Q: I know I’m late to this party, but what’s the best photo-sharing service?
A: There are so many photo-sharing sites that, like the Kardashians, it’s impossible to keep up with them all. Let me make this simple: Use Dropbox.
Q: But why wouldn’t I just use a dedicated photo-sharing site?
A: For two reasons. First, they can have enervating interfaces. Sure, some sites such as Picasa (GOOG) and Shutterfly (SFLY) keep things pretty simple, but others—I’m looking at you, Flickr (YHOO) and Snapfish (HPQ)—junk up the screen with too many options and incitements to buy things.
The second problem with a lot of these sites is that, like many Internet companies out there, they want to be a social network (or integrate with Facebook (FB)). So with an errant click, photos intended for private consumption can wind up published for the world to see.
Q: So that’s not the case with Dropbox?
A: No. Dropbox lets you create folders of photos (they call them galleries) and share them directly with other people. That’s it. If you want, you can even prevent people from sharing photos you’ve shared with them. Furthermore, the interface is clean and sharing is a breeze.
Q: Do you have to download anything to use it?
A: When you sign up with Dropbox, you have to download some software that resides in your computer. (You don’t have to download anything to view photos that other people have sent you.) That software interacts with your hard drive to copy and move files from your PC to Dropbox’s cloud-based storage. From there you can send photos or folders to other people.
Q: But does that mean you’re sending big photo files to all your friends and family?
A: This is what I like most about Dropbox’s photo-sharing service: The site will create a unique link for any photo or collection of photos. You can then copy that link and paste it into an e-mail, text message, whatever. When your recipient gets the link, all they have to do is click on it and they can look at the photos you’ve shared with them in their browser.
Q: I’m usually taking photos with my smartphone. Can I share from there?
A: Yes. There’s a Dropbox app for your phone that you can enable to send a backup of any picture you take to your online account. From there, you can move photos into shared folders on your phone, so you can update shared folders when you’re away from a computer.
Q: Does this cost me?
A: It can. Dropbox’s free account grants you 2 gigabytes of storage. That should be enough room for as many as 4,000 photos. If you get friends to join Dropbox, you get additional free storage at 500 MB per referral, as much as 18 GB. If you want more storage, you can upgrade to a 100 GB, 200 GB, or 500 GB plan, which costs $99, $199, or $499 a year, respectively.
Q: Can I order prints through Dropbox?
A: You can’t. That’s one drawback. That said, if printing is your thing, there are ways around Dropbox’s deficiency. If you don’t own a photo printer, you can buy a good one such as Epson’s PM 225 ($199.99). You can also do what I do, which is use one of those printing kiosks at the drugstore. I’m sure I’m getting ripped off, but I do it about twice a year, and I’d rather spend more than have to deal with an unreliable printer.