an install on one's web server. It was a pretty comprehensive solution at that: it allowed one to upload photos through several methods, to create web albums, to decide on the presentation of the photos in various sizes, etc. It even allowed site visitors to rate the photos, and they could choose to create their own accounts and share their photos on my site. Problem is, I found it hard to customize, it was complex and it had too many options. Plus, it ran slow. And, as I used it more, I found I really wanted to have a community of people that would readily see my photos and would interact with them. Well, I could have chosen to build that community myself, which again, would have required time and effort, which were and always are scarce, or look for another solution.
I started looking once again, and found Zooomr. In the process, I also found Flickr, Snapfish, Photobucket and a bunch of other photo sharing sites. I tried them all, and realized Zooomr was the one site that would work for me. While it was easy to dismiss the others, for quite some time, I couldn't decide between Zooomr and Flickr, but in the end, the clincher was this: photos I uploaded to Flickr got scarcely a view or two, while photos I uploaded to Zooomr were viewed right away, and often. I don't know about you, but for me, it's no fun to share my photos if no one's going to look at them. After a few months of using Zooomr, I'm still happy with the site and its capabilities. Here's why:
- Yes, Zooomr is still in Beta, and there are some rough edges. But, the site has tons of innovative features that even Flickr doesn't have. As a matter of fact, Flickr played catchup to Zooomr when it came to geotagging photos. And Flickr still doesn't have portals, which are a really cool way to link photos to each other based on common elements/objects found in each, or Zooomrtations, which are sound snippets that one can add to photos.
- Zooomr offered more bandwidth than any other site I knew of: 100 MB/month for free accounts, and 2.5 GB/month for Pro accounts, with no upload limits. Then they upgraded their offering to 4 GB/month for Pro accounts, with no upload limits. They were also less expensive than Flickr, at only $20/year for Pro accounts. They also offered free Pro accounts to bloggers, and still do. A little known fact is that Zooomr lets users upload individual photos up to 50 MB in size, while Flickr limits an individual photo's size to 5 MB, resizing larger photos without informing users.
- I like the Zooomr interface better than Flickr's, because it's more colorful. The Flickr interface is so bleached it's as if they can't afford color. Minimalist my foot… They should know it's easy to add color to a web page without increasing page weight.
- Zooomr was full of features and still I could see there was room to grow, while Flickr had already crystallized and was established. I don't know about you, but I like to be part of something that's growing and changing, not staid.
- Zooomr was built by a single person, from the ground up. I was floored when I realized that. Kristopher Tate, Zooomr's founder, built the site all by himself. There were no action groups, no committees, no focus groups, no market research — none of that stuff that slows things down. He simply sat down and built the site all by himself because he wanted to do it and thought it was cool. Later on, as the site developed, Thomas Hawk, one of the prominent Flickr photographers and a really nice guy, came on board to manage things at Zooomr. When I started to use Zooomr, I began to interact with Kris and Tom and submitted feedback to them, some of which already made it into the live site. When I discovered bugs, they were always prompt and where needed, implemented fixes right away. This was and still is a huge draw for me. It's much more fun to be part of something that I can influence rather than use a product where my voice won't be heard.
- Toward the end of October one of Zooomr's servers crashed, and some data (not much, but enough) was lost in the process. While this would have been a disaster for another start-up, the dedication of Kris and Tom turned the situation into a positive. Kris stayed up for days working to restore the service and as much of the data as possible. The Zooomr users realized this and appreciated it. Instead of criticizing the outage, they huddled around Kris and Tom and encouraged them to get through the rough situation, which they did. In the end, they made it up to the users by upgrading the accounts of all the people who lost data to Pro4Life, which means these people will never have to pay a dime to use all of Zooomr's Pro features. Now that's generous!
- Now in its second iteration, Zooomr works great, but very, very soon, possibly in the next month, Zooomr's third build, called MarkIII, will launch. The feature-set has been kept secret by both Kris and Tom, but among the features, we'll likely find Groups and Marketplace. The Groups feature, dubbed ZGroups, will allow users to share pools of photos, while Marketplace will let users sell their photos. I've been wanting to test the waters by selling my photos online for some time, but needed to find a platform that would allow me to do so. It looks like with Zooomr I not only found a place to share my photos, but to sell the better ones as well.
- Enough about me though. The most important thing is that there are great photographs on Zooomr. I'm amazed by the quality of the photos produced by Zooomr users, and I find more and more of them every day. Through Zooomr, I can contact the photographers and interact with them. I get inspired and my own photography gets better in the process. In short, I became part of an online community that supports my photographic efforts.
Let's review: Zooomr not only fulfills my photo sharing needs, but surpasses them by allowing me to improve my skills by being part of a wonderful online community, and on top of that, will soon give me the opportunity to sell some of my photographic work. Talk about a site that keeps on giving!