Look Smug in the Mug

One of the great benefits of my job is opportunity to speak to people running some really cool companies. Today I got the grand tour of photo-sharing site SmugMug. I had strongly considered setting up shop at Flickr, for which I had already plunked down $24.95 for a year’s Pro service. I probably will upload some stuff to Flickr, mainly stock images for my blog posts. Externally hosted images would make for less work should I ever move my blog to a new host. Looks like SmugMug will become my main photo flat. I’ve already started moving in.

SmugMug is one of the best photo-sharing sites I have seen. Tools are excellent for amateur or pro photographers. Technology is modern, fresh, and easy. SmugMug also is a successful family business, something you don’t see much in high-techdom. My temporary SmugMug site is up and running. I plan to use a domain, if I grow to like the service as much as I expect to. 

The company and its technology surprises, because of an approach somewhat atypical of 2006 Internet companies, which increasingly are acting like it’s 1999.

All in the family. SmugMug is a family-run business, which isn’t typical in high-techdom. Bill Gates’ and Steve Jobs’ passion for the companies they founded drives innovation and commitment to the businesses and their customers. How much more can this be true for a family-run Internet company.

You get what you pay for. Unlike many, perhaps most, Internet services companies, SmugMug is built around subscribers. There are no ad-supported free accounts. The approach smacks in stark contrast to the oh-so-1999 approach of ad-revenue driven sites. Heck, Microsoft’s Windows Live network of products and services will be first free and ad-driven and second, in some cases, subscription-based. That ad- and subscription-supported approach is fairly common among other photo-sharing sites.

SmugMug’s approach is focused. Unlike many other photo-sharing sites, SmugMug isn’t targeting consumers. The company’s service is more for photo enthusiasts or semi-professional and professional photographers. I think services like SmugMug shows that some people will pay, and only pay, if they like the offering. By the way, SmugMug is profitable, just on subscriptions.

Small is the new big. Back in 1999, small companies made a big splash on the Internet. Then a whole bunch of them went away with the dot-com collapse. Ubiquitous broadband, Internet user tenure, new browser capabilities and better back-end technologies create new opportunities for smaller companies to make big presence again. Of course, those assets are merely starting points of advantage. Vendors still have to offer something consumers want and appropriately execute.

Ajax is more than a cleaner. SmugMug makes excellent use of hot browser technologies like Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript And XML), which helps create a more desktop-application experience inside a Web browser. I created a SmugMug photo gallery late yesterday. I simply dragged images into Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 Preview and clicked upload. Rearranging uploaded pictures within a browser was as simple as drag and drop. Mmmm, maybe there is something to all this Web 2.0 talk.

I’d like to see more companies like SmugMug, that succeed despite the mine field of mistakes left behind by failed Web 1.0 companies. A suggestion for the SmugMug folks: I like the approach of providing a way for semi-pro and pro photographers to sell their images. But why do just prints? Why not provide a means for them to sell digital images, too?