Picuous: A Different Kind of Image Sharing Service

Picuous LogoIf you want to share your images on the Web, there are currently hundreds, if not thousands, of services that you can choose to upload and swap images. Not only are there dedicated image hosting services like Flickr, Imgur and Smugmug, but every major social network and dozens of services that feed into them offer ways to get your images online.

However, the founders of Picuous saw a problem, or at least a limitation, with almost all of these services. The company cites the story of James Duncan, the TED photographer who took the now-famous photo of Bill Gates releasing (supposedly) malaria-infected mosquitos loose in the conference, as an example of a photographer whose photo was infringed widely because there was no easy way to share images on the Web.

Picuous, however, aims to fix that and it seeks to do so by being the “Scribd” or the “Vimeo” of image hosting, making it easy to share and embed images without actually transferring the file. Along the way, it hopes to offer both better analytics and better copyright enforcement.

But how well does Picuous work? I decided to give the service a test and find out.

How Picuous Works

The big idea behind Picuous is that other media types, including audio and video, have an embed feature that make them easy to share on other websites while ensuring the original author gets credit and, sometimes, revenue. However, images are usually just saved and reuploaded or hotlinked to get them on other sites. Along the way, both attribution and revenue opportunities are lost.

To fix this, what Picuous does is offer a simple HTML5-based means of embedding the mage on the other site. Though Picuous doesn’t use Flash, it’s a very Flash-like experience and one that users of Scribd and YouTube should be very familiar with.

The big idea is that others, if they see an image they want, they will be more likely to use this embed code than they will copy the image or hotlink it as this is easier, faster and more reliable.

So how does Picuous stack up? My experience was, in a word, mixed.

My Experiment with Picuous

by jonathan on picuous

In order to try Picuous, I attempted to upload and share a photo of my dog, Calico, deciding that he wanted to drive the park. To do that, I created an account, uploaded the image and pasted the embed code as-is in the first part of this section.

The registration and account setup process went very smoothly. It took only a few moments to sign up, get my beta invite and then log in. Uploading the image was easy as well as I was able to simply drag and drop the image from my computer and have it upload automatically.

However, I quickly found out that Picuous is fairly limited as an image host. Though it’s very simple to use, other than setting the license for your images, editing their names and embedding them, there strangely isn’t much else you can do with them. There are no folders you can put them in, no tags to organize them and no additional sharing tools. In fact, the embedded image actually has more features in that it integrates with Twitter, Facebook and Posterous, things that the backend of Picuous doesn’t do.

Still, the embed code was easy to grab though I learned quickly, as you can see above, that there is no easy way to make it flush left or right, thus forcing the image to sit awkwardly on a new line. There is also no way to resize the image should the default size be wrong.

Once again though, you can at least edit the size of the image when re-embedding the embedded version, though there is still no easy way to align it.

All in all, Picuous was extremely easy to use and worked great, but it has a limited feature set, at least at this time. Still, what it does, it does well and most of the limitations can be overcome easily with a bit of work, such as the (quick and dirty) fix I made below.

Is Picuous Worthwhile?

To be clear, Picuous isn’t going to stop infringement. Though it prevents people from being able to save your image directly, I can still screenshot images that Picuous stores or get around the protection by simply looking at the HTML code. However, it does make it more difficult and, at the same time, it provides a path of lower resistance, one that those who are interested in being even remotely legitimate with their use will likely take.

While I think that using Picuous would not be right for PT or similar sites where most of the images are either stock photos or screenshots, it might be appropriate for those who run photo blogs or post a large number of professional or semi-professional images.

That being said, Picuous is far from a Flickr or a Smugmug replacement. You’ll still likely need to use another photo sharing service as your “home base” as there are too few features and no social elements to Picuous (other than an RSS feed for the stream). Still, it might be a good way for getting photos into your blog if you want to encourage sharing without having the file itself passed around.

In short, it won’t stop infringement, but it will encourage healthier uses of your work and that may be worthwhile for some.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, Picuous is still very much a beta service. This means that the service is limited at this time but that, possibly, many of the issues will be addressed before the final release.

Still, the big idea behind Picuous is a neat one and has a lot of potential. It’s similar to what Picapp has been doing for professional stock images but making the process available for smaller photographers and artists.

There’s definitely a lot of potential here and it’s a site photographers and artists should definitely both try out and keep an eye on. It may not be everything one needs right now, but it certainly has a lot of potential and can provide a useful, if somewhat limited, service already.

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