Fed Up with Flickr? Considering TroveBox

oldphotosFor a long time, the photo hosting & sharing site Flickr has been instrumental to my work, both online and off. Four years ago I wrote about how we use Flickr and Creative Commons to find pictures for the blog, and just this spring I shared some tips from Brian and George about how to use Flickr to make better slides. But Yahoo! does tend to hate it’s most dedicated users, and the recent ad-driven redesign has a lot of people casting about for alternatives to Flickr.

I learned about TroveBox (formerly OpenPhoto) when Audrey Watters tweeted a link to David Wiley’s post about a post-Flickr world. TroveBox is an open-source photo-hosting site (more on this in a minute) that ensures you maintain control over your photos by letting you choose where they live: you can use TroveBox’s servers, or you can keep them on a variety of other platforms: Dropbox, Amazon S3, Box, CX, or DreamObjects. By design, it’s set up to be easy to import your photos from Flickr, Facebook, and Instagram, so that you can find all your photos in the same place.

If you like Flickr for photo hosting, there’s a lot to like here. I’ve taken a screenshot of the TroveBox interface, and you can see several familiar details (click the image for full-size):

Click for full size.

Click for full size.

TroveBox offers everything you need to store your photos in a sane way, and makes it easy to get your data in and out. It also makes it easy to share your photos via e-mail or social media.
And it’s only $29.99/yr for a Pro account, which gives you a nice automatic Flickr import tool, as well as expected features like unlimited uploads and so forth. There are mobile apps for both iOS and Android. As a photo-hosting site, it’s got a lot to recommend it.

But. Flickr always had two sides: photo hosting, yes, but also photo discoverability. One of the key ways I use Flickr is to find photos to use in other places, and it’s advanced search tools are pretty decent: I can search by topic, by camera, and more. I can limit my search to Creative Commons-licensed photos, the whole bit. And when I find those photos, Flickr makes it easy: it offers the photos in a bunch of standard sizes, with the licensing info and links right on the page.

At least for now, TroveBox seems pretty uninterested in this. As far as I can tell, there is no way to search across TroveBox for photos taken by other people. (And, obviously, there’s nothing like the Flickr Commons. TroveBox also doesn’t have a community of groups and so forth, so if that’s important to you, then TroveBox isn’t for you. Photos on TroveBox will be harder to find than photos on Flickr. That may be fine, obviously–but it is worth thinking about going in.

And then there are all the different scale issues. A lot of things plug into Flickr automatically. Skitch, the screenshot widget, will automatically export to Flickr. The Eye-Fi card in my wife’s camera wirelessly puts one copy of every photo in her iPhoto library and one copy in my Flickr account, the better to have pictures of the kid and the dogs everywhere.

TroveBox’s open-source basis, and the ability to easily create ways to access its data, mean that it should be possible for folks to add clever features relatively painlessly. (One hopes, one hopes.)

I definitely agree with folks like David and Audrey: There’s no reason to trust Flickr as owned by Yahoo!, and there are good reasons to think about sites like TroveBox that give you more control over your data–and that don’t seek to monetize your photos by surrounding them with ads. Having said that, Flickr is probably still the champ for discovering photos and repurposing them.

Photo “My Old Film Photos” by Flickr user Mr. T in DC / Creative Commons licensed BY-ND-2.0

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