I’ve long been interested in the problem of digital photo sharing. Back when I was an MBA student at MIT, another business plan I worked on besides NetBase was for a photo-sharing site enabling groups to share photos after events. See, in b-school there are lots of parties, which couldn’t have been good for our grades—that’s why they call it “B” school. ;-)

What would inevitably happen after events is students would clog the school’s email system sending each other pix. Some might try to post the photos to a photo-sharing site, but it was a mess. I imagined others would have this problem. For example, what about weddings? Don’t the bride and groom want all their guests to put their photos in one place? I thought there would be some cool things we could do to preserve photos and memories with a group photo-sharing site. Alas, I had to choose between NetBase and that other idea and thankfully I chose NetBase because I think we’ve created some pretty useful technology.

What brought this issue to mind is that I just returned from a family vacation and was struck again by how hard it is for our family to share the photos. One person says to use Facebook. But the kids in the family aren’t allowed to go on Facebook. Someone else wants to use Flickr; someone else wants to use Shutterfly. Some of us just didn’t even want to be bothered about uploading the photos. A mess. Again. Six years later. I was incredulous.

A Quick Netnography on Shutterfly

So I thought I ought to research the market for photo-sharing sites again. Why hasn’t someone implemented the idea I had in mind? I know I’d buy it. Maybe the biggest issue isn’t in fact the inability for groups to easily share photos. Maybe that’s just a niche problem. Time for some proper market research. Oh, but I’ve got a day job, I don’t have time for market research. Well it just so happens that netnography is the perfect way to do market research on a shoe-string budget, when you need answers fast and don’t have a lot of capacity. Faster, better, cheaper.

So I decided to take a look at Shutterfly, which I really like for making photo albums. I expected to see people complaining about sharing photos after events. Well, turns out I’m wrong. The difficulty of sharing photos after events did not emerge as the top issue for Shutterfly. See below for what did emerge as the top issues. There was pretty much a tie between quality, usability, and functionality. I’ve broken out the quality issue into its various sub-issues, but they mainly had to do with the quality of the prints (flimsy paper, color issues, etc.) and of the albums (bindings fall apart, bad alignment of images, etc.).

In my hour of research—remember all this research only took me an hour to do!—I did find one discussion of the difficulty of sharing photos after events. The event type happened to be weddings, just as I had predicted. I decided to join the forum, www.makeupalley.com, to ask the group some questions. Following on Rob Kozinets’ ethical guidelines for participatory netnography, I identified myself as someone doing research and posed some questions to the group about their difficulty sharing photos. The impression I got from posters was that they had gotten by with just creating a Shutterfly account (or the like) and giving the password out to their guests to upload photos. One person complained that it was difficult to get the guests to actually upload the pictures.

But it wasn’t a major problem. Perhaps that explains why nobody else has gone ahead with the idea. Glad I chose to build out NetBase instead ;-) To tie this back to the benefits of netnography, sometimes people say that it helps you “fail faster, cheaper.” Indeed, innovation is a game of chance so if you can lower the cost of failure, you can spend more effort on the good leads than the bad ones.

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