Five Media Hosts for Easy Offloading

Since yestserday’s post about offloading images and multimedia to mitigate against false DMCA notices has generated some unexpected interest on the topic, I wanted to take a few moments and look at the companies I’ve worked with and discuss why I use the services that I do.

I also want to open up the floor for suggestions and ideas regarding other services to try.

Bear in mind that this is not meant to be a definitive guide to these services or this industry as a whole. It is just a brief overview of the five services that I have used most in recent months and my thoughts on them.

boxstrlogo_200x48.shkl.png

What I Like

Lots of storage, lots of bandwidth and very fast downloads, all for free. Boxstr accepts all kinds of media including images, audio, video and documents. The service has been rock solid and Boxstr offers a great application for uploading your files to the service. Pro accounts are available to greatly increase bandwidth and storage at a reasonable cost.

What I Hate

The interface is kludgy and inefficient. Simple tasks, such as moving files, obtaining link codes, etc. take longer than they should. Boxstr requires that all images and audio have a direct link back to their service. As with Flickr, this can limit the types of images you use the service with. However, unlike Flickr, Boxstr buries this requirement in their TOS. Finally, the Boxstr app is Windows-only. Mac users, like me, have to get by with the kludgy interface.

Bottom Line

Fine for large files. such as podcasts, Boxstr is too hard to use and too restrictive to be a good image host. Best for occasional use where a little inefficiency doesn’t burn so bad and linking back to the original page is practical. A simple TOS tweak and Boxstr could have me as a paid subscriber.

My Rating: B-

What I Like

As far as features go, Divshare is by far the most complete. You can upload documents, images, audio and video to their service and make them either available for download or embedding through custom players. They also have a neat WordPress plugin that means you don’t have to visit their site to upload any content. On paper, Divshare is the perfect service to meet my needs.

What I Hate

Slowness. Divshare has not scaled well and the site and all of its files load incredibly slow. Images are noticeably delayed in appearing on the site, audio streaming is fickle and their “Add Your Logo” feature for pro members (allows you to customize audio/video players) seems terminally broken. Emails to tech support have gone unanswered and rumors of a buyout made me pull almost all of my content away from them.

Bottom Line

I like Divshare, a lot. I want to root for them but the slowness of the service combined with total silence from the higher ups, their blog has not been updated in nearly two months. I have a pro account with them, but only until I can figure out how to cancel it.

My Rating: D+

flickrlogo

What I Like

Flickr is the mother of all photo sharing services and it commands a great deal of respect. It is fast, rock-solid, has reasonable restrictions on bandwidth/storage. It is run by Yahoo!, one of the better companies when it comes to copyright matters and has a great community behind it. Best of all, there are a slew of tools available for uploading and managing Flickr photos, including my blog editor, MarsEdit.

What I Hate

No video or audio hosting available. Furthermore, image hosting is clearly not the target of Flickr as a service. Finding the embed links can be a bit difficult and, worst of all, Flickr requires that all images be linked back to their Flickr page. Great for photographs and artwork, bad for logos and screenshots that likely need to be linked back to the sites that they were pulled from.

Bottom Line

If you’re a photographer and only interested in embedding your own artwork, Flickr is great. However, it works poorly for those seeking to other kinds of images and certainly doesn’t help much with mitigating against false DMCA takedowns.

My Rating: C

What I like

Fast, reliable and easy to use. Photobucket is a great service with a lot to love. Easy uploads, fast, reliable image hosting and no linking requirements. It even has a service called TinyPic that prevents you from needing to register an account. Simply upload, tag and run. An overall well-rounded and robust service.

What I Hate

Photobucket can only be used for images and short video clips. Audio is expressly forbidden and clips longer than a few minutes are not allowed. There is also no API so only a handful of applications work with the service making use of the site and its Web upload service almost a requirement.

Bottom Line

It gets the job done though it really doesn’t excel or inspire any kind real emotion. It works very well for images, it just fails to really simplify my life in any meaningful way by only offering some of the features I need.

My Rating: B+

What I Like

Webshots is power. With Webshots, you can crop and resize images online. In fact, every photo uploaded comes with five different sizes you can easily embed into your site. Webshots also accepts videos. The service provides unlimited bandwidth, no linking requirements and reasonable monthly upload caps and, all things considered, is a pretty effective service.

What I Hate

With power comes complexity. Going from upload to link URL seems to require about three times more steps on Webshots than elsewhere. Webshots also does not support audio and, as with Flickr, the main target of the site is not image hosting though, unlike Flickr, nothing in the TOS expressly prohibits you from using it as such. Also, as with Photobucket, no audio hosting is available.

Bottom Line

Webshots is a great site and a neat service. However, it doesn’t feel right for this use. Though the idea of being able to embed multiple versions is great, the system is just too complex to be appropriate for this. Using Webshots is like building a sandcastle with a bulldozer, fun but not really all that practical.

My Rating: C+

Final Results

In the end, none of these services really inspire any great feelings of love, just varying degrees of unimpressed. Of all of them, Photobucket is probably the best for image hosting, especially its TinyPic service, with Boxstr being used for larger files. However that isn’t exactly the type of elegant solution I crave.

Divshare would be that elegant solution, if images and files loaded promptly, and Webshots, though loaded with some great features, is just overkill. Finally, Flickr just isn’t targeted right and throws up unneeded roadblocks to make their service work.

So which do I use? Well, for this post, all of them. If you look above, all of the logos are linked from their respective service. If you want a “quick and dirty” load time test, hold shift and click “refresh” to clear your cache and reload all of the images. May the best site win.

As for what I’m going to do in the future. Writing this has, in all honesty, made me pine for self-hosted images. There’s a good chance that, until a more perfect service comes along, that I’ll resume doing just that, taking my chances with a DMCA notice, and waiting for a more ideal product to come along.

At least local hosting is built into MarsEdit.

What I Want

If anyone is wishing to build me “perfect service”, perhaps as a Christmas present, I would have the following requests of any such host.

  • Fast and Reliable Hosting: An obvious answer, but still the most important thing.
  • Ability to Accept All File Types: One-stop shopping for images, audio and video hosting would be ideal. Custom flash apps for embedding is equally important.
  • Lots of Bandwidth/Storage: Ideally, such a service would offer unlimited bandwidth and storage. In lieu of that, offerings should at least trump the likes of Photobucket.
  • Simple Interface: I should be able to go from upload to direct link URL with as few steps as possible.
  • Advanced API: Speaking of interface, the service should offer a robust API so applications can connect to it and should, if at all possible, provide such an application in house for both Windows and Mac. I should be able to obtain linking URLs directly from the program.
  • Since it is unlikely that a company would/could offer such a service for free, I would be willing to pay a modest amount per month/year for it. In that regard, it would be like Divshare, but without the speed and reliability problems and with actual applications rather than just an unused API.

    Conclusions

    It really is a pity that Divshare doesn’t work. I really liked the service before the quality of it headed south.

    However, I think it is an indication of the challenge that comes with trying to create such a complicated, server-intensive service. It is very hard to ensure that your resources outpace the requirements of your users. That makes the reliability of services such as Flickr and Photobucket all the more amazing considering they host billions of images.

    In the end, I’m looking to see if someone out there has other suggestions on top of the ones I’ve mentioned above. I’ve used other services, just never enough to give a good review, but I would love to hear about your experiences in this area.

    Please leave a comment and share your thoughts on this, I’d like to hear what you have to say.

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