Photo management

Here’s a more genuine lazy-web request today: online photo management. But here’s the key: for internal use, not just for showing other people our photos.

At the moment, Andrew and I dump all our photos from our cameras into F-Spot. It’s an OK little program, but this is already a bit of a hacked together solution.

F-Spot is really designed to run on your desktop, suck photos from a camera, and store them on said desktop’s (or personal laptop’s) drive. This model doesn’t really work for us. Firstly, laptops get stolen. Andrew had his stolen in November 2005 and for a while we were worried we’d lost more than a year of photos. We hadn’t because at some point that neither of us clearly remembered but only dimly inferred, I’d bugged him until he dumped copies on our fileserver. So we want very regular backups onto another machine, or master copies stored there (with 15 GB of photos to date, 6 GB of which were taken in 2007, master copies is starting to make sense).

F-Spot has a per-user photo and tags database which is based on an assumption of each-photo-belongs-to-one-person just like my word processor’s equally false assumption regarding my documents, which has, I’m told, resulted in any number of variously buggy and expensive version control systems for Word. Only for code in plain text files has this problem really been solved well and often. Anyway we have a setup whereby we mount our photo disk on the fileserver over sshfs, and have symlinks to a shared photo database also on the photo disk, and F-Spot falls over and dies all the time and we kind of deal with it mostly.

F-Spot is also kind of difficult to use. It has tags, but you have to pick them from a huge drop-down list, meaning that to tag a single photo with all five of my family members in it can easily take me thirty seconds. (Or, yes, I could subcategorise them, but the Andrew and Mary tags then belong in about five categories each and it doesn’t allow that.) It doesn’t have albums either: you approximate that with tags, so you really do need a lot of tags… which means making the tag list even harder to use. I believe iPhoto, which is similar but more mature would be a bit better, but equally bad in the each-photo-belongs-to-one-person assumption, or possibly even worse because there might not be a workaround with mounts.

Anyway, if someone has a web service whereby we could dump all our photos onto it and manage the metadata there mor dynamically there, we’d probably use it, and pay for it (assuming that we got access to an acceptable backup mechanism). But the thing there is a whole different set of assumptions with online photo management: that we want to show someone the photos we upload. This is only true of about a tenth of our photos in reality, the rest of them suck even more than the ones we do end up uploading to show people. The rest of them we just have sitting around because, hey, they’re in focus and hard drive space is cheap. We need something that combines we’d like to show people some photos with we have a lot of photos we just store and annotate. And then there’s the lock-in (most people I know have photos on Flickr, and won’t see anything I post off Flickr), Plus Flickr at least also has more than a bit of a each-photo-belongs-to-one-person assumption behind it and also doesn’t seem to have a mechanism for this photo is a version of that one like the desktop apps do.

So, is there something that could do this for us? I suppose bonus points if I could occasionally cross-post to Flickr.