Hosting your dreams digitally
Yes, there have been many site, and many successful acqusitions. But it still seems to be in infancy as far as consumer solutions go. Theres a startup opportunity for few more companies to come with better stickiness to make successful companies.
I categorize the different solutions for different segments based on type of customers based on their usage/need for digital photo solutions:
Photo delivery for photo labs
I think Pictra Inc was the first in 1996-97. They offered a hosted solution allowing industrial photo labs to scan and deliver photos to the web. It offered sharing features as much as available in todays photo sites for a fee, I think $49 subscription. It was a pioneer to offer selling of photos and photo products via ecommerce.
Photorolo, from MCL Software Service is founded by the same Pictra folks and has a good base with photo labs.
Photo sharing for consumers - We've seen a whole bunch of players from Yahoo photos, to flickr, snapfish, picasa, kodak (and their ofoto), webshots, photobucket.
My friend Malay Kundu founded invino software, the first instant messaging software in 1996 before the IM markt got flooded and had the best photo sharing on IM Invino was sold to Youthstream for less than $10m in 98 and they pretty much lost it in m&a integration. Picasa offers hello, a new IM for photo sharing, which is good, but I like Picasa's photo organizing on a desktop best. Of course Flickr is best known for its tagging.
The new AJAX version of Yahoo photos has IM sharing, tagging and a slick look. I like how Yahoo has integrated photo sharing via email with Yahoo photos. This helps people who share photos by email (I am generally not one of them) and stores the originals on yahoo photos.
Mobile photo uploads: We were ahead of our times with my first startup Coola and we spent a lot of time integrating with Kodak (before ofoto aquisition) with a cool software to upload pics from cameras to hosted sites. Coola allowed the photos from Palmpix camera attached to a palm pilot to be uploaded remotely anywhere you want, and Kodak wanted it uploade to kodak.com
Then all phones didn't have cameras and some sprint folks didn't think it was useful.
Today most every photo site has that as a photo upload feature. Its still long ways to go to solve a problem for a customer. These sites should allow me to click and buy the photo from Yahoo, or click and share with my friend, instead of asking mt to upload as a separate boring task.
Photo printing solutions - print delivery, store pickup, print at home.
I've tried everyone of the photo delivery options. ofoto was good, after the kodak merger they offer some large partnerships and deals for store pickup at local pharmacies (cvs, i think).
I love the print quality of shutterfly best of them all.
They all offer borders and some tools for red-eye reduction etc. Walmart.com seems to measure picture size differently and always chops off some pictures for me.
Why can't Adobe just do it? Here's another of my dreams. I used photoshop to edit my pictures. I should be able to simply click and order prints or share with others too. Adobe doesn't have to do built a hosted photo solution afresh. They can simply parter with any online photo player for starters.
International delivery of printed photos - Kodak was a pioneer in this and I loved kodak.co.in for delivering my pictures to India by a simple upload. They had similar options in competitive prices in many far east countries, now it seems to be a neglected site. I heard about 3 other options that has come up, locally from India. I'll check them out and write again.
Photo commerce - printing photos, ecommerce of photo gifts
All the photo sharing sites do this too. But I think this is a different market, different people who would like to buy or gift such products. Don't we all buy fundraiser gifts for our kids schools? I bought my child's artwork as a gift for grandma to help fundraise for her school or to get those people off my back. I think thats a much viable gift buyer channel than the same photo sites selling to consumers who want to share photos.
Photo search - Picasa took the first step. Riya is cool in its image recognition. My same friend Malay Kundu has a cool image search technology, but too bad he has decided not to focus on conumer photo markets.
Photo blogs - Blogger has done it as part of its mobile blogging, pretty seamlessly to upload photos to a blog, also from a mobile phone. I haven't had a chance to check Yahoo moblogging. There are also a few which are like slideshow software and varients of it.
Why don't I write again after checking these out?
Future: I've written about several of my dreams already.
I have my heart out for an obvious one - for photo sites to integrate into online communities to allow using photos to communicate (build upon photoblogs) and build a whole new business model integrating digital communication using pictures and communities.
One more is a digital scrapbook site. ok,this is not all for current hosted photo site customers.
There are a lot of site offering digital scrapbook components. I dream of one which will replace the $2b scrapbook market digitally allowing enough creativity to build and host our dreams and stories digitally.