Cloud Storage Getting Serious About Photos?

Alan Bullock
Apr 14, 2014

In InfoTrends’ 2013 U.S. Cloud Services End-User Survey, more cloud service users said that they were storing photos than any other type of file, outpacing both music and video by about a 3-to-2 margin. Cloud services provide safe, secure, long-term storage, which is ideal for preserving the precious memories that many digital photos represent. But storage is a commodity — a rather boring commodity, at that, and therein lies the opportunity.

Most cloud services already offer more than just storage. They include anytime, anywhere access from the web or mobile apps, synchronization of content across multiple devices, and easy sharing of files and folders. However, those are just files and folders, which are almost as boring as storage.

InfoTrends has long advocated that cloud services should go even further to provide added value for their users’ most treasured files — their photos. Some do, with gallery views that display thumbnail images instead of file names and slideshow viewing on computer, mobile device, and even TV screens. Some offer limited sorting capabilities. However, none provides really useful tools for organizing an entire collection of photos based on criteria such as location, EXIF data, user tags, or even face recognition or other image intelligence. By and large, these tools seem to have been left to photo-centric services such as Shutterfly and Flickr.

There have been glimmers of hope. Way back in June 2011, when Carbonite purchased Phanfare, we thought that the latter would be merged into the former, giving users of the cloud backup service a premium photo experience. So far, this has not happened. In December 2012, Dropbox acquired Snapjoy, a service that aggregated photos from multiple devices and storage locations into one collection. New photo features for Dropbox? We thought so too, but Snapjoy was shut down about six months later with no sign of integration into Dropbox.

On April 9, Dropbox announced Carousel, a smartphone app (for iPhone and Android) that merges all of the photos in the user’s Dropbox account and on the phone into a single gallery that is, by all accounts, simple and elegant. Photos in Carousel are organized by date/time and location, and the user interface makes it easy for users to touch and swipe their way through time. Photos can be shared in private conversations with other individuals or groups, a feature that seems similar to that offered by Cooliris. Individual photos can be hidden with a simple downward swipe.

Early reviews reveal some shortcomings. For example, its single gallery includes ALL photos from ALL Dropbox folders. This means that any effort by the user to organize their photos into folders (which are already backed up to Dropbox) is completely disregarded, diminishing rather than adding organizational value. For me, it would also mean that product photos, company logos, screen captures, cheesy clipart, and silly pictures that I apparently thought were funny at one time would be intermingled with my important photos. That’s a problem that could easily be solved with an option to include or exclude folders.

Nevertheless, I applaud Dropbox for taking another step toward acknowledging the importance of photos among all the other types of files that they store. Here’s hoping other cloud storage vendors follow suit, providing tools that make photos as easy to find as they are to back up.

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