Even Amazon Doesn't Get It

(news & commentary)

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Amazon this week announced two Amazon Cloud Drive plans, one of which ought to be of great interest to photographers.

The Unlimited Photos plan is US$12 a year, and includes unlimited photo storage as well as 5GB of additional storage for videos and other files. The Unlimited Everything plan is US$60 a year, and basically lets you store any and everything you want on Amazon’s cloud servers. Both plans start with three-month free trials, so there’s little or no pain to try them out. 

Unfortunately, what we have here is the equivalent to those 10-48 foot shipping containers you see on cargo ships and traveling the railroad tracks. You can move photos to the “cloud container” from your Android, iOS, Windows, or Macintosh device and back. Mostly by brute force. Prepare to eat up some serious bandwidth use in doing so. I’m getting only about 200KB/s of upload speed to the Amazon cloud on my office system (far lower than my service provider enables), which means that it’s taking several minutes for each D800 image to transfer. 

I’ll take Amazon’s pricing; US$12 a year for unlimited photo storage is a nice price that I can’t beat with offsite drives myself. And if you already are an Amazon Prime customer, the Unlimited Photos plan is free. 

But let’s face it, Amazon’s cloud is yet another manual workflow step that requires the user to be well organized. It’s just a folder/file storage container, so if you aren’t organizing what you move up to the cloud, you’re just going to get a huge list of files to sort through with minimal tools. Get things screwed up in establishing your folder/file structure the first time and you’re going to be frustrated, as Amazon Cloud Drive doesn’t exactly present a full OS to the user. Yes, it has renaming and moving tools, but they’re Web based and clumsy.

Here’s how it should work: When my camera with WiFi (including smartphone) comes onto my WiFi network, it’s looked at for “new” images. New images are automatically moved to the cloud and stored in a dated/named folder (e.g. 2015-03-27-D800). Ditto if I mount a card with a DCIM folder on my computer. Those folders should probably also go into annual folders, as well (e.g. 2015-03-27-D800 lives in 2015 Images). That’s the “automatic” version.

The smarter version asks me questions when a camera or card event is detected with new photos. What do I want to name the folder, what do I want to name the files, where do I want the folder, do I want everything in the cloud, would I like to delay the transfer until the computer is idle, etc. 

The smartest version requires that Amazon work with camera makers. In that version you tell the camera what you want done with your photos (e.g. mark as “save to cloud” using these settings). Then when the camera or card connects to your network you get an automatic transfer. 

Sadly, there’s also no way I can give Amazon a drive and get around all the bandwidth necessary to move a couple of terabytes of images across the Internet. So getting started with Amazon Cloud Drive is a bit of a time-consuming pain. Let’s hope that someone making an image ingest program gets a clue and works with Amazon’s Cloud developer API to improve the service from a big, empty container to something much more intelligent.

text and images © 2017 Thom Hogan
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