I’m pretty excited about the OpenPhoto project. In an era where more and more of the web consists of closed silos built with user-generated content that no longer belongs to the user, OpenPhoto is working toward a model where users retain ownership and control, without sacrificing the social interaction that makes the web awesome.
First, let’s look at the problem. When it comes to storing and sharing your photos, Flickr is still a leader. But man, the bloom is off the rose.
This pop-up still kills me a little every time I use my Flickr account. Because it reminds me that the reason that Flickr is no longer innovating and kicking ass is because it’s basically just a place for Yahoo to show ads. Oh well.
More importantly, Flickr is a silo. Like SmugMug, or 500px, or Facebook is a silo. When your photos are there, they’re no longer really yours (you can’t remove them from one service and/or move them to another without losing tags, comments, etc.). In some cases you can’t even download the originals you uploaded. And none of these silos will be around forever; when they’re gone, poof - there go your photos. If everyone held an original copy of their photos on their own device, that might not be such an issue, but I know from experience that most non-web professionals tend to equate uploading a photo to Flickr or Facebook with saving it for posterity. Doh!
OpenPhoto’s approach is radically different. Instead of uploading your photos to OpenPhoto (the way you would upload them to, say, SmugMug), you upload them to your own storage service using any app built on top of the open-source OpenPhoto API (including the hosted service, OpenPhoto.me). Supported storage services include Amazon S3, DropBox, and RackSpace Cloud - that list will grow as more developers enhance the software to address their own needs - and access priveges are always under your control.
You can move your photos from one service to another, without losing crucial data like comments. And even though your images have moved, any OpenPhoto app accessing your photos will still be able to access them at the same urls.
I think the true power of OpenPhoto will become more apparant as services built on top of it reveal a degree of interoperability and portability that most web users have never experienced. Imagine firing up a new Instagram-style app and instead of it being empty, it’s pre-stocked with your entire photo history for you to build upon.
And personally, I hope this is just the tip of the iceberg. Photos might be the most obvious social object to build a federated network around, but imagine extending ownership, portability and interoperability to social objects like check-ins, tweets, posts, and reviews? I’m excited by the prospect of a future where services like Yelp or Facebook feel signicant pressure from upstarts who a) play well with others and b) put their users in full control of their content.