Making it easier to distribute photographs

One of the fun things about taking photographs of friends and family is sending them copies afterwards so everyone can enjoy them. And sharing photographs online is a relatively simple process. Choose the photographs worth sharing, click some buttons to get them to a reasonable size, upload them somewhere and then e-mail a link to “somewhere” to family and friends. Or maybe there are just one or two photographs of interest so you e-mail those to a friend. Some of these things are even simpler if you are using photo management software (like Picasa) that’s integrated with a website for sharing photographs (for Picasa, this site is Picasa Web Albums).

But what about sharing actual prints that people can put up on their fridge, in their photo albums or mail to grandparents? This is more cumbersome. In my case, the process to do this goes something like this:

1) Select “worthy” photographs in Picasa

2) Export those photographs (I set the “resize too” option to 1200 for 4×6 prints, 1600 for 5×7 prints)

3) Login to Sam’s Club Photo Center

4) Upload all the photographs

5) Tell Sam’s Club that I want 4×6 prints (singles or doubles)

6) Tell Sam’s Club where to send the photographs

7) Complete the checkout process (including credit card info)

So this isn’t so bad — after all, I’m just clicking buttons. No phone calls, no physical trip out to the photo lab, the whole process is virtualized. But it’s still labor intensive, even if it only takes a bunch of clicks.

So first of all, Picasa could stand to have much better integration with photo printing services (or maybe they just host their own like Apple does). The key points for better integration would be:

– Integrate my contacts, so I don’t have to go digging for people’s addresses.

– Save my credit card information

– Automatically resize photos before uploading, depending on the size I want to print photographs at so I don’t have to do it manually (or so that uploads don’t take excessively long when I’m just looking to print wallet sized photographs)

And then the other more innovative thing to do would be to integrate some sort of facial recognition technology into the process so I could take an album and choose a “Send Prints to Detected People” option. My photo printing site/software would then order and mail photographs that John was in to John, and the photographs that Suzie was in to Suzie, and so on and so forth. Each person’s face would need to be associated with their name and address.

The upside to an approach like this is ordering and sending photographs to friends becomes really easy. Your photo printing site or software, with the help of some facial recognition, basically does it for you. What photo site wouldn’t love something like this? If it worked reasonably well, it would surely increase photo printing sales for customers using the feature. And, all that heretofore useless facial recognition software would finally do something useful!

There’s an assumption here that people are only interested in photographs of themselves. I think people ARE, generally, very interested in seeing photographs of themselves, definitely more than most people would be willing to admit. But this approach certainly wouldn’t be complete. To get better coverage, maybe a social network could be thrown at the selection process, after all the problem here is basically one of relationships. “Send person x all photographs that contain person x and of all of the people person x has designated as friends and family.” Fundamentally, though, the question of whether someone would be interested in seeing a photograph of someone else isn’t something that’s easily answered (nor is the opposite question — who a person would want seeing a photograph of themselves, or, say, a photograph of their child).

Another problem here is a problem of physical addresses. With e-mail, fine, you can send separate emails out to people even if they live in the same place — no big deal. But I’d feel silly sending two sets of photographs to husband and wife that live in the same house. This could kind of be solved by working backwards from the address, if two people are designated to live at the same address, then those batches would get merged.

So it seems obvious that the facial recognition + photo ordering feature like what I’ve described wouldn’t be a slam dunk — I’d classify it as potentially interesting enough to try out and experiment with. At a minimum, photo sharing software like Picasa should make the printing process easier. My fingers are getting tired of clicking so much!