It’s not easy being a photo-sharing site in the age of Facebook. “Facebook has pretty much won the war for mobile photo sharing,” Om Malik recently wrote for GigaOM. The mammoth social networking site gets more than 300 million photos uploaded every day, and has re-defined how we share photos online, becoming the first stop for everything from prom photos to baby pics.
So what’s the future for traditional photo-sharing companies like Photobucket, which came of age in the MySpace era but has struggled to find modern footing?
The company is working to re-invent itself as a photo service for the Facebook and Instagram era with two new products announced Thursday, including a file backup system and a slideshow product. Whether users ultimately adopt either of these services remain to be seen, but the developments show how photo companies are forced to re-position themselves around the space Facebook has claimed.
For one, Photobucket hopes to convince users to backup their photo libraries to a Photobucket account by syncing desktops, mobile phones and cameras when the devices are connected. This is a crowded arena, with lots of options for photo and file backups. There’s Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft’s SkyDrive, Amazon, and Box.net. There’s Flickr and Picasa, which allow for basic photo uploading, as well a variety of backup-specific programs like CrashPlan that will save copies of all your files, including photos.
So how does Photobucket hope to stand out of the crowd? CEO Tom Munro explained that the company, which was founded in 2003 and weathered both a News Corp. acquisition and spin-off, has plenty of users who still know and trust the Photobucket name. The site has more than 10 billion total photos uploaded, with an average of 4 million uploaded per day, which comes in ahead of Flickr’s approximately 6 billion.
Munro said they hope to succeed by creating a photo-specific backup site that appeals to the average consumer and allows for social sharing of the photos once they’re uploaded. It seems plausible that a clean interface and simple options could win over users, who can upload up to 2 GB for free, or pay $29.99 a year for 20 GB of space.
“We are still the largest dedicated photo and video sharing site, and with that comes a responsibility to our users to not only keep pace with the market but to lead it with this kind of forward thinking innovation,” Munro said in a press release.
The company is also rolling out the Photobucket Stories option, which seems like a less obviously useful service. Munro said the idea is that photos on their own don’t tell a complete story, which seems to contradict the “photo is worth a thousand words” mantra. But Photobucket Stories allow users to create collections of photos or videos, get others to contribute content, caption and arrange that content, and then publish those Stories across the web. Users can embed Stories or share them to other sites, including Facebook.
On the same day, only hours after Photobucket announced the re-positioning, Instagram rolled out significant changes to its incredibly popular app, also making changes to focus on social discovery and creating stories through photos. With 80 million users on Instagram having shared more than 4 billion photos since 2010, it’s hard to imagine how Photobucket can keep pace on its own.
“We’re not trying to build our own social graph,” Munro said of the push to get users posting Photobucket Stories to Facebook. “We think that Facebook clearly has a lot of photos, and it’s where consumers are putting many of their photos, so let’s just work with that. It’s not just about getting them in Photobucket. It’s about sharing, because we know that’s what people want to do now.”
Photobucket’s new web layout and backup features will be available in public beta beginning Thursday, and Stories will roll out in early September. The public beta will roll out to users slowly, but the first 50 GigaOM readers who use this link can get access immediately.