Consumers happily snap away, with digital cameras and camcorders making it ever easier to record the Kodak moments of birthdays, holidays and travels. But too many digital cams have become "write only" devices. Their images stay locked away on tapes or disks, never to be seen—much less shared with friends and loved ones.
Yet the Internet is bursting with options for safely sharing photos with friends and loved ones. Many consumers resort to simple E-mail, a laborious process for the sender and receiver. Others rely on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. But they make it tricky to keep images private, and they have limited sharing options, such as ordering large prints or photo books.
Better bets are the scores of photo- and video-centric sites that offer inexpensive and powerful tools for preserving and sharing your memories. Many also offer editing tools and uploads directly from mobile phones.
[Read how cellphones are getting more powerful cameras.]
Here are some of our favorites, categorized by what you might want from a site:
Flickr has a thriving community of people who share photos by theme, organizing shots by user-generated tags such as "skateboard" or "London." It's one of the easiest sites to use, whether for community or private sharing. For each photo, users can elect to share with family, friends, or all Flickr users. Simply E-mail a link to friends and family who, when they click on it, see the photos as either a slide show or as an online photo album. A free account is available but holds only a paltry 100 megabytes of photos. A $25-a-year account holds an unlimited number of photos.
[Flickr is also among the few sites that have enabled "geotagging" of photos.]
Shutterfly offers unlimited uploads and storage free of charge. The site offers one of the widest array of options for getting photos made into prints, calendars, books, and other products, which is where Shutterfly makes much of its money. The site is easy to navigate and makes it relatively simple to share the photos electronically with friends and families. Users can send a link to a specific album or to a password-protected collection of albums. Shutterfly does not yet allow users to download full-resolution copies of their photos but will send them on a DVD for a fee.
Photobucket is best known for making it easy to post photos from its albums on other sites, especially social networking services like MySpace and Facebook but also eBay, iGoogle, and Blogger. The free account includes 1 gigabyte of storage, or enough for 1,000 low-resolution images—the gratis service restricts images to a relatively low 1 megabyte each. But Photobucket's software can upload a batch of photos while also converting them to the right resolution. A Pro account costs $40 a year and stores 10 gigabytes of images, each of which can be a higher-resolution 5 megabytes.
SmugMug is a favorite among more serious photographers, including professionals or wannabes who offers photos for sale through the site. But it's a good option for anyone with its elegant and ad-free look. SmugMug doesn't offer a free account, though newcomers can try the service for 14 days before having to pay. The cheapest account costs $40 a year and comes with unlimited storage of full-resolution images that can also be downloaded by friends and relatives. For $60 a year, SmugMug will let you customize its site with a personal look, and digital downloads can be sold through the $150 Pro account.
Motionbox excels at keeping video sharing simple and private for families and friends. Besides easy uploads of standard-definition video, the site is one of the few that can handle high-definition footage in the native format used by many camcorders without having to waste time in converting files. Of course, uploading HD clips itself takes enormous time. Motionbox offers a free account that includes 750 megabytes of storage, but users should turn to the $40-a-year option for unlimited storage of videos that can be of any length. Either account includes online video-editing tools that, while not sophisticated, are easy to use.
YouTube is for more than just broadcasting goofy videos and pirated clips. The site offers unlimited, free storage for personal videos and makes it possible to keep them private except for designated viewers. Videos are limited to 10 minutes or 2 gigabytes but within those limits can be shared in high definition. Support is largely limited to online options, but it is ample in its many help topics, tutorial videos, and thriving user forums. YouTube, of course, also offers the chance to share your better videos with a world community of viewers.
Phanfare is a multifaceted service that makes it easy to upload and share videos at a website of your choosing (yourchoice.phanfare.com). Users can keep the videos private with a password they can send to friends and family. After a 14-day trial, users must pay $50 a year. The fee buys unlimited storage for videos, though each clip is limited to 10 minutes. Users can also store and share full-resolution photos through the site, which is one of the best in combining photo- and video-sharing. No ads compete with your precious memories, and Phanfare provides good support, including live techs available by phone during business hours.
Metacafe is a site that's more about short-form documentaries or films than vacation clips or videos of the kids. Aspiring Hollywood types can test their skills with 80,000 volunteer reviewers, who boost popular films to the top of the site's well-ordered categories. Categories include "how to," "news and events," and professionally produced content from media partners. Metacafe will even pay producers for popular clips, with some amateurs reportedly doing well. Membership is free.
[Read how cameras themselves are making it easier to snap great pics.]