Photo sharing is one of the top segments online and the top 10 photo sharing sites in the US draws as many as 50 million users every month. According to Hitwise, 4.9% of all Internet traffic went to the top 20 social networking sites like YouTube, MySpace, Photobucket, Flickr and Facebook, making photo sharing one of the top social media killer applications.
We have been reviewing the online photo sharing industry and have covered Flickr, Photobucket, Kodak Gallery and Shutterfly from a Web 3.0 perspective. The online photo sharing industry is booming and many new players like BubbleShare, Riya, Ditto (image search engine), etc. have entered the fray.
The Context for these photo-sharing sites is to allow users to upload, share, search, view, rate, tag or comment on uploaded photographs. Commercial photo album services, like Shutterfly and Kodak Gallery are designed mainly to enable users to edit, customize and buy prints of their photos or make personalized photo products.
The Content of most of the photo-sharing sites is mostly user-generated, but the content manipulation environments are impressive. Most of the photo-sharing sites have very good tools that allow users to edit photographs or to upload in batches. While Flickr allows free monthly uploads up to 20 MB, Fotki allows an entire folder of images to be uploaded with a single click. New entrants like BubbleShare and Riya have introduced advanced features like audio-enhanced slide shows that can be embedded into any web page, computerized face recognition and tagging, etc. BubbleBar, a downloadable tool from BubbleShare enables automatic downloading of new images to the desktop.
Sites like Shutterfly and Kodak Gallery have very good Commerce features and users can create and purchase a host of custom photo products. Kodak also retails cameras and accessories. Other photo-sharing sites like Flickr have partnered with e-commerce sites to retail personalized photo products like photo books, calendars, keepsake boxes, luggage tags, photo frames, desk organizers, etc.
Community features on most of the “private” photo-sharing sites center around address books and contact lists. Flickr has the best Community function amongst “public” photosharing sites.
Personalization in most of the photo sharing sites center around creating personalized merchandise, which is great. Before the advent of the internet photo industry, the option of creating a plethora of photo merchandise as gifts for friends and family simply did not exist.
Most photo sharing sites lack punch when it comes to contextual photo search. Vertical Search in photo sharing sites like Webshots or DotPhoto, allow users to search for photos by season, family, entertainment, sports, art and culture, travel, pets, and news, etc. Flickr’s approach via smart tagging (including geotags) is one of the best in this category. Riya attempted a new method of image recognition which hasn’t taken off.
In the recent years, there have been a number of acquisitions in the photo-sharing space. MySpace acquired Photobucket for $250 million in May 2007. Yahoo had acquired Flickr for $30 million in 2005, a steal pricepoint given where things are right now. The site grew by 346% in the following year. With communitainment at its peak and photo and video sharing sites witnessing rapid rise in unique visitors, a number of small and independent photo-sharing sites are acquisition targets for the larger media companies who are looking at building stronger community based verticals. The Newspaper industry, for example, will need to acquire some of these.
Online photo sharing is one of the largest, most mature, and advanced verticals, attributing tremendous mindshare in the internet population. A true internet killer app, the segment deserves a place in every internet conglomerate’s portfolio. However, not all big players have it yet, indicating future M&A activities by IAC, Time Warner, Microsoft, Comcast, and Viacom.