10 Things Google Should Consider in Launching a Standalone Photo Sharing Service


Google used to have a standalone photo sharing service. It was called Picasa. I never really liked it. It wasn’t a very social site. I thought Flickr was a lot better.

Today’s news is that Google is looking to spin off Google Photos from Google+. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. You never know. The timing of Friday afternoon stories and leaks always makes you wonder. Usually when companies want to push something they release it more like Tuesday mornings or make a big deal about it at I/O or something.

Whatever the case, photos has been one of the highlight use cases for G+. Many photographers have flocked to the site and I think it’s done a pretty good job with photos overall.

If Google is going to launch a standalone photo service though, they should really go all out. I worry that they’ll launch something less than fully baked — it will generate a bit of initial excitement and then lack stickiness.

With that in mind, here are 10 suggestions that I’d give Google in launching a standalone photo sharing service.

#1. Storage Space

Flickr has raised the bar by giving everyone a full terabyte of high res photos. Flickr made one big mistake with this offering though. *Private* high res photos are of very little value to a photo social network. Public photos are *very* valuable to a photo social network. Public photos are worth more to a social network than the cost to store the photos. Flickr just gave everyone a terabyte without distinguishing the visibility of the photos. Google should offer at the launch either unlimited or 2TB of high res public photo storage with every account. This will get great press and attention.

Go big or go home I say. Nobody can maintain cheaper enterprise storage than Google, and it’s only going to get cheaper in the future. Don’t be blinded by the open-ended liability of high storage limits. Public photos on the web are only going to get more valuable in the future and storage is only going to get cheaper.

#2. Photo Sales

Partner with photographers to sell their photos. Flickr just leaked something like this earlier this week. Partnering with photographers to sell photos is not just about stock photos as revenue (although the stock photography market is in fact a multi-billion dollar market ripe for disruption). This is about attracting the sorts of high quality photographers to your network because they will be paid for participating through photo sales. By providing photographers an avenue to sell their stuff and make real money, you endear them to your network. Tie the visibility of their work, in part, to their level of activity on the network — not directly, but just float that out there so that photographers feel like the more active they are on the network, the more $$$ they may make.

#3. Mobile

Create a super light weight mobile client like Instagram. Make it so simple. Tap/tap to +1, like, fave, whatever. Really dumb it down. Just something to follow your friends’ stuff and favorite it without all the other clutter of G+/Facebook getting in the way.

#4. Organization

Build an intelligent way to organize albums by keywords. Manual album management sucks big time. Let me build albums by keywords (this will also encourage more keywording which is valuable organizational metadata for Google to have). Study what Jeremy Brooks has done with SuprSetr and build something like that but even more intuitive and easy to understand and use.

#5. Social

Build intelligent groups for photographers to hang out in on the photo network. Unfortunately Google got one thing very wrong with communities in G+, which is why communities never took off. They refused to bump threads based on new comments. This ensures that all threads die quickly. It’s the longevity of conversations that fuel community interaction. Refusing to bump threads based on comments makes large groups completely chaotic and unusable. Why invest in a conversation that will be completely buried and dead in 24 hours and that I’ll never be able to find again? Let me mark conversations as favorites and feed all my favorite conversations to me in a feed ordered by recent comments/activity.

#6. Mosaic View

Go mosaic big time. On the web, give users a huge wall of photos with infinite scroll to just scroll through and +1. Code the site so that if you are hovering over any photo and press the “f” key it +1s it. Lubricate social activity on the web. Social activity begets social activity. The more you make it easy for people to like/fave/+1 stuff and the faster you make it, the more you get. The more people get, the better they feel about the network.

#7. Influencers

Spend some serious money the first year on community management/evangelism. Hire a whole bunch of photo community managers and partner with influencers all over the world. Require community managers to host at least 2 photowalks a month in their geographic region. Require them to spend 10 hours a week inside of social groups interacting with photographers on the new site. Bombard your users with interaction from Google Community Managers. Make sure Googlers are using the site to share their photos, especially visible senior management. Keep track of how many +1s, comments and other interactions Googlers have with photos on the network and make sure Googlers know that this matters.

#8. Real World Galleries

Open some fine art physical galleries. These can be used to host meetups and gallery shows for G+ photographers. You can also sell physical prints and DVDs of photo series from these galleries. Social photographers love doing shows with their work. Digital displays make doing temporal shows easier than ever. The ego boost a photographer gets when they are showing their work in a group show is substantial. Capitalize on this to draw the finest photographers in the world to your network.

