Over the past year or so I’ve been using an online service called Everpix to automatically store every picture taken on all our iOS devices, automatically synchronise pictures from the iPhoto libraries on both our iMac and MacBook, and automatically suck in and keep updated all the pictures I had on a variety of other services such as Flickr, Instagram and Facebook. Having pulled all these pictures in it did a really nice job of detecting duplicate pictures highlighting when the same picture was on multiple sites, and allowed me to browse through all the thousands of digital pictures I’d built up over the years. Daily it would send an e-mail highlighting old pictures taken on that day in previous years. They had a free service that stored only your most recent pictures, but for a reasonable $5 monthly charge they stored unlimited pictures.
However it wasn’t to last – last month Everpix announced their closure, as they weren’t going to be able to pay their hosting bill. If you have a read of this article about the closure in The Verge you can easily understand why – whilst they were paying to host loads of pictures for the free service, not enough of those had converted into paying customers. So I, like other Everpix users started the search for an alternative.
After a bit of a look around it seemed like there were plenty of options. Services like Dropbox and Google+ offer photo storage as part of their offering, and of course there are the specialist photo hosting sites such as Flickr, SmugMug and the rest that can store pictures. There are also services very similar to the Everpix offering such as PictureLife, ThisLife, MyShoebox and Loom with a variety of similar features but various pricing models. The arena is also starting to attract the interest of the big boys, with Adobe having retired their previous online hosting and sharing service in favour of Adobe Revel which is supported by the latest versions of Photoshop and Premier Elements, alongside a suite of other Adobe applications.
First though, if you’re just looking for a secure way to backup your pictures and nothing else, I wouldn’t waste time and money on any of these, just make use of one of the many online backup services and just backup the whole computer. Personally I’ve been using the excellent Backblaze for a while, which has a dead simple per computer pricing model so for $3.96 per computer per month I have a complete copy in the cloud. It operates much like Time Machine on MacOS X, and software like Acronis TrueImage on the PC in that you can set it up and forget about it. It continuously backs up your computer to the cloud, fully automatically and without any need of intervention. Basically the only time you need access it is if you need to restore a file. If backing up your pictures is all you’re worried about, stop reading now and head over to Backblaze! If your house gets hit by lightning and it scrambles all the electronics in your house, as happened to a friend of ours recently, having an off-site backup like Backblaze is worth the small monthly outlay.
Anyway, if you’re still reading, you’re probably looking for something more than just a straight backup.
Looking at all the services I had a bit of a list of important points to consider before spending the large amount of time uploading all my pictures to the service, the main points included (in no particular order):
- Ease of uploading both from mobile devices and computers
- Cost of the service – what is the monthly cost going to be now and how much will it go up as the number of pictures grow
- How does it handle duplicates – this is especially important if you are paying for space as a lousy deduplication algorithm will leave you paying twice for the same picture.
- Long term service viability – is this a small startup for which this their only product or part of a bigger offering from a large company.
- Other bells and whistles – are there any additional features that are attractive.
When considering all of this, this is for our combined photo and video library which runs to over 30,000 pictures and videos stretching back over a decade, size wise running to over 250Gb of data.
Starting with Dropbox and Google+ whilst the iOS apps work pretty well sucking every picture off, there is no real desktop integration with iPhoto for example, and both have significant limits - Google+ to 15Gb, whilst Dropbox is limited to 3Gb unless you put down $10 a month to lift that limit to 100Gb. Flickr and SmugMug are possibilities, Flickr especially now it offers 1Tb of space for free, however they are very clearly designed to be used as sites to present your best images, not as general storage for a large photo collection, so in particular neither offer the set up and forget synchronisation with a desktop that Everpix offered. There is also one major concern with Flickr as they have in the past shown a tendency to permanently delete accounts for arbitrary violations of their terms of service, and even when they have admitted they were wrong to do so have been unable to restore the accounts. If this is going to be a main backup of your photo collection a service that could potentially do that is not particularly attractive!
Looking at the services that are more similar to Everpix, over the past month I’ve had trial accounts with all four, and even paid out for a month to give PictureLife and ThisLife a good workout. The big fly in the ointment for PictureLife, ThisLife and Loom straight off is the price. I don’t for a moment blame them, but for a collection the size of ours the storage cost mounts pretty quickly. This is made worse by the services having duplicate detection that is not nearly so good as their promotion might suggest. A big problem is to do with the way iPhoto deals with exports in that it rarely if ever exports the original image. Even if you load a picture from your iPhone into iPhoto and export it immediately to Flickr, iPhoto will re-encode the picture, so at times I was getting three, even four versions of a picture once edits and other uploads had been taken into account. For any service where you’re paying for space this is an expensive issue!
