As Mike Arrington wrote back in April, it can sometimes feel like certain photo-sharing websites have more of a hostage-taking approach to their business models than a “lets-please-the-customer” model. The photo-sharing experience then effectively becomes synonymous with platform lock-in — if you try to leave, you may not be able to take your images with you. Or, if you do, you’ll have to pay the price, Budnick. (But, wait, whose photos are they again? Oh, right.)
It’s for this reason that Jaisen Mathai is building a service called OpenPhoto. At the end of May, Mathai quit his job at Yahoo (like so many before him), where he had served in various engineering roles since 2007. Because of the frustration of having to watch Yahoo let an awesome startup like Flickr fizzle, (“I was extremely frustrated by the lack of product vision”, he says) and having years of experience building applications — and even building his own photo apps — Mathai took to Kickstarter.
Unfortunately for him, however, there are already more photo-sharing applications than there are humans on the planet, and photo apps (for how much we seem to write about them), was one of the demographics to receive the least amount of venture funding over the last year.
This is part of the reason why Mathai has taken to Kickstarter instead of chasing down VCs and angels. It’s also because, to use a tired phrase, Kickstarter is a site designed for the people, with funding by (and for) the people. And Mathai says, knowing it may sound trite, that he’s trying to do the same thing with OpenPhoto — not only that, but he’s trying to avoid the mistakes that Yahoo made with Flickr.
The motive: Mathai says that he believes, plain and simply, that the photos one uploads and shares on the Web belong to that person and that person alone — and should, therefore, be portable. If one decides to switch to a different service, then they should be able to easily move all of their photos, tags, and comments to the other service. It’s a no hostage policy. (The U.N. is going to love it.)
With OpenPhoto, Mathai is transparently attempting to put the user back in control of where their photos are stored, so the service will allow users to freely select which cloud storage and database services meet their needs, based on whichever selling point matters to them — price, security, and trust. If a new service comes along, users can take their photos to that service without losing a single photo, tag or comment.
For example, OpenPhoto users can select Amazon S3, Rackspace Cloudfiles, Dropbox or any other service with a file storage API to store their photos. (This also applies to databases such as Amazon SimpleDb or MongoHQ for their tags and comments.)
In turn, Mathai wants to build two versions of OpenPhoto — one installable, and one hosted — yet both are free and allow photos to be easily uploaded and shared via email, Facebook, Twitter and more. Mathai also said, via his “Kickstarter Deliverables” that he wants to “document the crap out of” the design and coding process so that others can take advantage of the API and build their own OpenPhoto apps.
The open source, installable version will, of course, be available on Github. Mathai also has some other features he’d like to see be part of the service, like mobile apps for iOS and Android and a marketplace for designers to create their own themes, but he has to get to the $25,000 goal first. And he’s got a long way to go.
What’s more, if you’d like to see this crazy idealist in the fury of coding, you’re likely to find him at the Hacker Dojo, throwing darts at print outs of Instagram photos.