The Email that Spawned Picnik

If you pay attention to the startup/technology world in Seattle, you know that the talk of the town these days is www.picnik.com, a photo-editing startup that was just acquired by Google.  Good for them!  :-)  Their website is just beautiful – I can’t think of many websites that feel so good to use.  Even their progress bars are fun (“blooming blossoms”).  I can only hope that Google won’t convert Picnik into something more Google-like (very fast, effective, global, yadda yadda yadda, but also totally stripped down and not nearly as fun).

There’s an interesting post on TechFlash that includes “the email that spawned picnik” — the email exchange back in December 2005 between Darrin Massena and Mike Harrington, co-founders of Picnic, where they discussed the idea for this new startup. The email lays out their business plan so concisely and effectively that I have to wonder if it was written after-the-fact (though I have no reason to doubt their credibility).  Anyhow, it’s a very interesting read.

Now, I’d like to dive into just one aspect of the email.  Here’s the problem-statement for the business, as written by Darrin: “There is no ability to manipulate photos once they are online. People have to download them, bring them into a photo editor (which they must buy/maintain/upgrade), and somehow upload them again. That sucks.”

I think this statement anticipated a truly web 2.0 world where people are comfortable not just storing data in the cloud, but making the cloud “the golden store” for their data — the primary copy.  In a world like that people follow this process: 1. Take photo, 2. Upload it, 3. Edit and Organize, 4. Share.  Any other copies of their photos sitting around, for example on a desktop, are secondary and disposable.  In a world like this it definitely helps to have the photo editing tools closer to do the data, e.g. also in the cloud.

But I’m not sure we’re there, at least not yet.  Personally, my own “golden store” is the NAS sitting next to my iMac at home.  Here’s the process I follow: 1. Take photos, 2. Copy them to the NAS (now they’re safe), 3. Edit and Organize, and 4. Upload to Flickr to share.  So for me it’s easier if my photo editing tools are closer to my data, e.g. on the desktop.  In fact, it’s a bit of a pain to use Picnik because I end up having to do exactly the opposite of what Darrin described: 1. Upload photo to Picnic, 2. Edit, and 3. Download back to store the photo on the NAS.  It’s a testament to Picnik that I still endure this hassle for the benefit of using their awesome service.  However, the fact remains that I’ve found value in shelling out $70 for Photoshop Elements so I can skip this round-trip (and also for the better features and performance that you get with a full desktop app).

Am I alone in this desktop-centric approach?  I don’t think so.  In another TechFlash post, Picnik’s CEO Jonathan Sposato says this: “We built Picnik to bridge out to other sites to places where your photos are — where Facebook is, where your Flickr account is, where your Webshots account is…. We thought that was just so cool. ‘Wow, this is cloud computing and Web 2.0′ and all of that stuff. As it turns out, people don’t really care about that stuff. They sort of have their Flickr account, but maybe they really just want to use Picnik on a photo that is just on their hard-drive.”

Why do I insist on keeping my “golden store” close to me?  Why do I insist on being desktop-centric when it comes to my data?  Maybe it’s a need for control.  Maybe I worry that if I just scatter-shoot my data all over teh interwebs I won’t keep track of where it all went.  But the thing is, if I really search my soul, I have to admit to myself that even though my NAS is configured with RAID 1, I can’t with a straight face claim that the photos on my NAS are any safer than the photos I upload to Flickr.  Probably the opposite.  Shit, the photos on Flickr have a pretty decent chance of outliving me, let alone my NAS :-)  So maybe we all just need some time to accept this sea change and to adapt.  Maybe the cloud will eventually become the primary store for people’s stuff, including photos.  If that happens, then Picnik will be sitting pretty.

It makes me wonder how inheritance will be affected by our digital age.  Today, a passing parent leaves to their children/relatives a bunch of stuff, some of it useful, some of it junk (and, in fact, some of the stuff the parent cherished most may be considered junk by his children).  So the children take the time to go through all this stuff, but it’s a real chore, kind of like moving.  Eventually they take shortcuts, spend less time thinking about what to keep and what to toss, and so on.  Will that happen to all these photos that I spend so much time taking, organizing, and editing?  Will my children say “meh” and toss them?  Or will cheap digital storage make it easy for them to just keep everything?  If they do, will they ever look at it?  If I end up drinking the Kool Aid and letting the cloud be my digital store, will my children know where to find all my stuff?

Oh, but I’ve digressed…

Anyhow, congrats to Picnik!  :-)

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3 responses to “The Email that Spawned Picnik

  1. I agree that we probably aren’t there yet, but I think it’s probably a generational thing. You look at my parents, and they don’t think they “have” a photo until they’ve printed out a hard copy somehow. Personally, I still think of the digital copy I have started on, say, my hard drive as the “official” copy. But, I’m sure that Stella will probably see the cloud copy as the “official” one. Much in the same way she will likely find my desktop computer to be clunky and antiquated. You talke dot people just a couple years younger than us (say, mid-20’s) and you can already see the shift in the way they percieve information and their relationship to the digital world.

    I think you have an interesting point at the end about passing digital information on to your children. If it hasn’t already started to happen, I imagine that we aren’t too far from the days of digital Wills… where we pass on our passwords and the online locations of all our digitla assets we’ve been squirreling away over the years.

  2. (Oh, and sorry about all the typos… need to remember to proof read.)

  3. It appears that other people are already thinking about this digital-will concept. Just for kicks I tried navigating to http://www.digitalwill.com, which bounced me to http://www.goodbyemail.com. Take a look at this: http://english.goodbyemail.com/

    BTW, their domain name is confusing: good-by-email? But bad-by-SomethingElse? Oh, wait, good-bye-mail, ok, I get it. :-)

    On the other hand, it looks like http://www.digitalwills.com is currently a “parked” domain name, so if you have the cash and the inclination, you can try to take over this market.

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