Many people use their computers to manage four things: work, browsing the Internet, music, and photos. For my family, photographs are a big deal. My iPhoto library is bulging at 32 GB, and that’s with 2009 – 2010 archived on an external drive. In short, my wife and I take a lot of pictures with our digital cameras and smart phones.
Keeping the lot organized is a challenge. Not to mention sharing with far-flung family and friends, as well as finding that one shot you’re after. While I love Apple’s iPhoto, I’ve been looking for something that’s platform-agnostic (Mac, Windows, whatever), easy, tidy and even fun. There are many contenders, but for right now, This Life is what we’re using.
There are a few things I like about This Life, and I’ll describe my favorites. It recently came out of its beta testing period and is now available to the public.
Getting Photos Into This Life
You can’t start using This Life until you fill it with photos. Fortunately, the process is easy. The company has made a free “uploader” application for both Macintosh and Windows. Simply download it, open it and follow the instructions. It will begin uploading any photos you throw at it. Depending on how big your library is, it may take a while, so go make a sandwich.
Once your photos are in This Life, it’s time to start organizing.
Many photo-management applications offer face recognition, but I haven’t found one that works as well as This Life’s. Facial recognition technology lets you give a name to a face in one of your photos. This Life then looks for that same face in the other photos and assigns that name to it. The idea being that you can search photos by face (“Jane Smith”). It isn’t 100 percent accurate but, boy, does it work well. It also runs in the background so you can do other things on your machine.
Once you give it a name/face combination to ponder, This Life gets to work. The next time you launch it, you’ll be given a few guesses to confirm. The next time, a few more. As This Life gets more confident, it does greater and greater batches and eventually leaves you alone. It works well.
This Life also handles duplicates very well. Specifically, if it finds two copies of the exact same photograph, it keeps the one with the highest resolution and deletes the others. That’s very handy and saves me from having to find those on my own.
There’s no This Life application for the Mac or Windows (aside from that uploader utility). Instead, you use it in a web browser. It’s organized in a very clever way. By default there are two “views,” or ways to look at your photos: My Story and Library.
The library view presents all of of your photos at once, in chronological order, from left to right (oldest on the left, newest on the right). There are three rows of photos and a pretty little drop shadow makes them appear to be resting on a big table. A slider on the bottom of the screen lets you move back and forth, and if you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, that will work, too.
Click any photo to zoom in and share via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or email. You can also leave a comment and perform simple editing tasks like “Image Magic,” which attempts to correct for lighting and color balance (hit or miss in my testing) and rotation. Finally, you can delete the image or download the full-resolution original to your computer.
That’s great, but the real beauty is in Stories.
This Life lets you group photos into what it calls Stories. You can think of Stories as albums, but they’re more than that. This Life’s developers refer to them as “living albums — they are a dynamic collection of photos, videos and notes.” I’m a big fan of This Life Stories.
Creating a new Story is simple. Just click “New Story” in the upper left and give it a name. Adding photos and/or videos to a story is even easier: just place your mouse over it and click the heart that appears. That’s it. Honestly, you can add dozens of photos to a Story in seconds. To switch to a different Story, select it in the drop-down menu and resume clicking hearts.
Stories are also collaborative. You can invite others to contribute to a story and upload their own photos and videos. My family has a reunion ever year, and everyone takes pictures. It was fun to invite them to my “Family Vacation ’12” Story and see their contributions come in.
There’s more to love like searching by location, which shows all photos taken at a certain geographic location, and tags, which lets you describe what’s happening in the image. This makes search very powerful, as you can enter “Jane eating cake at Grandma’s house” and find exactly those shots. Super.
Sign Up Options
This Life is free to use for up to a certain amount of storage, and additional plans increase based on the amount of storage you require. There are many photo management options out there, and This Life is definitely worth your consideration.