Phanfare Relaunches with Improved Sharing Functionality, Free Version

Photo and video sharing service Phanfare has relaunched with enhanced sharing capabilities and a free 1GB version meant to entice users who are not ready to pay $55 per year for unlimited storage.

The company found that the first version of its service didn’t make it easy enough for its 11,000 paying members to share their hosted media with each other. Sharing usually had to be done by manually emailing password-protected links to family and friends. These emails would get lost, and with them, the URLs and passwords contained within. Users would also grow tired of composing bulk emails, leading to a siloed data effect where content sat unviewed.

The new version of Phanfare addresses this issue by integrating social networking functionality that enables users to create connections with one another and specify which content they want to make available to their Phanfare contacts. The photo sharing model is very much like it is on Facebook, although with more granular control on who sees which particular content. You can designate other Phanfare members as part of your family or friends, or you can link up to them through groups (say, for your neighborhood or office). Then, you can decide which of your uploaded content you want to share with friends, family, and/or group members.

Once shared with the appropriate people, new content is broadcasted to them through an activity feed on the site’s “dashboard” (shown to the left). This “my messages” area will not only show you thumbnails of your contacts’ most recent contributions; it will also display notifications of when people leave comments on your photos, as well as when they confirm you as part of their networks. This activity will also be gathered by Phanfare for a digest email that goes out daily.

Phanfare aims to build a large user base, so it has made it easy for you to introduce your friends to the service. Its invitation mechanism allows you to send out email invites that help new users set up a free account, join your network, and view your content. New users are now given a free 1GB, as opposed to the old model where all users had to pay $55 per year for unlimited storage. While users can still choose the paid option to get more space, this free base membership option should facilitate the collaboration aspect of Phanfare 2.0 by boosting the network effect.

The company says that with time it plans on heading even further in the free membership direction by increasing the storage cap significantly while maintaining revenues mostly through the sale of print merchandise. This tactic contrasts with the one taken by SmugMug, which remains fully as a premium service without any free membership option (although you can participate in a free trial with that service). Phanfare says that it’s heading towards free because it has ambitions for widespread adoption, and having a large user base will help it strike deals with wireless hardware manufacturers in the future.

Along with its browser-based service, Phanfare also provides a desktop client that allows you to manage and edit your content locally while automatically synchronizing all changes with the same content hosted in the cloud by Amazon S3. Currently, this desktop client is only available for the PC but the company has been working on a version for the Mac as well. There is also no Phanfare Facebook application or iPhoto plugin, but these too may be available in the future.

Phanfare raised $2.5M in a Series C round led by Azure Capital Partners this past October. The company has raised $5M total since beginning operations in 2004. Its first round amounted to about $0.5M from angels, and its second round amounted to $2M from Acadia Woods Partners and angels in August 2006.