#9. Photo Editing Software

The Nik Software stuff from Google is really good. Snapseed is the best mobile photo editing software out there. Analog Efex Pro 2 really is some of the best photo processing software I’ve used in years. Google could create something as good as Lightroom, maybe even better. Build this into the site for processing but also give people the ability to download the software to their computers for when they don’t want to work in the cloud and want to work locally. Sell this software for $99 with a six week free trial. Users who upload at least 5 photos on different days to the new photo network for six weeks should be given a promotion code to get the software for free.

#10. Special Treatment

Prioritize Google Photos photographs in Google Image Search. Create a button that photo buyers can click in Google Image Search to show photos available for licensing. Leverage the power of Google Image Search to both drive traffic back to photos in the social network and sales through the social network.

That’s all for now.

About the author: Thomas Hawk is a photographer and blogger based in San Francisco. Visit his website here. This article originally appeared here.

  • Richard Friedman

    What I like about Picasaweb (and why I still use it) is that it has a very easy way to create and distribute Private albums. If I take photos at a family event and want to share them just with family members, I can create a private album and send them the link. As long as they use the link, which has the needed credentials built in to the URL, they can view the album without needing to download anything. And they don’t get ads (Flickr) if they don’t have an account on Google. (What I don’t like is the confusion between Picasaweb and Google+). Much more convenient than dropbox (which requires downloading the images). I just hope they retain that feature. For everything else, I use Flickr. And for clients, I use Adobe Acrobat Send.

  • Amando Filipe

    People still browse without adblock? I didn’t even realize flickr had ads.

  • Richard Friedman

    Flickr has ads if you don’t have an account or don’t log in. Which is annoying when I want to send a pointer to one of my Flickr albums (they used to call the sets) to family who don’t do Flickr. They complain about the ads. Which is why I prefer Picasaweb.

  • Rymzor

    #8, the real world galleries is a great idea.

  • Neil Howard

    Brilliant Thomas. I agree with all your points here!

    I think that there would be an opportunity to really create a home for people who are passionate about photography, but they ALSO need to attract the “non photographers”, the consumers of the art form, as it were. If you create a place where only photographers go, then you will end up with the sales part faltering.
    Google would have the ability to have beautiful images (even mosaics) as background/interest on their other projects, with links to the original works for purchase.

    I really think that they could make it work if they worked with the right people, and your concept #7 Influencers is a flash of genius there mate!

  • Rob Elliott

    Here is the issue with what ever it is they are planning.

    Google in the last 2 years as not been able to produce a single thing that was polished. Everything goes out 80-90% done. Have you used the New Google maps on Desktops lately? I get stuck in photospheres, Random Zoom ins that force you to zoom back out again, Difficult to move or change a destination. Multiple steps for things that used to be one step.

    Or look at Google+ constant issues with +’s disappearing, albums not being searchable easily, gif and Myspacesque vomit.

    Apps that still crop photos in a weird way so you at times have no idea what the photo even is.

    Nik Software as produced two versions of Analog effex which could have been an update to Colour effex instead. (which by the way seems to crash Photoshop after they pushed it through once.

    Or my personal favourite they pushed through a update that broke Nik Software, and made you have to reinstall.

    Other than mail and search.. Google has screwed up damn near everything lately.

    They need to stop hiring spastic managers and let the engineers works and release things when they are done, not on a schedule.. Google’s “good enough” mentality means I can’t trust them with my Photo needs.

  • Adam Cross

    everything was fine until you said “Go mosaic big time. On the web, give users a huge wall of photos with infinite scroll to just scroll through and +1″ Noooo, no one wants to be over-saturated with images like that, it’s a horrible web experience, it’s okay on mobile devices because resolution and screen space is smaller, you think people with 1440 – 4k monitors will want a wall of photos staring at them? I don’t think so

  • Adam Cross

    If I’m sending to family or wanting to just show them something, I’ll always create a folder on Google Drive, upload the photos I want them to see and email them an invite. Plus, they can download the images if they want to.

  • Richard Friedman

    But what if you don’t want them to download the images, you just want them to see them, in a web browser. That’s the advantage of sites like Flickr or Picasaweb. And, you can add commentary on each photo, etc. while keeping the set of photos private.

  • Bossi

    I’d also include a tool that lets users auto-migrate their Flickr accounts to Google’s new service… that could be lethal to their competitors if they can offer a viable alternative.

  • Martin Nilsson

    With number 10, remember that Google is already in hot water with the European Union because they promote their own services first. They have already agreed to promote competing services in the top results. So it’s a great idea, but probably not something Google will be allowed to do.

  • Alex Canning

    The problem comes with conflating the needs of enthusiast and professional photographers with those of social photographers (Facebook, Instagram, G+ etc.) who both demand very different experiences.

