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November 19, 2010

The Giant Shoebox

A shoebox was probably the most common photo storage option prior to the digital revolution. Digital age has brought us plenty of new tools to manage and share the content, but the fundamental storage and management behaviour has not really changed. It seems that instead of multiple shoeboxes, the photos are now in one giant virtual shoebox.

The value of a photo changes over time. Fresh photos have high novelty value that wears of rapidly. After a while ordinary photos pile up into collections and a unique photo can only stand out if it has extraordinary meaning. As the time goes by, the overall value of photos start to rise again. It is hard to take a photo of a baby, when that baby is 18 years old.

The nature of photo value affect to how we all use and store photos. The fresh photos are handled and organised most actively. The shoebox was a great way to quickly store the photos that were not immediately used otherwise. The downsize was that if one didn’t had the energy to organise the photos in the first place, shoeboxes and required sorting efforts started to pile up.

Same holds today, but in a different scale. The global digital camera market in 2010 is about 141 million units and that does not even include mobile camera phones. The estimated amount of photos stored is a staggering 1 trillion photos. Facebook reports that the cumulative amount of photos in the service is 50 billion, which is only 5% of digital photos taken in one year. Other services, like Flickr and Panoramio, report storage numbers in billions, not even in tens of billions. So, it is easy to see only a fraction of digital photos are shared in on-line sites. The rest of the photos stay in memory cards, hard discs and CD/DVD discs.

The amount of pictures is getting so big that the organising starts to resemble the old shoebox. Earlier we had some idea whether the pictures we wanted were in green or red shoe box. Now we know the photos are in some folder dated 2008 or so, on the work laptop or home PC (or both). Some of them are also on backup discs that might again be in a real shoebox. There are plenty of nifty organising tools for computers, but the plain fact is, that the total amount photos of is expanding so quickly that one has to made effort to keep up in keeping the collections updated. We are back to the shoebox pattern, only virtual and much larger one this time. What’s the magic needed to make it better than the old one was?