Leaving Flickr Behind: Why You Should Host Your Own Photos and Why Linux Makes It so Damn Easy

I’ve left Flickr. After many years as a loyal Flickr user, I decided not to extend my pro account and leave the popular photo sharing service altogether. Why? For starters, I couldn’t find a satisfactory answer to a rather simple question: What would happen if Flickr fails? It may be difficult to imagine that Flickr would disappear, but remember that Flickr is just a business — and not a profitable one at that. And even if Yahoo! will continue supporting Flickr, what will happen if I wake up one morning and discover that my account has been deleted without any prior warning? Not that it has never happened to anyone before.

These questions were only one reason why I started thinking about leaving Flickr. Another important reason has a lot to do with my work as an evangelist for Excito, a Swedish company that develops the B3 Linux-based personal server. This tiny yet powerful device can handle pretty much every task you throw at it, and I’ve been using it as my file server and backup solution for quite a while. And since it comes with the Apache/MySQL/PHP stack, the decision to use B3 for hosting my photos was a no-brainer.

The server sports its own easy-to-use photo album application which makes it supremely easy to create slick albums from directories containing photos and share them with others. Although it’s a decent solution for quick and easy photo sharing, it’s a bit limited for my needs. Fortunately, there is no lack of good LAMP-based open source photo sharing applications, and after doing some research, I decided to go with the Piwigo solution. Since B3 has all the required components installed and configured, deploying Piwigo was a pretty straightforward thing to do. So I had my photo sharing solution up and running in almost no time.

Of course, the fact that B3 is capable of running LAMP-based applications right out of the box saved me a lot of time and effort. But with a little more work, you can deploy a photo sharing application on any Linux-based machine. On Debian or Ubuntu, installing the Apache/MySQL/PHP stack is a matter of executing a few simple commands (for example see: Installing Apache2 With PHP5 And MySQL Support On Ubuntu 10.10). The XAMPP package provides an even more straightforward solution.

Sure, Piwigo is no Flickr killer, but it has all the features I need. You can organize photos into categories, specify access privileges for each photo, let visitors comment and rate your photos, and much more. Better yet, you can extend the application’s default functionality with plugins. For example, I installed plugins that collect visitor stats, enable Facebook sharing, and map geotagged photos using Google Maps.

Leaving Flickr and hosting photos on my own server meant losing the social features that are an integral part of the popular photo sharing service. But was that such a big loss? Not for me. I do have a few Flickr contacts whose photos I enjoy, but that’s about it. I used to post my photos in different groups, but comments like “Awesome shot,” “Love it!” “Great DOF” didn’t really help me to take better photos.

Hosting photos on your own server is not for everyone, though. In addition to a dedicated server, you need a decent Internet connection, and you have to take care of backup and other practicalities. But if you want complete control over your photos and the way you share them, or you are not happy with Flickr for other reasons, then going the self-hosting route makes a lot of sense. Besides, it doesn’t have to be an either-or decision: you can still use Flickr and use your own server as Plan B.

Want to see the B3/Piwigo combo in action? Visit my photo gallery and read more about the B3 server at excito.com.

Freelance tech writer covering Linux and open source software.

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Posted in Photography
5 comments on “Leaving Flickr Behind: Why You Should Host Your Own Photos and Why Linux Makes It so Damn Easy
  1. catharus says:

    Thanks for the info! Yes, I had previously been aware of the B3 and it looks like a very nice home server; as for hosting your own web site and sharing it with the rest of the web, I’ve understood the ISVs service contracts generally contain language to prohibit this, so that’s the major reason I’ve not gone this route.

  2. e8hffff says:

    No mention of your DNS solution.

  3. Eric Mesa says:

    I think this may be more viable in the future. Once ipv6 finally really and truly hits it would be quite profitable for ISPs to allow people to run servers and then just charge them for bandwidth and IP addresses. You could rent a VPS like I do, but that’s WAY more expensive than flickr and I don’t host my photos on there because the bandwidth costs would kill me.

    Another thing this will allow is that when everyone has servers, there will be more federated services. When there’s a status.net-like flickr then you don’t even have to lose the social aspect – which is what I love the most about flickr.

    Finally, there’s the problem of the inundation of content. How do people find your photos, podcasts, etc? By being on flickr you give people a central place to search for and find your photos. On your own server you’ll only get your friends and family looking at them. I enjoy as many people as possible seeing my photos, so that’s not for me.

  4. plg says:

    Thank you Dmitri for this blog post. I’m Piwigo founder and I also think hosting your own photos is a good solution. Hosting them “at home” is still a challenge today but it’s possible.

    Dmitri and Eric Mesa, you have written about something important when leaving Flickr for a “personal hosting” solution: you loose a big part of the social aspect. Of course, this is not a big deal for those who share photos for friends and family but when you want your photos to be seen by “as many people as possible”, then it’s a key feature.

    One of the big project in 2011 related to Piwigo is a “Piwigo Network” or “Social Piwigo”. The idea is to be able to connect several Piwigo to create a network. For example, a “master” Piwigo would be able to display a chosen list of photos from another Piwigo “slaves”. This is just a specification draft for the moment, but Piwigo already has the plugin architecture and the web API (for communication between softwares) which are the required technical features before implementing this kind of high level functionality.

  5. I’ve just started building websites, and have much to learn. Someone just suggested that I use pictures and host them on my own server, so this article was definitely helpful. Right now, my internet connection is too iffy, so this plan will have to wait a while to be implemented!

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