For a while now I’ve been chipping away at a photo hosting and photo sharing product that I’ve dubbed Shoebox. It started as an experiment, and it’s become an ongoing, iterative journey in to what a lightweight photo sharing service can be. But why even start? Do we really need another place to store our photos? Why Shoebox?
At the time of writing this, I have about 18 years worth of photos to look back on. In the past two decades we have gone from the first digital SLRs to small mirrorless cameras with amazing low-light and video performance, and at the same time, we have seen the rise of a completely new class of camera — phone cameras — with impressive computational performance.
And as cameras have gotten better, smaller, and more ever-present, the volume of photos we take per year has dramatically increased. Most of us shoot more photos on their phone in a month than they do on a dedicated camera in year.
The sheer volume of photographs brings with it some very interesting problems. There are commodity problems — like storage and backups/recovery. There are communication problems — where images have become a primary way of communicating. But the thing that I am really interested in is the value that lives inside of these images.
While we relegate them down to bits and bytes stored on devices and in clouds, their meaning is much more than that; many of these images are triggers for our mind. At minimum, they are a picture of us smiling in front of a point of interest, that open up our memories of a trip we took. Often, they are a set of photos that remind you of who was there with you, who you were back then, and why you were there. These photographs are a rich source of memories and emotions.
Most of these memories are private ones, and we have plenty of ways to share them with our friends — mostly through different messaging services. There are even some dedicated products for this, like Cocoon.
However, in many cases, these images and these memories can also convey stories; ones that we want to make available to the public realm. And in today’s environment, most ‘publicly’ shared photos live within the walled gardens of the service they were posted on. Instagram has become one of the worst offenders here, where even on a completely public account they throw up a dialog that forces you to log in to keep consuming. So what about our favorite photos in a public space?
For us who want to share our photos openly on the web, we deserve a spot. We deserve a place where — ten years from now — we ourselves, and others, can find these moments back. A lot of the last ten years still exists within Flickr, but some of it is now hidden after people have lapsed on their Pro accounts. On top of that, it is a pretty tough place to traverse.
I believe in the value of a lightweight way to share your photos publicly, and I am excited to put my energy in to building a place that deserves our photos. This is why I started chipping away at building a service that would allow me to share just a curated sliver of my cache of 18 years worth of photos.
It started as a static website that I generated out of a very dingy GitHub repository, and is now a prototype that allows anyone with an account to upload photos, add them to photo sets, and tag where they were taken. It is a place that is not a walled garden, and it’s a place where I am excited to (re)post anything from some great get-togethers of smart minds (at Brooklyn Beta, XOXO, Build, CreativeMornings, etc.), to trips that I took, to photo projects small and large.
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