What would you do if Flickr shut down some day? Do you think that photo services like Instagram might be just the beginning of what could be possible in terms of social photo innovation? Is Facebook Photos just a place the share and forget, leaving a big demand remaining for archival storage of all the photos we're taking these days?
Such are the questions being tackled by a new startup called OpenPhoto.me, an open source project being built by long-time photo sharing guy Jaisen Mathai. OpenPhoto.me is a photo sharing app and it's a platform for other apps: it pushes all your photos, tags and comments into cloud storage that you own, on Amazon S3, Rackspace or Dropbox. Then you can grant any photo app access to those photos as you see fit.
Jaisen Mathai worked last for several years at Yahoo! before leaving to self-fund OpenPhoto.me. He says he plans on following the WordPress model for the service: he'll offer a hosted version, with themes and eventually a mobile app, but for the time being he's focusing on offering the code on Github. He's got a small fundraising campaign running on Kickstarter, but this is something he's been planning on doing for years.
"This is the culmination of many things I've done over the years and it solves many of the problems I've experienced myself," Mathai says. "I haven't wanted to put all my photos and data up on Flickr knowing that someday I won't be using Flickr anymore. I built this, then it turned into a service other people could use, then something that other app developers could build on top of."
"If you look back and see the platforms that proceeded today's silos, those that are still around now are because they are open." Mathai argues. He contrasts that openness with the selective and partial Application Programming Interfaces that photo sharing services like Facebook and likely iCloud offer developers. "In my vision for OpenPhoto.me, every application developer has the same level of access as any other app developer. I'm no different from any other app developer, I don't have more access than others. That's extremely important for the end user because that means they get the best of breed options, not just what independent developers are able to build with partial access to the data in a silo system."
Not everyone agrees that there's a strong need for a service like this. "It seems
like Flickr, SmugMug, 500px, etc. are meeting folks' needs," says photography blogger Aaron Hockley of PicturePundit.
"On the self-hosted side, I don't see a real demand for a self-hosted photo service. What might make more sense and be a better use of money and time would be to build something that could provide real, feature-rich photo hosting and sharing through a CMS such as WordPress. Even amongst the folks that choose to self-host their blogs, they often go with a hosted photo service. I don't see them (myself included) switching to a self-hosted photo service that wasn't part of WordPress."
Hockley might not see this as a desirable service, but I do. I'd love to see cloud storage of photos and their data made easy - and in a way that bakes sharing in. Right now I take most of my photos with Instagram, then push the ones I want to save over to Flickr. Do I really feel like Flickr is a forever kind of solution? No. I'd much rather they be saved on my WordPress install or in bulk cloud storage I pay for monthly - with connections to other services enabled and exercised as I see fit.
Left: The first hosted data locker from the Locker Project went live today. Photos and their data from OpenPhoto.me could live very nicely in just such a system.
Mathai says he's been talking to the people at The Locker Project, a prominent open source project aiming to let everyday people capture and control all their data from around the web, then offer access to that data to apps built to run on top of it. His vision and theirs seem compatible to me, too. Recognizing that what used to be "data exhaust," the data that gets thrown off from our everyday experiences online, is in fact a valuable platform for innovation and ought to be controlled by those of us whose activities it is a consequence of.
Do you want something like that for your photos? I do.