My mother and my aunt recently passed a large number of old family photographs and artefacts to me, which have me rather overwhelmed. My mother’s photos will be the subject of a rather large project which will to take time and work to sort out. My aunt’s collection, however, was much smaller, but she gave me the photos and artefacts (some letters and cards) on the proviso I found a way to scan and share them so she could get copies.
Thus started a new research project.
Emailing all these images was not an option as there were too many, so I needed to find a suitable online sharing platform. I had a number of personal conditions to be met:
- The photos must still belong to me and not the site.
- Easy to use.
- Comments facility for each photo so I could collect stories.
- Ability to upload large files sizes with minimal compression.
- Easy to download photos.
- Platform independent.
After a lot of research, I found a social photo sharing site called Cluster which I had never heard of before but had good reviews – especially for privacy – and met all of my conditions. Cluster’s tag line is: Private Group Sharing for Friends and Family.
Say you are having a wedding. You create a group and invite only those people you want to view or add photos to the group. At the wedding, these people take photos and upload them to the group as they go, creating a kind of timeline of shared photos of the event. Anyone invited can add comments to the photos. For the next event, you just create a new group and invite people to the group.
Terms and Conditions
Cluster has very good privacy and terms and conditions policies. They are short and written in plain english and make it very clear regarding your rights and Cluster’s rights. Photos remain the property of the user and privacy is stated as one of their highest concerns. Interestingly, Cluster does not support “public” groups. Only people specifically invited to a group can view the photos.
You can access Cluster via a website using a desktop/laptop computer or download apps for iPhone/iPad or Android. The interface gives you the option to use a Gallery or a Feed view.
Feed View works particularly well on mobile platforms allowing you to easily scroll through images and to read and add comments.
Gallery View allows you to view all the photos at once. There is a small icon in the corner of the photo to tell you which images have comments, but to read them you have to click on the image. Gallery View also allows you to sort images in a few simple but limited ways.
The whole look is simple and clean.
Uploading photos is as simple as drag ‘n drop and there are no limits to the number of photos you upload. However, if uploading via the website only, an individual file size is limited to 10MB. There are no size limits if uploading via a mobile.
Cluster advises that:
Your photos are saved in high quality and stored in redundant locations in the cloud. Your photos are only accessed over an encrypted connection…
…but doesn’t give any more information regarding what encryption protocol is used or where these cloud locations are hosted. So, if that troubles you, you have been warned.
Cluster also advises:
When uploading photos, we partially compress them to make the experience on your end better. The images saved are not original, but they are still considered high resolution.
I tried downloading a few photos as a test, and found them perfectly acceptable. However, I am not a professional photographer who may find any kind of alteration bothersome.
If in the Feed View, it is really easy to add comments. Simply add a comment in the box below the photo. It is a bit more awkward in Gallery View. You need to click on the photo for the photo to pop up. When you place your cursor over the photo, some links appear at the bottom of the photo. The middle one will either say “No comments” or “[x no.] comments”. Click on the link and a comment box appears with the conversation displayed if there are already comments there. You then add your comments in the box at the bottom and hit “Send”. As I say, a bit more awkward.
I found that when my family commented on the photos, it would start a bit of a discussion. They would add their own memories of the photo or make corrections if someone made a mistake. Or the discussion would jog another person’s memories so they would add more detail. This is particularly useful if all the people in the group are in widely disparate geographical locations. It becomes a conversation over time that anyone can join or leave at their own convenience.
You can download all of your photos at once in an archive file (.zip), but it is a bit of a process:
- Click on “Settings”
- Click on the link near the bottom of the page under “Actions” called “Get Backup Of Photos/Videos”
- This will take you to an “Album Archive” page.
- If you have not done this before, it will advise you:
There are no album archives available for download yet. (If you built one more than a week ago, we need to build a new one for you.)
- To build an Album Archive click “Build Archive”.
- You are then advised: “Great! We’ll build your archive right away and email you when it’s ready.”
- I only had one image in my test album so it took just a minute to get an email notification. I clicked on the link in the email and a .zip file was automatically downloaded.
- I extracted the files from the .zip file and Voila! I had my photo.
This does feel like a bit of mucking around. But it is easier than having to download each image one by one. However, I haven’t tested how long it would take to build an archive if there were a large number of files. Also, you don’t get the comments – only photos. If you want to save off the comments, you have to make note of them yourself for e.g. in a Word document.
Another downside of the application is you cannot change the order of the photos that are uploaded. Nor can you edit the photos. So, I had to scan and then edit all of my aunt’s photos and then sort them all into the order in which I wanted them to be displayed on Cluster before I uploaded them in order. For a much larger project, this could become very cumbersome. Also, if I acquire any more photos at a later time, I cannot insert them into the correct position in the group. I also sometimes found the help/FAQ files to be a little scanty on information.
At this point in time, Cluster is free. I don’t know how long that situation may last. I wouldn’t be at all surprised that if Cluster gains more popularity, they will start adding fee-paying features. On the other hand, given the fickle nature of social media users, if Cluster doesn’t take off, it is probable that it would be decommissioned at some point.
Due to this uncertainty, I wouldn’t use Cluster as a back-up location for my photos but only as a way to easily share photos and gather stories. I would then back-up this information in different locations.
But, overall, for this small, defined project, the site worked extremely well for my particular purposes and the family members I invited to the group found the site easy and enjoyable to use.
Note: I’m not affiliated in any way with the site except as a normal user. The review is a reflection of my own personal opinions and experiences. Please undertake your own due diligence to decide whether the site meets your own requirements and expectations.