Oh the Pain: Dealing with Online Photo Services in the Wake of Losing Mobile Me Galleries

Mobile Me galleries are my photo sharing method of choice and have been since I got a Mac.  In iPhoto, I need only click "share" and it's done.  When Eyefi cards came along, it got even easier as they could create mobile me galleries for me before I even imported fresh pictures into iPhoto.  

I have become something of an unofficial family photographer at events because people know the pics will show up on my web page, sometimes before the last car has left the parking lot of the event we were attending.  In spring of 2011 when Apple announced iCloud, I had just renewed my Mobile Me family pack.  "No sweat" I thought.  I could simply apply for a refund for the unused portion once iCloud went live and I moved everything over.  WRONG.  So I began my quest to replace mobile me and also decided I would look into a service that had large or limitless storage so I could back up my 200 GB horde of photos and home movies.


Make no mistake, I'm delighted with iCloud sync and with Photostream which now has photos show up on my iPad DURING family events provided there is wifi available.  The problem is that I'm being driven into the arms of blithering idiots in my quest to find a suitable replacement for Mobile Me galleries.  The first thing I tried was the path of least resistance.  I logged on to flickr and tried to renew my pro subscription.  No dice.  Something was wrong with my paypal account and neither paypal nor yahoo (owner of flickr) could help.  In the meantime, I read up on competing photo sites.  In addition to flickr, I tried smugmug, picasaweb, photobucket and dotphoto.  All of them have problems.  In fact some of the obstacles were so insurmountable I found myself pleading with Apple through their soon-to-disappear mobile me feedback page to extend mobile me idisk and galleries beyond June 30, 2012. (1/15/2012: some updates follow...)


Smugmug seemed like the brightest star. It had unlimited uploads at a modest annual cost.  It offered the ability to share or hide galleries.  It supported photos and up to 20 minute videos.  I had nothing but problems with smugmug's various uploaders.  First they failed to upload even simple photos without default public gallery settings.  Finally, after a week with smugmug support, I got the gallery uploader working only to find the flaw that will probably end my relationship with smugmug.  They don't handle failed uploads gracefully.  I started a 12 GB upload and went to bed.  I came back in the morning to see it still running.  I came back the next afternoon to find it still running.  If a file fails to upload, you know what smugmug's uploader does?  It uploads it again. And again.  Back in the 1970s we called this an infinite loop.  Today we call it software from the 1970s.  So I made it through 39 GB of uploads to finally stub my toe on a folder full of 2.5 MB 30 second clips that smugmug simply cannot cope with.  Update: One thing I was impressed with was smugmug's support.  While I doubt I'll keep it long term, I'm leaning toward paying for one year to see if I can make it work for me.  I'll wind up with smugmug and flickr pro for 2012 and we'll see if there's a clear winner later this year.


Picasaweb is another promising solution except that they require you to buy upgraded storage for files larger than 2048 pixels on the longest side.  I think it's been 7 years since I took photos at such a low resolution so this means pretty much all my photos would get stomped on or I'd have to pay storage fees that quickly cost more than smugmug or flickr.  


The next flickr hiccup in this saga was caused by my bank.  They decided that any charge from yahoo must be fraud so when the paypal pending transaction finally cleared and I went back to pay by credit card, the transaction got declined.  Six times.  I guess this looks like a pattern of fraud to a clueless bank but to me it looks like I had to do something 7 times that should have been done once.  Now I have a flickr pro account so I can back up all my photos and I will proceed to do that but flickr's 30 second limit still leaves me with a movie hosting problem. 

I'll update this article (or create new ones) as my transition from Mobile Me galleries progresses, but here are my findings so far:


Smugmug (basic $40 a year, power $60 a year)

Smugmug gets the second highest rating for their cost and once you get their buggy uploader working, their site works pretty well. Smugmug has good gallery organization features and privacy controls. The stated video limit is 20 minutes but the OS X uploader enforces 10 minutes. Smugmug loses out in a big way when you try to upload videos, though so I have to walk away.  Can Smugmug replace mobile me? No.  They can't reliably import videos.  Rating: 2.6 out of 5, Above average but lack of video compatability means you are stuck with photo only hosting which flickr does for $15 less. Uploaders: HTML5, OS X app, Flash, Java.  All are buggy and will HANG for any upload issue. Update: I'll probably be keeping smugmug basic or power for 2012.


Picasa (free*)

Picasa is free with google + with all photos automatically downsampled to 2048 pixels on their longest side once you exceed the miniscule 1 GB quota.  Picasa's HTML5 uploader is the best of the bunch.  Rating: 3 out of 5. Can Picasa replace mobile me? Yes.  Can Picasa back up all my photos and videos? Yes at a cost of about $50 for 200GB which puts it near the highest cost provider. Customer service from google, especially for free services is non existent. Update: I'll continue to use the free picasaweb as a "backup" but I'll probably wind up with flickr or smugmug long term.


Flickr (free with limitations, $25 Pro, 90 second video limit)

Flickr has a very good uploader and good integration with iPhoto.  Can Flickr replace mobile me? Yes.  Can Flickr back up all my photos and videos? No.  Not with their 90 second limit. Flickr customer service is only by email and is terribly slow.  it took 4 full days to find out what happened when I tried to use paypal to upgrade to pro back in November. Then I was left with a "pending" charge in my paypal account for a full 30 days after that.  Finally when I tried to pay with a credit card last night and my bank goofed and declined the charge, I assumed the problem was on yahoo's end after all the trouble I'd had back in November.  I guess I can use flickr but it's not a long term solution I'm comfortable with. Rating 3.5 out of 5.  Can Flickr replace iPhoto? Yes but without most videos. Can Flickr back up all my photos? Yes but I need to find a separate solution to back up most videos. Update: I'll be keeping flickr pro in 2012.

DotPhoto (free with limitations, $39 Pro)

DotPhoto has the worst uploader of the group and medicre gallery organization and privacy controls. Can dotphoto replace mobile me? Probably but their uploader is so awful, I will never find out. Rating 2 out of 5.

Photobucket (free with limitations, $25 Pro)

Photobucket is basically in a tie with flickr for pricing but they automatically downsampled to 1024x768 unless you upgrade to Pro.  Photobucket allows 10 minute videos so it does beat flickr in this one area.  After the pain I endured with smugmug, I'm not willing to pay to test features.  I need to see all features working before money changes hands. Rating 3 out of 5.