    Having decent social integration is obviously important to photographers wishing to give their work exposure, but having it front and centre is unlikely to entice them away from Flickr or 500px.

  • Karl Louis

    What would make Google Photos unique and for sure very fast the market leader is if they offer an additional service like “Image Rights Protection”. In combination with the reverese image search Google has the knowledge to find (and prevent) copyright infringements.

  • Alin TheCaptain

    show me a picture on the web that can’t be downloaded on any pc using only the browser. no other special software.

  • Tor Ivan Boine

    Seems like you havent even tried Google+ photos.

    storage: theres already unlimited storage for photos up to 2048×2048 pixels.

    google analyzes the photos. So you can search for dog, and (almost) all of your dog photos will show. or sunset, or winter.
    the average user wont bother with keywords.

    mobile: well duh …

    lots of social photowalks “all” over the world. maybe not promoted by Google, but they exist

    mosaic view: check.

    photo editing software: Google+ photos already have that. on the web and on mobile.
    Google+ photos even support RAW.

  • James

    Dude, I turned ABP off the other day and suddenly every website was trying to sell me a 5DmkIII.

  • Richard Friedman

    I should clarify. What I meant was that I didn’t want them to have to download the images in order to view them. They can download them if they want, but it’s better that they are able to see the images in their browser, with any supporting text that I might add, etc.

  • Alin TheCaptain

    ok. i understand now. good point :)

  • Killroy™

    Google is too evil to do anything that would benefit their products (we are the product, not the customers). They buy tech (software) and destroy them within years and are never seen or heard from again.

  • Gina F.

    I spend a great deal of time putting my family photos in galleries and captioning them. I’ll continue to use Smugmug rather than trust a free site. I was a former user of the Google Reader. It doesn’t seem wise to trust Google with the storage of my photos.

  • Adam Cross

    the images are viewable full size in the browser :) downloading is only an option if you want to save the image. Also, you can set certain protocols that limit how people can edit the folder, so you can have the option for people viewing the folder not being able to download things if you don’t want them to.

  • Alex K.

    I just hope they will not link it to default Google’s 15GB space…

  • Bill Binns

    Agree with all of this with the exception of mosaic view. I have a fairly recent and fairly poweful (Core i5, 16gb ram) computer and a 20mb internet connection but the mosaic view on flickr takes a good 3-4 seconds to assemble itself. Scrolling is far from smooth and some photos never load at all showing black rectangles. 3-4 seconds doesn’t sound like much but it’s enough to not want to navigate away from the main page and force another reload when you return. It has really impacted how much I just wander around Flickr and discover photogrpahs from other people. Since the redesign, I basicly use Flckr as a cheap cloud backup for my photos and ignore the social side.

    I would add:

    The ability to display any image file type. Irfanview has been doing this for over a decade. Google should be able to pull it off on the web. Support video clips, animated gifs etc but allow people viewing images to filter them out if wanted.

    The ability to display images and clips taken with any app..Vine, Instagram, etc.

    The ability to store RAW files (possibly with an additional fee)

    Stats! The more the better. I want to know which of my photos are getting views, where those views are coming from etc. Flickr has ignored their stats functionality fo years. This should be right up Google’s alley.

    Some amount of control and choice about how my photos are displayed. I really miss Flickr’s old photostream view that showed thumbnails, captions and comments all on the same page.

    The choice between paying a fee or enduring advertising. If I pay to opt out of ads, I shouldn’t see any ads and the people who come to view my photos shouldn’t see any either.

    Offer some “enthusiast” and “pro” pricing levels. I happily pay over $100.00 a year for the use of Lightroom and Photoshop. As an enthusiastic amateur I would pay the same for the perfect photo sharing service. Especially if it could accomodate my entire 400GB digital catalog including RAW files.

  • Bill Binns

    Adblock enthusiasts shouldn’t complain when their favorite sites shut down or throw up paywalls. I make a point of clicking on ads from sites that give me their content for free. Costs me nothing and helps support the sites that I enjoy.

  • Tor Ivan Boine

    those black rectangles are probably images that is tagged NSFW/Nudity.

    Google photos support gif, jpg, png, raw and video files:)

    you can upload and store raw files at google+.

    all photos have a view counter. look under photo info.
    (flickr have always had stats. only for paid accounts though)

    there are no ads on google+

    it cost $1.99/month for 100GB. dont remember the higher tiers.

  • Carsten Schlipf

    > Seems like you havent even tried Google+ photos.

    You didn’t realize, who wrote this, right?

    Over 7 Million followers and over 7 Billion views.

  • Tor Ivan Boine

    haha. I almost never read who wrote the article. I would have thought that Thomas hawk knew a little more about google photos. Been following him for years.