in Photography

As we grow older and experience life with all its twists and turns, there are often times of great storytelling and recollection — thinking of times gone by, reliving them in our minds and telling our friends about them. There are many aids to help us remember the past, but the one thing that has been with us for a very long time are photographs.

When you press the shutter release on your camera, time is instantly frozen and is forever materialized in that very photo. Taking that concept one step further, makes one realize that photos taken can never be created the same way ever again, which makes them all the more precious.

Even if you manage to keep all photos of your children from their infancy to adulthood, you will likely have thousands of pictures just laying in a folder on your computer, or even worse, kept on a memory card in the camera.

I have earlier talked about Crashplan, which seamlessly backs up your computer to the cloud, and can be a huge lifesaver in times of distress. There are however lots of other services focused purely on sharing and backing up your precious photos.

When thinking about photos online, most people will often think about Flickr, and rightfully so. It is probably the most used website for sharing photos today, and if you happen to have a Pro account, they will even let you download your original files. This can in essence work as a cloud backup for all your photos. Their photo organization however, is very old-school with sets and collections, but works very well. Since the website has been there for ages and rarely gets updated, it now starts to feel somewhat outdated and old-fashioned.

Another service you may have heard of is Facebook, which has probably passed Flickr on the number of uploaded photos per second. They offer free photo uploads, but images are compressed and may not look as good as you intended. They have become better though, and even show much larger pictures now that they have received some great competition from Google+. They do one thing right though — the Timeline.

Even though photos are grouped in sets, they will be displayed chronologically in your profile timeline, as they happen in your life and even have automatic highlighting of popular and important photos which makes it easier to browse the history.

The downside to sharing photos on Facebook is not being able to download uploaded originals, meaning that while Facebook may be great for sharing photos, they do not function as a cloud backup service for them, so you will still need to store your photos locally on your computer and manage backups separately.

ThisLife

There has since 2010 been a new photo sharing and backup service in the making, which has finally launched a public beta. They recently received funding from investors, which made it possible for anyone to sign up.

ThisLife is a photography website which takes strengths from many other similar services and puts them together to create a new kind of photo site.

Not only is the website visually stunning, it has the features discussed earlier, such as being able to download uploaded originals. They even have their own twist on the Facebook timeline. Instead of scrolling down to reveal older photos, think of it as a game of Super Mario – go left to reveal older photos and right to move into the future, which makes it very fun to scroll though photos with others.

There is also a bit of split-vision thinking going on, where all your photos go into the main library. From there, you can cherry-pick your favorite photos which best represent that particular time and place, and put them in the Timeline. This makes it easy to find all important photos from years back, and makes for a perfect photo album to show other people.

We like to think of your Timeline as the place to showcase your very best Moments, Milestones, and Notes. In other words, your Timeline tells your story; add Moments accordingly!

The notion of albums are gone however, and photos are instead searchable using activity, date, location and tagged people.

Want to find that picture while you were Surfing in Hawaii with Joe? Simply click icon of the magnifying glass in the upper right hand corner of your Library. Now you can sort by 3 different criteria – People, Place and Activity. Want to search by just one of those? Use the tabs in the lower right of your Library. We think of it as the “Needle in the Haystack” feature.

It takes some getting used to the notion of activities contra sets and albums. It is however very clever and has many strengths when searching for photos.

For the family

The founders of ThisLife, a couple named Matt and Andrea Johnson were not happy with any of the Flickr or Facebook clones out there, so they decided to create their own website to store photos of their kids and vacations. This means that there is a big focus on family and sharing, in contrast with for instance 500px, which is more focused on professional photography.

One of the family features is the ability to invite others into your account, which is perfect within a family where you can invite your spouse, and both of you can add photos of your life together to the now in common photo stream.

Face detection

A big challenge, especially when taking photos of children, is the fact that they grow up. ThisLife has gone to great lengths to account for the fact that people’s faces change as they get older. Since I currently do not have any children, it was hard for me to try out this very feature, but having uploaded lots of other albums, I can attest to the exceptional performance in the face recognition technology, as it got a near 100 percent hit-rate.

One central hub

Getting started with a new service usually means that one has to find photos on your computer, select the ones you want and then upload them. ThisLife does of course let you do it, and exceptionally well using their uploading software.

They do in addition to this however, have the ability to pull in images from Facebook and Instagram among others, which means that getting started filling your account is as simple as approving a few authorization requests.

Sharing

When it comes to showing your photos to the world, there are a few options to choose from. Sharing a single photo works as expected – you can either email it, tweet it or send if off to Facebook.

There is however no way to share a collection of photos, which is a huge downer, since I would imagine wanting the ability to share an event with others. That is something that will surely be added in the future.

Bugs

In the settings menu, there was a link to enable the Flash version of the site. I clicked it, and it reloaded as expected, and this time the whole interface was Flash powered. There is one problem though, it seems to be impossible to revert back to the excellent HTML5 version of the site, once the Flash button has been clicked. After a quick response from their friendly Twitter support account @ThisLife, I managed to revert back adding “/html5” to the URL.

There are other minor annoyances as well. For instance, when clicking on an image, you are expecting the image to show up and display comments, export options etc. The image does indeed popup, but sometimes the interface locks up and it doesn’t finish loading, leaving the website unusable. It is then impossible to close the image, and a full reload is required. Since this only happens sometimes and is not critical, I can definitely accept that will be expecting an update addressing this in the future.

iPhone and iPad

There are free apps available for both iPhone and iPad, which connects to your account and presents the same fantastic graphical interface one is used to now in the website. They share the same features, and enables you to view, share and upload new photos on the go.

Price

When trusting a photo service to store and display your photos, you will have to pay for most of them. The only free service mentioned earlier is Facebook, but since it will not allow downloading the uploaded originals, it is disqualified.

Left is Flickr, where a one-year commitment will set you back $24.95, but provides unlimited upload of photos and videos, in addition to statistics and an ad-free browsing experience. 500px has a similar service, where you pay $19.95 per year and receive similar benefits as Flickr.

How does ThisLife stack up? Since the free plan only allows for 1000 pictures or 1 hour of video, you will likely need to upgrade if you plan to use it seriously. The medium plan sets you back $79.99 per year, and allows you to upload 20,000 photos or 10 hours of video. Their biggest plan allows you to upload 50,000 photos or 25 hours of video and costs $149,99 per year.

Conclusion

It is hard to argue against using beautiful software and websites, and this is not an exception. This is a user-friendly website which will suit most people just fine. Supporting a bundle of platforms using different technologies like html5, Flash and iOS applications is an excellent way of making the people who try out the service, stay there.

ThisLife supports uploading of text snippets in addition photos and videos using email, but I could not figure out how to do this via the website. Presumably, this is a feature which will be implemented in future versions. I could see this being built out as more of a personal log or diary, and with accompanying photos and videos, it could be a potential killer in that market as well.

The one thing I found to be somewhat restricting is the ability to share albums. While ThisLife has no notion of albums, being able to publish a specific event at specific time would be fantastic.

When comparing prices for different photo sharing websites, ThisLife came out on top as being priciest of them all. They are rumored to use Amazon S3 for storage, so that price-point may be a bit over the top for pure storage, but the fantastic website and all services do cost to develop, run and maintain.

I have not had extensive contact with their support, but asked a simple question over Twitter. The response was prompt, very friendly and helpful, so kudos for having a fantastic support channel.

ThisLife definitely fills a space which recently has opened up, I guess mostly due to Facebook’s Timeline feature, which was released earlier this year. Other similar websites have been starting to crop up, such as Months of Me, so there are exciting times ahead in the personal memory websites.