You may not be surprised to hear that, as a former DivX employee, I’ve often gotten the question, “How should I share my photos/videos/files with you?” What is surprising is that in the fast-paced world of the Internet, my answer has been consistent for more than 4 years.
- When your goal is to share media with friends, your goal is not to “publish” it and many services confuse these needs;
- When you share media, you want to preserve the quality of it for the enjoyment of your friends; and
- When you share media, you want to allow your friends to use the media in their preferred environments or workflows.
The distinction between “sharing” and “publishing” is an important one. If you are “publishing,” then you are disseminating a particular expression/experience (typically to a wide audience). Sharing, on the other hand, means that you are enabling the joint use of a resource. If what you want to do is “publish” your media, Facebook, YouTube and blogging platforms (like WordPress or tumblr) are great, but they make privacy complicated, don’t give your friends flexibility, and typically reduce the quality of the file you’re sharing.
Picasa and Dropbox resolve all of these problems elegantly, simply enough for the least technical of your friends, and with versatility.
Picasa is primarily a photo tool, but also has some video functionality, so while I would classify it as a unitasker, I think it is one worth your time (I think even Alton Brown would agree) The (free) desktop client (PC and Mac) is best-in-class, and has seamless integration with the web albums. The combination provides a fantastic UI for photo management, photo editing (cropping, red-eye reduction, brightness leveling, etc.), online backup, album sharing, collaboration (designated friends can add photos to your albums), stand-alone slide shows, print ordering, and of course, full-resolution download. Kodak, Shutterfly, Snapfish and others lock you into their services once you’ve uploaded and expire your account if you haven’t ordered prints recently. By contrast, Picasa syncs up to dozens of the top photo printing sites and is agnostic as to whether you ever order a physical print. SmugMug actually does solve a sharing problem more effectively, and allows your friends to download full resolution photos, but this is enabled only 1 photo at a time, which can be grueling for large albums, especially where Picasa makes it easy to download a full album. Bottom line here, “sharing” on any other service is merely publishing.
For any purpose other than sharing full albums of photos, Dropbox is the way to go. Dropbox is primarily an online backup/cross-device folder synchronization tool. By installing Dropbox on multiple computers (all associated with one user account), you can automatically synchronize any file you put in your Dropbox. Thankfully, though, Dropbox doesn’t stop there. It includes robust sharing features, enabling anything from sharing an auto-synced sub-folder with a friend who also has Dropbox to creating a web link to a file enabling anyone with the link to download the associated file. Like Picasa, Dropbox includes a (free) desktop app with an integrated web client. The Dropbox desktop app installs onto your PC/Mac and appears just like any other folder on the system, so if you know how to save a file to a folder on your computer, you know how to sync/share using Dropbox. There are competitors in this space (chief among them is Box.net), but, in large part because of the fantastic implementation of Dropbox’s native desktop client, it stands out markedly from the pack. It is worth emphasizing that Dropbox is filetype agnostic (while it handles photos admirably, the lack of photo-specific functions leads me to stick with Picasa for photo albums), so I can recommend it for sharing virtually any media.
A Note on Google Docs
I do want to give an honorable mention to Google Docs. Google Docs is king when it comes to version control and collaboration, and since it technically does allow download as well as robust privacy settings, it shouldn’t be considered a “publishing tool.” Still, because it requires conversion from native files and doesn’t integrate with any third-party internet offerings, it can’t be my recommendation for sharing media.
So, please do share your media, especially when you attend events and parties and promise someone they don’t need to use their camera since you’ll “share” the photos that were taken with yours. Perhaps Color and its progeny will fix all of this, but in the meantime, consider my advice.