Facebook Goes High-Res

Alan Bullock
Oct 1, 2010

Late yesterday, Facebook, on its blog, announced plans to support “print-quality, high-resolution” photos. Maximum image size will be increased to 2048 pixels on the longest side, up from the current 720-pixel limit, which itself was an improvement from just 604 pixels earlier this year. This is significant news, sending ripples of both opportunity and uncertainty throughout the photo industry.

Traditional online photo services and retailers such as Kodak Gallery, Shutterfly, Snapfish, Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, and Costco will probably see this as both bad news and good news. Millions of consumers who have been using Facebook for their everyday photo sharing and viewing while coming back “home” for prints, photo books, and other output products may suddenly have all of those needs met by or through Facebook. On the other hand, photofinishers may now have the ability to offer larger format printed output from high-res Facebook images without the cost of storing those images, which could offer some welcome relief.

This seems like all good news for other not-so-traditional photo printing companies such as Mimeo, Pixable, and HotPrints that have developed specialized products well-suited to Facebook’s low-resolution images. They, too, have an opportunity to expand their range of products and sizes.

In some ways, Facebook’s low-resolution standard was actually a good thing for professional photographers, who could post images that looked pretty good on a computer screen, but not-so-great if printed. Their questions about the new standard might include if/how professional images will be protected, or whether digital watermarks will survive Facebook’s compression process.

Most of the questions, however, seem to be for Facebook. This change is certain to mean significant added storage costs. Will they begin to charge users to upload and store high-res photos? Will there be a cap or maximum length of time for photo storage? Will third-party applications, connected HDTVs and other CE devices, and printing services such as those described above continue to be allowed open access to Facebook photos? Will there be a fee for API access to high-res images that can generate significant revenue for companies not named Facebook?

There are questions for Facebook users, too. InfoTrends’ research indicates that nearly half of them believe that Facebook is already storing their photos at full resolution! Do they even understand the benefits of high-res images? Are they willing to wait ten times as long (according to a screen capture on The Facebook Blog) for their photos to upload?

Facebook says that this change (along with other improvements to the Photos application) will be rolled out to all users over the next month. Obviously, the billions of 604- and 720-pixel photos already stored on Facebook will not be transformed overnight (or ever) to high resolution.

This means that the rest of the photo industry has some time to decide on a strategy. The first billion high-res images probably won’t be there for oh… a couple of weeks or more. Stay tuned — this one will be interesting!

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