February 1, 2012

Interview: Jaisen Mathai of OpenPhoto

I met Jaisen Mathai at SCALE10x after seeing his UpSCALE talk in which he introduced the OpenPhoto project with 20 slides in five-minutes. In this interview, Mathai explains what inspired the ambitious project and his vision for where it will be by the end of the year.

Last June, Mathai wrote a blog post, The state of online photo sharing and what’s next, introducing his idea for OpenPhoto. A few busy months later, on January 30, 2012, OpenPhoto 1.3.2 was released. OpenPhoto is being developed with the help of several open source technologies, including PHP, Python, Ruby, MySql, Linux, ImageMagick, and GraphicsMagick. Mathai says the OpenPhoto software runs on other operating systems, but it runs best on Linux.

Linux.com: What inspired you to start the OpenPhoto project?

Jaisen Mathai: I wanted to make sure I'll be able to sit down with my one-year-old son in 18 years and show him photos of his childhood. A decade or two ago, we had film and shoeboxes. While inefficient, they worked really well. Most of us have photos of our childhood.

Today we've got a fantastic replacement for film – SD cards or the memory in our phones – but now we have shoebox chaos. Multiple shoeboxes with duplicate photos across multiple services, all of which make it difficult to get your photos back. In this regard, technology has failed us. We take an order of magnitude more photos than we did in the past but our options to archive them are decades old.

Linux.com: Who else helps you with the project?

Jaisen Mathai: We've had over 40 contributors from the community. I'm the only full-time person on the project, and Patrick Santana will be joining me full time in March. It's completely bootstrapped at the moment.

We raised the $25k on Kickstarter, and Mozilla accepted us into their WebFWD program and provides technical, marketing and funding advice.

Linux.com: What have been the biggest challenges on the project?

Jaisen Mathai: Keeping up with the community. I knew right away that a lot of people were interested in the idea for the same reasons I was building it. I didn't, however, expect so many people to get engaged the way they did. It's a wonderful problem to have, but for a month or two 75 percent of my time was spent communicating with users. Since then, someone from the community has taken on the role as a community manager and she's doing an amazing job.

Funding for the project has also been something we're spending a bit of time on. What we're doing is no small task. We need an engaged community as well as people dedicated and committed to building everything on our roadmap. We're going up against some formidable opponents, but our growth has been entirely organic so we know we're striking a chord with users.

Lastly, being an open source project and building elegant and easy-to-use software isn't easy. We're heavily focused on design, UI and UX. There are several amazing pixel pushers in our community, and our recent iPhone app is a testament to that. It looks as good – if not better – than other photo apps.

Linux.com: How does OpenPhoto compare to other photo sharing sites?

Jaisen Mathai: When you upload a photo to Flickr or Picasa, the photo gets stored on Yahoo or Google's servers. You can only access your photos using the tools they provide for you, some of which make it difficult to impossible to get your photos out.

With OpenPhoto, you have the option of telling the software exactly where your photos, tags, and comments are to be stored. You grant the OpenPhoto access to your photos, not the other way around. It's a subtle difference but the implications are immense.

Linux.com: Are there features other sites offer that you'd like to add to OpenPhoto?

Jaisen Mathai: Our goal is to get quasi-feature parity with sites like Flickr and SmugMug. We're getting really close to having the important features implemented, including mobile.

Facebook has people tagging and Flickr has geo-fencing. These are awesome features and I know they'll make their way into OpenPhoto. The beauty of being open source is that if the community wants it, they'll build it. We've already seen that in play for the iPhone app, WordPress plugin, and language bindings – Ruby, Python, Java.

Linux.com: How can members of the open source community help you with the project?

Jaisen Mathai: We need programmers, designers, copywriters, translators, and more. The best place to start is http://theopenphotoproject.org/contribute, where we also list ways to contact us.

Linux.com: Where do you hope to be on the project by the end of the year?

Jaisen Mathai: We already have our web application released. By the end of February, we'll have an iPhone app publicly available followed by an Android app. Other major features are tools to help users aggregate their photos from multiple sites into one location, handling RAW photos and video support. Supporting video has been one of the biggest feature requests, and it makes a lot of sense but we're not rushing into anything.

Linux.com: What other events do you plan to attend this year?

Jaisen Mathai: I'm speaking at several user groups in the bay area and am considering speaking at the LinuxFest Northwest.

Thanks to Jaisen for answering our questions. To find out more about OpenPhoto, visit the OpenPhoto homepage, its GitHub repository and/or follow @openphoto on Twitter.

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