The New ZangZing Will Never Keep Your Photos Hostage

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I don’t know about you, but when I hear about another photo sharing app or website, my eyes roll back into my head, and I reflexively go into “screen saver mode”. There are just way too many options. How about Shutterfly, Kodak, Flickr, Instagram, Path, Twitter (TwitPic, Yfrog), Facebook, Google+, App Trover, GLMPS, Tracks, LiveShare, OpenPhoto — just to name a few. I don’t even like photos that much.

So, when I heard about ZangZing, especially considering its name, I had the same reaction. However, back in April, Mike gave the pre-launch startup a ringing endorsement (granted, that was in comparison to Color), and Alexia backed up its private beta launch a few weeks later. So I pressed on.

It also helps that ZangZing Co-founder and CEO Joseph Ansanelli has some serious startup cred under his belt, having founded and been CEO of four startups, one of which was acquired by Apple, another merged with Kana and went public, and then Vontu, which was acquired by Symantec for $350 million in 2007.

“The world doesn’t need another Instagram-like photo streaming app and we are not that”, Ansanelli assures me. After all, photos are a huge category — Facebook sees over 250 million photos uploaded per day, and the CEO thinks there’s room for new services that redesign photo-sharing for a more traditional kind of user. And that’s ZangZing’s focus: The average photo user, not the uber adopter, people who care about ease of uploading, aggregating all their photos in one place, and privacy. Have a ton of photos on the soon-to-be-discontinued MobileMe? Ansanelli wants you to bring them to ZangZing all at once.

And this last bit is what seems most interesting to me, not so much that ZangZing is now apparently importing one photo per second (after turning on one-click import), or that 70 photos is the average album size, it’s that 50 percent of the startup’s albums are currently private. Google+ launched to give users social circles within social circles, a “refined” mechanism for sharing content among specific groups of people.

In fact, Google acquired Katango to help them with that very problem. It’s a big, challenging goal that may never be solved completely — but ZangZing is yet another example that consumers want to share photos, just not with everyone, and founders want to try to bring them that experience.

So, today, about eight months since the startup went into private beta, ZangZing is launching version 2.0 of its platform with some cool new features: Namely, one-click import from the majority of photo sites and social networks, including Facebook, Flickr, MobileMe, Instagram, Dropbox, Kodak Gallery, Shutterfly, etc. Just click “link”, and your photos arrive.

In this sense, ZangZing is really making a play at making it simple for users to add photos from anywhere, from a PC or Mac, Picasa Desktop, or iPhoto — giving users who feel their photos are “being held hostage” a chance to work within a more compatible platform. What’s more, you can email photos directly into a ZangZing album from any smartphone or any computer, or view photos in full-screen slideshows. And they won’t make you pay if you want to get your photos back.

And, while Flickr has a bit of group sharing, it doesn’t work so well with one-time events, as Mike pointed out. With ZangZing, if you want to create a group album from an event, you simply upload a picture of the event through email invite your friends, and presto.

On top of this, like many file-sharing sites, ZangZing wants to add soem granularity to its privacy controls by allowing users to decide who can add, view, and download full-resolution photos. Like any good social photo repository, it allows commenting to enable chat and social interaction around particular photos, and offers both people and activity views to surface albums based on who created them or when they were created, respectively — great for photo discovery.

Furthermore, every ZangZing photo album has its own privacy setting, so that public photos are available to everyone, hidden albums let only those who know the web address view the albums, as well as invite-only albums that require sign-in. There are also a number of email settings to allow or disallow invitations, social following, confirmations, ZangZing news, etc.

And, best of all? There’s no advertising. Another important piece of the puzzle if ZangZing is to convince users already inundated with photo-sharing websites that its model has a long-term value proposition. Because it won’t be offering advertising, ZangZing offers a bit of eCommerce, as it contains a number of product options, like prints (and mounted prints), photo panels, framed photos, etc., with which users can select images from favorite albums, customize dimensions, and check out directly. If someone buys your image, you get paid.

It will be interesting to see if ZangZing goes to a freemium model to support its revenue model, but one thing’s for sure, the site is easy to navigate, is designed well, and I think it offers enough differentiation that it can become a valuable alternative to some of the legacy photo sharing options. Plus, an API is on its way.

But I’m just one man, check it out and let us know what you think.