In terms of features PictureLife, ThisLife and Loom are pretty good. PictureLife will even suck in your albums from iPhoto (although it fails to detect when those albums have been uploaded to Flickr which results in loads of duplicate albums), and ThisLife has a really excellent facial recognition system that once trained does a pretty good job at working out who is in a particular picture. Another really nice unique feature with ThisLife is the joint account feature that allowed us to pull together pictures from all sorts of different sources. Ultimately though with the numbers of pictures we have, the killer with all three of those services is the monthly cost, which is only going to go up. However nice the services are the poor deduplication coupled with the monthly outlay for a non-essential service means they weren’t my long term choice.
I’ve deliberately separated out MyShoebox (not to be confused with Shoebox from Ancestry), because unlike the others it is following a more Everpix like pricing model. The main difference is that rather than limiting the time period that can be uploaded for the free account it degrades the resolution. Like Everpix it’s another startup, this time running out of Toronto. It’s not as feature rich as PictureLife or ThisLife, in particular lacking any of the linking to third party services online, and lacks a bit of the polish of Everpix, however it does what is says on the tin. I was not overly impressed with the desktop synchronisation client which on the Mac seemed to be a wrapper around a web based uploader and certainly wasn’t as nice as other services. It also pops up a really annoying “are you sure you want to exit” type modal dialog whenever you try and close the website. In terms of special features it includes some nice analysis of the pictures through scanning the metadata. Certainly it scores on price, and will be even more attractive if they improve the desktop synchronisation, but with the Everpix experience, is the pricing sustainable?
That brings me onto the big boys offering, Adobe Revel. In terms of longevity, Adobe have been in the game for a very long time, so in terms of a secure bet for a company to do business with they seem a good choice. The pricing is also really attractive. For the first month you can upload as much as you want for free, from then on you can remain on a free account, but you are limited to uploading 50 photos a month, alternatively they have a pro plan for $6 or £4 a month which gives you unlimited uploads. There are no costs for storage, Adobe will basically take as much as you can throw at them. You can upgrade online, but they also offer a subscription option on iOS devices through which you could potentially pay just for a month if for example you were going on a big trip, then drop back to the normal service limited to 50 uploads.
Adobe are coming at this from a slightly different angle, essentially Revel is acting as a central repository for all your pictures and videos. The latest version of Elements Organizer that ships with both Photoshop Elements 12 and Premiere Elements 12 has a background agent that will synchronise your entire Elements Catalog into Revel. If you’re not wanting to buy into the whole Elements ecosystem they do a free Revel app for the Mac, iOS devices and Windows 8 which include limited picture editing features alongside upload and synchronisation features. A number of other Adobe apps such as Photoshop Express, Grouppix and Videobite also hook up to Revel. Revel will also pick up on all the metadata associated with pictures although you’ll need to be using Elements as a Revel client to gain access to a lot of that.
Certainly in terms of the offering, I’ve found Revel the most attractive. Although limited, the apps on iOS and Mac are polished and stable. If you are an Elements user on the Mac, one big gotcha is that the Elements Organizer, being cross platform doesn’t talk directly to the Revel application, so you will definitely end up with two copies of your Revel library locally if you have the option turned on in Revel to store pictures locally as Elements will try and download copies of all your pictures into it’s catalog. However with the subscription option means that you won’t be tied to a monthly cost, which if you don’t pay will result in all your pictures being wiped, and Adobe is a big enough company that they’re not going to collapse in a mountain of debt as a startup might.
After all of that, there really isn’t anything yet that compares to Everpix in terms of what it did and the polish, whilst I’m using Revel to store pictures, it lacks a lot of the connectivity that Everpix had – essentially with Revel you’re getting unity by signing up to the Adobe way of doing things, rather than the way Everpix tries to bring it all together. If you want a lot of the Everpix like features to explore your photo collection, and you either have a limited sized photo collection or money isn’t an issue I’d certainly look at PictureLife, ThisLife and Loom, but for any large collection beware of how much it might cost in the long term. Ultimately though if you’re wanting a secure backup of your pictures, get something like Backblaze to keep your data safe, and consider services like this as an added extra, not you only form of backup.