Katherine Boehret

A Hangout for All Your Social-Network Photos

Nowadays, people are storing a lot of personal photos on a variety of social networks. They capture photos with their smartphone cameras, instantly share them with Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and never see them again.

This week, I tried two methods for gathering photos from all sorts of social networks. I used ThisLife, a service that pulls in photos and videos from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Flickr, Shutterfly, SmugMug and Picasa, as well as from a computer’s hard drive or an iPhone or iPad (via an iOS app). One thousand photos or one hour of video are free; more storage costs $80 or $150 a year. I also tested Seagate’s one-terabyte, $110 Backup Plus Portable Drive, which backs up photos and videos from Facebook and Flickr, as well as its primary function of backing up other computer files.

I was amazed by the trove of photos I didn’t even know I had stored on many sites around the Web, and I spent hours flipping through them.

But is the photo quality on some social networks worth saving? Facebook, for example, resizes and compresses images. ThisLife recognizes this issue and uses image enhancement on each photo to improve things like balance, light and contrast. If it imports from a place where photos were saved in their original size, ThisLife preserves that photo size; it stores video at 1080p HD quality. Seagate simply copies the images from Facebook and Flickr to your computer or Backup Drive. Still, having all of my photos in one place outweighed any image quality concerns.


ThisLife stores photos and videos from social networks in one place.

ThisLife, which uses cloud storage from Amazon Web Services, takes a holistic approach, merging photos from various places, and also offers a timeline of favorite shots, facial recognition for labeling people and gets rid of duplicate photos. ThisLife saves photos posted by its users as well as photos from other people in which the user was tagged, or identified by name.

I connected my ThisLife account to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Picasa, Shutterfly and SmugMug, and installed its app on my iPad and iPhone to pull in photos from both devices. I used the ThisLife Desktop Uploader with my MacBook, clicking one button to move more than 7,000 photos from iPhoto into the service, a process that took a couple of days.

The overall interface of ThisLife is elegant, laying thousands of images out in a browse-friendly library that is organized left to right by time. I quickly scrolled through photos from a trip to New Orleans in 2006 (originally posted in Shutterfly) all the way up to my most recent Facebook photos, shared last week. The date of each photo appeared in the center of the screen as I scrolled, so I jumped to dates I knew had memorable photos, like my 30th birthday and a 2010 New Year’s Eve vacation.

I dragged photos onto one another to organize each moment into stacks of images. And I deleted photos I didn’t want. By tapping a heart icon on a photo, I added it to a timeline of favorite photos. The iPad and iPhone apps were a cinch to use on-the-go.

When I found an image I liked, I hit a Share button to send it to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or to friends’ email addresses. It isn’t obvious enough that you can type in a person’s email. The site first encourages you to share it with friends on their Facebook walls. Later this week, ThisLife plans to introduce a better interface that makes it easier to download images and to tell where they came from. Also this week, it will let people privately share photos with a group of users who can be labeled as viewers or contributors.


Seagate’s Backup Plus Portable Drive backs up photos and videos from Facebook and Flickr.

People nervous about privacy or who want to stop using a social network (like Facebook) altogether without losing all of their posted photos will like Seagate’s Backup Plus. And its ability to fully back up a computer will offer some peace of mind.

Seagate’s social-media backup works on six different drives for Windows or Mac computers; I used the Backup Plus Portable Drive for Mac. This drive is relatively lightweight and portable, measuring about the size of a mini Moleskine notebook. I plugged it into my MacBook using an included USB cord and followed directions to install the Seagate Dashboard software. Once opened, this software prompted me to sign into my Facebook and/or Flickr accounts, and immediately began downloading photos from the sites. In 27 minutes, I backed up copies of roughly 1,100 Facebook photos. A small Auto Save check box will prompt the service to copy new photos from these two sites once an hour.

Since people may not always want a hard drive plugged into their computer for this backup, Seagate creates a folder called My Online Documents on the computer and stores new photos there. The next time a person plugs in the Backup Plus Drive and performs a system backup, the images are transferred to the portable drive. I glanced through photos in a subfolder of My Online Documents, called Facebook, where album names from Facebook were used to group images together.

Right now, Seagate saves only your own shared photos. The company says that by late October, you will be able to save photos in which you were tagged.

If you’re looking for a way to save all the photos you have floating around the Web, ThisLife groups them in a beautiful interface, while Seagate’s Backup Plus is a practical, no-frills option for offline storage.

Write to Katie at katie.boehret@wsj.com.

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