For the last couple of weeks I have been playing around with Sharpcast. A combination of a software and a web service that let you organize and share your photos.
The screenshot at the top of this article is from the desktop application. This is the shared and web based version of this album.
Sharpcast is in public beta and the team has a lot of work in front of them, but based on my experience with this beta I can say that these guys have a potential winner on their hands.
What is Sharpcast?
- An organizing software like iPhoto, Picasa, Photoshop Album and all other photo management software out there
- A web service storing all your pictures and letting you organize and share through the net
- Clients for mobile devices letting you browse, share and add pictures from your mobile phone
We have iPhoto, Picasa and Photoshop Album for image management on our computers. We have Flickr, Webshots and Zooomr for sharing pictures. We have galleries and photo management software included in our phones. What’s so special? Two words: sync and usability.
Currently the Sharpcast desktop client can’t compare with the features of iPhoto and Photoshop Album. The web service can’t compare with Flickr or Zooomr. But the combination of the Sharpcast desktop client and the web service is something new and extremely useful. They’re always in sync. Completely automatic.
It isn’t very often I find software with a potential to make my life with digital media significantly easier. Sharpcast has this potential. You won’t believe me before you have tried it. And, you need a tiny bit of imagination, because this is a beta and some important features is missing.
A quick use case
I download this image management application from the Sharpcast site on my computer at home. I register for a free account at Sharpcast. I add hundreds of images and organize them into albums, giving the images captions, turning images around etc…
The desktop application is fast and extremely easy to use. For hundreds and thousands of pictures a fast and reliable locally installed application is the only way to go. Sharpcast still lacks some important features, but this is a beta.
Then I log on to my account at Sharpcast. All my images with all the captions and album information is already in there.
So for the really cool part. The next day at work I install the Sharpcast application on my laptop. Log on to my account and it starts to sync immediately. A minute later I have all my images with all the captions and album information on my laptop as well.
I add a couple of pictures and a new album on my laptop at work. Back home the same evening all of those images immediately turn up in Sharpcast on my desktop computer.
Okay. Time for the grandmother test. I call my mother and after a while and a tiny bit of help she has the application installed and an account with Sharpcast. Seconds later she is happily browsing a nice slideshow of the pictures I have shared with her. Not a slow generic web based slideshow, but a blazing fast locally cached slideshow only shared with her.
Then, a couple of minutes later the first pictures that she shares with me pop up on my computer… My retired mother needed a couple of minutes to understand the application and start sharing pictures with me. Sorry Flickr and every single Flickr clone out there. You’re not fast and easy enough. Not for that kind of use.
This is how I manage my images today
- I use Adobe Photoshop Album to manage my master image collection on my computers at home
- I use SyncBackSE with a bunch of scripts to make backups on a local drive and a remote server
- I use Photoshop Elements to edit my images
- I use Flickr, Zooomr, Gallery2 and ShutterPoint to share and some times sell my pictures
- I use Adobe Photoshop Album to manage a sub set of my pictures on my laptop at work
If Sharpcast turns into the service I want I can eliminate everything but Photoshop Elements from this list. I don’t think Sharpcast will or should compete with Photoshop as an image editing software.
With some small additions to the current version of Sharpcast I will start the transition before Sharpcast is even close to the combined features of, let’s say – the combination of Photoshop Album and Flickr.
Simply because I am already hooked.
I would compare this with the complete revolution of getting a proper personal video recorder like a Tivo. You’ve had the possibility to record and play back television for decades using a VHS recorder. Still, because of usability and convenience the Tivo completely revolutionize your recording habits.
Mobile in sync
Sharpcast also works on the go. At this point Sharpcast only support Windows mobile, but more phones will be supported later. I currently use a Nokia 6630 so I haven’t been able to test the mobile capabilities. However, they promise an application that will let you manage and sync images to your mobile as well. Snap a picture with your cameraphone and it’s on your laptop, desktop and the web as soon as the phone syncs.
The business case
Currently Sharpcast is funded by venture capital from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Selby Venture Partners and Sigma Partners. The free beta gives you 2 GIG of image storage. They’ll release premium accounts and probably partner with other companies and mobile carriers to build their own income and business.
My main feature requests
I have been in contact with Sharpcast. They listen and have a responsive customer support. This is what I need before I will start using Sharpcast as my primary image management system:
- A commercial service giving me 100 GIG of start storage and about 5 GIG of monthly storage. Adding up to an unlimited amount of space. The storage could be provided by a third party.
Amazon S3 sounds promising. Big, reliable and secure.
- Search functions in the desktop client and in the web service. Search based on image name, caption, description and tags.
- Timeline view. Regardless of albums it should be possible to bring up a view with the newest pictures on top and all pictures available by scrolling down.
- Automatic image rotation based on exif info.
- Tagging. Easy tagging of photos and compatibility with the tags from Photoshop Album. When I export pictures from Photoshop Album and import them into Flickr the tags from Album remains. I want this kind of compatibility in Sharpcast.
- Tight integration with the most popular image editing softwares. “Open in Photoshop Elements”. Automatic version sets that keep the original and organize edited versions together with the original.
- A “mail this image through Gmail”-function.
- Export original image from the Sharpcast desktop client (right now the export function in the desktop client only exports a scaled down version of the original image).
- “Print this image” from the desktop client. Printing to a photo printer should be done like in Canon Easy Photo Print. The only application I know of that is user friendly enough when it comes to photo printing.
- A possibility for viewers to comment and rate pictures in the web albums.
- Support for RAW and PSD (photoshop files).
- An open API. Both for the web service and for the desktop client. Let people build plugins and filters for the desktop client and new services on top of the web service.
Sharpcast has built an amazing sync engine and are planning to build systems that let you sync more than pictures between devices. Think all kinds of digital media, adress books, calenders etc…
And if you’re a clever programmer please join them. They’re hiring. …just so I’ll get that version of Sharpcast with all my 12 feature requests a bit faster!