August 9, 2011
Photography has been an important part of my life in a number of ways. I am a photographer and authored a guide to better photography, spent years helping AOL build the You’ve Got Pictures product with Kodak, then morphed it into a standalone digital uploading service for AOL, and within that time used countless other photo services – often being delighted by some new shiny feature, then realizing the risk of these sites when they would shut down and my photos were gone. Even my own product at AOL was eventually shut down and the photos were moved to another company. I stopped using Picassa when Google bought them. Today I use Flickr, and if I stop paying or if Flickr decides to sell the product, god knows what will happen to my 11K+ photos. But there’s a new photo option in town that could end all this photo anxiety.
Last month, Jaisen Mathai (another large Internet company escapee) decided to create an open source photo service called OpenPhoto, that he ultimately funded via Kickstarter. Mathai was an engineering tech lead and software engineer at Yahoo! when he left to pursue OpenPhoto. The idea was to enable people to do more with their photos, without holding the photos hostage like many other services do, and also create a platform to be used by developers and designers to create their own applications (themes, lenses, photobooks…). Fortunately for Mathai, they’ve raised over $25K on Kickstarter so they are 100% funded and ready to go.
The big story here is that OpenPhoto is open source and free: it allows you to keep your photos on the cloud storage service of your choosing, such as dropbox, amazon S3, box etc, and the images are portable – you never give up control and ownership of your photos and can easily move them wherever you want.
Jaisen recently took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for me.
Tech Cocktail [TC]: What finally made you just go for it and launch the project on Kickstarter? Was there any particular inspiration that made it go from idea to reality?
Jaisen Mathai [JM]: This idea has been forming in my head for several years. The inspiration has always been there. I literally think about solving this problem ALL the time. Getting it from idea to reality was just a matter of time until the technology to make it happen was ready.
TC: For the lay person out there, what makes this photo service different? Will it be easy for anyone to use?
JM: OpenPhoto aims to be the final place you need to store, archive and share your photos. By focusing on ownership and portability it means you’ll be able to keep your photos and take them with you to any service you’d like – on the web or on mobile devices.
It will be as easy to use as signing up and starting uploading photos. The advanced features and options are completely optional.
TC: Can you give us any updates on where the project is at? When people will be able to start using it?
JM: People have already started installing the software on their own servers. They’ve even started beta testing the iPhone application. Both are considered alpha but they’re functional and even look good. You can see progress of what we’re doing on the website by visiting http://current.openphoto.me.
The hosted version, which will be the “easy to use” one, should be available near the end of September.
TC: How do you plan to sustain the service in the future, once the Kickstarter money is gone? Is this going to be a self-sustaining company/business?
JM: Yes. I believe there are many sustainable business models around the OpenPhoto platform for myself and other developers. I am actively thinking and pursuing options but am committed to the project.
A less vague answer is that I would like to follow the WordPress model of offering easy to use hosted software.
TC: What do you hope to achieve with this project? What would success look like in the near term and long term?
JM: Success would be that myself and others will be showing our children photos of their childhood 20 years from now. So many memories in the form of digital photos are scattered around the web and ultimately vanish (either literally or from memory).
I would also like to continue to build upon the platform and offering tools for people to do more with their photos.
TC: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JM: I’m really excited and the project has grown beyond myself. Patrick Santana has built a functional iPhone application, Florian Menevis has done countless designs and we have a team building the Android app. One last thing to mention is that OpenPhoto is going to be part of Mozilla’s WebFWD program.
In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the video from Mathai’s Kickstarter project.
If you are interested in learning more, watch Robert Scoble’s chat with founder Jaisen Mathai.
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