Not long ago, I called out for help in finding the ultimate online photo gallery solution.
I was not the only one who had looked for solutions. As my peers, my research didn’t result in immediate tangible solutions. This was actually a surprise, considering I had looked through more than 30 solutions.
On the upside, solutions are now on the visible horizon. Amid the cruft of CMS‘s, two systems emerged that both hold much promise. Additionally, the future looks bright with the outlook of a third system written from the bottom up with simplicity in mind.
The systems that are currently showing the most promise are:
A simple and efficient system where comments might well be on the horizon.
A full-featured beta-release of a system holding much promise for future features.
Tristan’s loosely planned Zen-Photo might also happen some time this year. Update: ZenPhoto is moving forward! Check the status on Tristan’s site. Update: I designed the default template for ZenPhoto, and ZP itself is almost ready.
In the hopes that these systems will blossom, I offer some advice as to what exactly it is I would want in a photo gallery CMS.
There are solutions. This whole research and callout is based on the fact that I won’t touch any of those solutions with a pitch fork. Why? Because I have better things to spend weeks on. After all, we’re talking photo galleries, not rocket science.
Core values for the perfect CMS would be these:
- Simplicity in Structure.
If in doubt, leave it out. That goes for features, graphics, tables, samples, themes, buttons, checkboxes, funny messages, cruft.
- Simplicity in Interface.
Fewer features are better than more features. Period.
- Simplicity in Concept.
All we want is a photo gallery. It shouldn’t do anything else than this. If it’s not directly related to photography, then don’t even think it.
I already have Photostack. Photostack is good, in fact it’s great. The only reason I’ve spent days on researching alternatives is because I need just one extra feature: the ability to comment on the photos. As such, this minimal feature list will very much mirror what Photostack already does.
- A folder containing JPEGs is a Photo album.
Plain and simple. Folder titles could be given using a .txt file like Photostack does.
Upload JPEGs + push a button = Online album
- Each picture allows people to comment.
Such a comment contains name, URL and comment.
- Allows descriptions on each photo.
These descriptions could be added in the admin section.
Things to Avoid
Having researched the before-mentioned 30+ photo gallery CMS‘s, I know what should definitely be avoided.
- Require PHP Safe Mode off
The bulk of the most promising systems required the webserver to have PHP Safe Mode to be off. Safe Mode is there for a reason—requiring it off cuts away users. I’d rather write in foldernames in a textfile than have Safe Mode off. A good CMS will work even in PHP Safe Mode.
- Flat-style photo storage
Most of the really promising systems I ultimately had to scrap due to their way of storing photos. I don’t want to have all my photos stored in one large folder, even if they are automatically renamed and sorted in the SQL. I want a simple, logical structure like on my own computer. Folder = album.
- Multi-purpose CMS systems
Keep it at the photo gallery level. Don’t bloat it with things that it only does half-heartedly. Photo gallery != blog || forum || photo-sharing-system.
Things to Do
Pick out the good features, add them. These are things that would be nice:
- PHP & text files or PHP & SQL
- Cruft free URLs (
albumname/imagenameis preferred over
mod_rewrite is your friend, and it’s easier to use than you might think. Go that extra length and beautify URLs. A side-benefit: Google will reward you, and hackers won’t know whether you’re using ASP or PHP.
- Basic spam protection
When commenting is involved, spam is involved. As a basic measure, obfuscate commenting forms.
- Admin description system
Being able to describe each image with a thumbnail above is worth spending time building.
Adding an XML feed shouldn’t be too hard, but many would appreciate it.
- Really simple templating system that’s “not-too-specific”
I would very much like to make a simple PHP include in the template.
I wish I was able to program a system such as this. I would be able to do more than just talk. Being in the situation that I am in, however, all I can do is advise what I would love to see. Now run with it, and go make the ultimate photo CMS. Keep in mind that Hotscripts.com lists 371 photo gallery CMS‘s—this might indicate that there’s a definite need for a system that just works.