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Image and File Hosts

There are online image hosts, and there are online file hosts who accept a wide variety of files. Some of these hosts provide free services, and some provide services at a charge. This article explains the basics of image and file hosts.

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Why Use Online Storage?

One reason to use online storage is that it provides an offsite backup to your important files. Given the right host, you have secure, encrypted data in redundant data centers from which you can replace or restore your data should you need to do so for any reason.

Another use of online storage is creating a repository from which your customers, colleagues, or friends can receive a direct download from your website or in an email or an instant message, without having to visit a download page. This technique is called direct linking or hot linking.

A third use of online storage is for a combination of display and sharing. This type of site has galleries for your images, and may accept only one type of images, or multiple types including images, video, audio, and document files. For example, Flickr and Photobucket are specialized sites for sharing photos and videos. Other sites are made to support all types of files.

A fourth use of online storage is to allow off-site staff to have secure access to files without a virtual private network (VPN) or having to send sensitive material by email.

Differences Among Hosts

You don't necessarily want to go with simply the first host you find because they offer different services and programs, and the choice may make more difference than you think. Important things to check are terms of service (TOS), customer service, capacities, extensibility, functionality, and cost.

Terms of Service—For a start, take a look at the terms of service. Check whether the provider can terminate your account without warning and without cause. Whether you're posting personal material or business documents, that might not be an acceptable situation for you. Also check whether by agreeing to the TOS, you're licensing your material to the host. Depending on the material, you really might not want to be doing that.

Also, you might want to check that there actually are terms of service. For example, if you go to http://www.omemo.com, there aren't any. Plus you have to download software that's only in beta to use it. Plus, it's only for Windows. Plus there's no "About" page or anything to tell you who's behind it, the Wiki hasn't changed in a year and the Forum has a large number of unanswered queries. That's a large handful of warning signs that you probably don't want to use this file host.

It goes without saying that any files that you post anywhere for any purpose should be files that you have a legitimate right to, either because you created them, purchased them, or have them by permission of the copyright owner. And any files that you share with others should not violate copyright law or any other laws or guidelines in the terms of use (such as hateful speech, obscenity, etc.)

Customer Service—The unidentifiable Omemo staff brings up the question of customer service. Sites you can trust will often be connected to a business that is involved in file protection in other ways or in providing server space for other reasons. For example, Symantec, known for data protection through antivirus software and other data services, offers file reliable, redundant storage. And they provide 24/7 technical support by phone for their Online Backup service http://www.symantec.com/business/online-backup. Not every file host does, and it's worth knowing.

Capacity—Capacity works in several ways on typical sites:

  • what's the size limit on files you can upload?
  • how much online space can you use?
  • how much bandwidth can you use (both uploading and downloading)? Note that other people's downloads of your files are likely to be counted towards your bandwidth.

You need to figure out whether the various parameters will work for the files and file sizes that you'll be dealing with and what you plan to do with them (e.g., store them vs. access them). If the site doesn't say what the capacity is, I suggest you do business elsewhere.

Extensibility—So, following on the capacity issues is the question of extensibility. What happens if (or when) you outgrow the set capacity? There are a lot of free storage hosting sites, but unless they offer paying upgrade plans or you are using the facility for temporary storage with a definite size limit and end-date, you might want to place your valuable documents in a place a) that you trust and b) where they can stay, and that means a place that has plans to grow with your file collection.

At the same time, you don't want to have to pay for space or capacity that you won't use. For example, just because you store big files doesn't necessarily mean you need a lot of bandwidth. And just because you need a fair amount of bandwidth doesn't mean that individual files are huge. Look across all the capacity elements in evaluating plans that work for you now, and are likely to work for you in the future.

Cost—Some file hosting is free; some can be obtained for a monthly (or yearly) fee. Some file hosting has a built-in system for dealing with unexpected overage in a particular month without affecting your overall plan. How much you're willing to pay will depend on a number of factors including the value of the files you're posting, and the service you're receiving. Reliable, redundant data backup is going to be in a different ballpark than sharing your photos from your trip to Tasmania.

Functionality—File hosting sites have different aims. As we mentioned above, some are exclusively for photo and video sharing, while others are for back-up or other purposes. But even within the different aims, sites offer different functionality and service, not all of which has to do with capacity. Take Photobucket and Flickr, for example. They're both image and video sharing sites. But their features are not exactly the same. These comparisons were done as someone who was considering both sites, but not committed enough to create an account and sign-in yet.

These are Photobucket features:

  • storage for 10,000 photos and "hours" of video
  • photo and video editing apps
  • group albums
  • share through email, IM, or mobile phone
  • make slideshows and mashups
  • one-click link to profiles, blogs, or websites, including on Blogger, FaceBook, MySpace, Friendster, TypePad, and others.
  • offers fee-based "PRO" account

These are Flickr features:

  • five different upload methods: proprietary Flickr Uploadr, computer photo app plug-ins, upload web page, email, free third-party apps
  • photo editing
  • multiple organizational devices and group albums
  • maps to show where photos were taken
  • make credit cards, photo-books, slide-shows, postage stamps, holiday cards, etc.

Flickr does not post a storage amount or any sort of upgrade or convey information about linking to other sites. It's also not clear whether it provides video editing. Doing a site search on "upgrade" and "video" yields nothing but photographs.

Photobucket does not provide information on uploading methods or how photos can be used to create products. Just as for Flickr, a site search turns up nothing but files. Some people may be happy with not being able to find clear information without signing up. I must admit, I'm not.

Related Article: Free Photo Hosting >>

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