[Via Thomas Hawk, Techcrunch] (Why do photo sharing sites need to have weird names: Flickr, SmugMug, Zooomr?) People who know me a little bit probably know that I love to take photographs, lots of photographs. My inner geek of course wants to do geeky stuff with all those pictures, so every picture gets: a) tagged and described (metadata stored in the picture itself so you never ever have to type descriptions, tags again) b) geo-tagged (store the coordinates where the picture was taken in the metadata) c) stored for eternity (I have a pro Flickr account, allowing unlimited upload and storage, it's my off-site backup). Why do I use Flickr, instead of other photo sharing/storing sites? Well when I started (a little over one year ago), Flickr was the only big one that exposed an API. So as a developer I could see my Flickr account as my "picture data store", accessible via a Services Interface; this means you are never "locked in", if a feature is not available you can write your own solution (eg batch download). Flickr has a very large community in general, but also a very large developer community: their API even has a .NET wrapper (kudos to the people who maintain this!) and the amount of tools is incredible.
A competitor of Flickr is SmugMug, they don't offer a free account (like Flickr does) but their feature set is richer. Things that I like about SmugMug, compared to Flickr: customizable home page layout ("web part" style), themes, hierarchical structure of albums (albums in albums, aka as sub-sets) and they use Google Maps instead of Yahoo Maps. I don't have a SmugMug account but I had a (free) trial account so I could play around with it. The price is right ($ 39.95 per year), but the main reason why I choose Flickr was their API and community.
Somewhere last year SmugMug however added their own API too, and this week they added some really cool features: speed, beauty and brains. The geeky translation for these features is: they switched from the "traditional" HTML user interface to an AJAX user interface. So no more page reloads, no more scrolling, better speed, nifty slide out effects and so on. Job well done SmugMug team! Don MacAskill (the SmugMug CEO and Chief Geek (I'd love to have geek on my business card!)) blogs about the latest release. He mentions the obvious advantages, but (more interesting) he also describes the less obvious pitfalls of this switch. Although these pitfalls apply to SmugMug, they could apply to all the sites switching from HTML to Ajax UI's.
- Backwards compatibility. We built our URLs from day one to be “permalinks” so they wouldn’t change if you used them in your blog and forum posts. We had to make sure that things still worked going forward.
- AJAX Permalinks. Now we needed new permalinks that describe various pieces of data for browsing SmugMug, but we also needed to keep them short so people could copy & paste easily, so they wouldn’t wrap in emails, etc.
- Browser interfaces. People expect the Back & Forward buttons to work properly, along with History and Bookmarks. Doing so in all three major browsers was thought to be impossible, and we failed many times. We solved this one, and this was the last biggie. I believe it’s an internet first. Jimmy will be updating his blog about exactly how we do it so anyone else can follow suit. It’s good for the web as a whole for this stuff to move forward.
So I hope Flickr is going to follow the lead SmugMug has taken and add some of the fancy SmugMug features: their community is begging for them (Flickr is know to implement new features very, very slowly because they have to keep up with their ever growing user base and storage/performance requirements). Or maybe it's time to give SmugMug a chance, the only problem is that I will need to upload all my photo's (almost 10.000) once again... to be continued!