Chicago Tribune "My Tech" Column:
Alex L. Goldfayn
Sharing your Digital Photos
Published May 1, 2004
Site Develops as a Global Photo-Sharing Option
La Grange resident and technology consultant Art Hill (right) recently received a letter from Korea. A book publisher wrote that it would like to include one of Hill's photographs of Paris in a Korean guidebook for the city.
In return, a check for $20 would be issued.
The company found Hill's Paris photo, and hundreds of his other photos from around the world, at his SmugMug Web site, arthill.smugmug.com.
SmugMug (www.smugmug.com) is a photo-sharing site launched by Chris and Don MacAskill, a father-son team out of Mountain View, Calif. It has 13,000 members (most of whom pay about $30 for a one-year subscription) and adds about 50 new members a day.
According to users like Hill, it is one of the best Web sites you've probably never heard of.
Unlike competitors Ofoto (www.ofoto.com) and Shutterfly (www.shutterfly.com), which offer photo sharing secondary to their photo printing services, SmugMug is strictly for sharing your digital photographs with the world--or your family.
"It's the best photo-sharing Web site I've used by a long shot," said Hill. "And I've used them all."
The SmugMug process works like this:
For $30 per year, users get a custom SmugMug Web site and address, where they can create galleries filled with their photos. There is no limit to the number of photos that can be uploaded.
Each shot is automatically stored and available for viewing in three sizes: small, medium and full size (most photo-sharing sites only offer a single, smallish size). Text descriptions can be added to each photo, and galleries can be password protected on an individual basis.
An upgraded account, which costs $50 for a year, lets you customize your site's design and layout. And for $100, the service lets users remove "smugmug" from the address.
The latter is the result of a request made by the Howard Dean presidential campaign, which used SmugMug to host more than 3,000 photos of the former candidate (http://photos.deanforamerica.com) and sell the photos.
Friends and family (even potential customers) simply can point their browsers to your SmugMug address to see your latest snapshots.
Chris MacAskill launched SmugMug about a year and a half ago to share his own digital photos from motorcycling trips to Alaska and Mexico.
"The Web sites like Ofoto and Shutterfly, their business model is to convince you to buy prints," MacAskill said. "But a lot of people are only interested in displaying [their photos] online."
Thus, a business born.
SmugMug is not MacAskill's first high-tech success.
The former geophysicist worked with Steve Jobs in the early 1990s when the Apple Computer chief executive was between stints. MacAskill was head of developer relations at Jobs' now-defunct NeXT Software Inc.
In 1995, MacAskill started an online bookstore out of his garage (about a week before another bookseller, Amazon.com, was officially launched).
Eventually, MacAskill shifted from mainstream to technical books. His company, FatBrain.com, went public about three years later.
"It became a $100 million company and one of the few Internet success stories of the time," he said. FatBrain.com was acquired by Barnes and Noble in November 2000.
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Users come from many walks of life
- Ellyn Cavanagh, Georgetown University professor of pediatric nursing, volunteered in Kabul, Afghanistan, hospitals twice in the past year and displays her photos of the experience at afghan.smugmug.com.
- The Chepokases, a Minnesota family that lost a 10-year-old boy, Mitch, to bone cancer in April 2003, use their site, miracles-of-mitch.smugmug.com, to remember him and raise money for the foundation they started in his name.
- Rev. Kenneth Reichert, a Missouri-based Benedictine monk, displays the photos of his life and work, including a March visit to Herscher, Ill., at kennethosb.smugmug.com.
Reprinted by permission.