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The Cloud, Day 13: Storing and Managing Pictures in the Cloud

I take a closer look at cloud-based options for storing photos like Flickr, Picasa, Facebook and Apple's Photo Stream service.

30 Days With the Cloud: Day 13

On Day 12 of the 30 Days With the Cloud journey I extolled the virtues of having precious photographic memories stored in the cloud, and automatically synced from my primary camera--my smartphone. Today I am going to dig a little deeper into the cloud-based options for storing pictures.

As I mentioned on Day 12, some of the cloud photo storage options have the benefit of being automatically synced with mobile devices. Every picture I take with my Motorola Xoom is uploaded to Picasa, the pictures I took with the Windows Phone 7 "Mango" smartphone were synced to a folder on my SkyDrive, and pictures I take with my iPhone or iPad are automatically shared with Photo Stream on iCloud.

It is also worth pointing out that I can "store" images on any cloud-based storage option. I can upload all of my images to Box, or Dropbox, or SugarSync, or any other online storage service as well. But, solutions designed with images in mind offer other benefits as well--like the ability to edit the photos and share them more easily with others.

To that end, the three options I find most compelling are Flickr, Picasa, and Facebook. Flickr offers virtually unlimited storage for free--with a monthly throttling caveat. With the free account I am limited to 300MB per month of photo uploads. I can choose, more or less, how many photos that is by changing the image resolution--and, hence, the file size--of the files. I can fit a lot more 500K pictures into 300MB than I can 5MB images.

Flickr lets me upload tons of pictures, but the free account only displays the most recent 200 at a time. The previous images are still stored there somewhere, I just can't easily get to them. If I have linked to the image in a blog or social networking post, though, the link will still work. Flickr also offers a Pro Account for $25 per year that removes most of the restrictions that limit the free account.

Picasa is owned by Google, and it is arguably the main rival for a service like Flickr. Picasa only provides 1GB of storage for free, but it doesn't count any images up to 800 x 800 pixels, or any videos up to 15 minutes in length against that quota. Since I am also signed up for the Google+ social network, the picture image limit is bumped up to 2048 x 2048 pictures. So, basically I have only 1GB of storage on Picasa, but I can basically store unlimited pictures as long as I stay within the image size limits.

Facebook is a social networking first, and a picture and video storage site only as a function of using the social network, but it has become one of the leading--if not the leading--site for storing and sharing pictures online. Facebook photo storage is virtually unlimited. The only restrictions are that you can only have 200 images per album, but you can create an unlimited number of albums.

Flickr makes it pretty easy to link to your photos and share them with the world, but if there is an advantage to Picasa or Facebook it would be the integration with the Google+ and Facebook respectively. The social network is the most natural place to share pictures with friends and family, so a picture storage and management solution that is tied to my choice of social network can be a plus.

That said, Facebook is probably not the best way to go due to the fact that it relies on Facebook. Picasa is woven into Google+, and Google+ users get more Picasa benefits, but Picasa is also a separate entity--like Flickr--that doesn't require Google+ access in order for me to share my images.

As with most things cloud, the "best" choice for an online picture storing and managing solution is subjective. The primary factor that makes one better than the next seems to be based on my other cloud decisions, and selecting the cloud-based photo service that syncs, and most closely integrates with my choice of mobile OS.

In my case, that makes the Photo Stream service with Apple's iCloud a winner. I take pictures with my iPhone or iPad, and they are automatically uploaded to Photo Stream, and synced with my other iOS devices and PCs. Conversely, I can take pictures from other devices or cameras, and put them in the Photo Stream upload folder on my PC and they will be automatically uploaded and synced as well.

The problem I have with Photo Stream as my primary cloud-based photo storage option is that it keeps them in an Apple / iOS bubble that works fine for syncing and storing the images, but doesn't make it easy to share them with others. By virtue of where my friends and family hang out online, and my own social network of choice, Facebook is my primary method of cloud-based photo storage.

Trusting all of your priceless memories to an online entity isn't really any more comforting than knowing your pictures will all be destroyed if your house catches on fire, though. Tomorrow I will take a closer look at the caveats and pitfalls.

Before I end Day 13, a quick side note about Day 11. Some readers correctly pointed out that I had forgotten about Amazon, and the Amazon Cloud Player in my discussion of cloud-based music options. You can purchase 20GB of Amazon Cloud Drive storage for $20 per year, and Amazon is throwing in unlimited space for music files with it for a limited time.

In essence, that makes it $20 per year for unlimited music storage online, and a Web-based music playing utility that makes your music accessible from virtually anywhere. I am in the process of uploading my music collection to Amazon--about four days and counting at this point. I'll report back later and revisit the cloud-based music options again another day.

On that note, I am sure there are more cloud photo options than those I have mentioned here. If you have one that you like and use that I didn't mention here, or other ways to link services like Flickr into your social networking sites, feel free to share it in the comments and I'll check it out.

Read the Last "30 Days" series: 30 Days With Windows Phone 7

Day 12: A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

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