Thoughts over photo hosts — Smugmug, Zenfolio and 500px

This was a personal post on my Facebook page but I found it of certain value to entrepreneurship so I decided to repost it here.


Finally said goodbye to Zenfolio, of which I have been a paid user for as long as I could remember. Despite a track record of constant improvement and customer services, Zenfolio is a classical case of failure to react to multi-device trend — a website has to look good across laptops, smart phones and tablets all at once.

Called "responsive web design", such visual intelligence is seen today almost across any official website that matters. Most startups also start their own company websites directly with responsive design. 

Zenfolio's upgrade, however, seems to be slowed by its previous success — it simply has too many paid users and existing customized html/css structures that it is scared to move entirely onto the inevitable trend.

As a result, the Zenfolio pages, however you customize it, look clumsy on portable devices and dull on retina tablets and laptops. It's also getting slower and slower probably due to lack of investment.

On the other hand, Smugmug used to be the No. 1 — like, 10 years ago — paid photo services before Zenfolio rised to challenge it. It remained popular with professional photographers due to its classical *old* management interface that allowed non-designer photographers to concentrate only on photo shooting and sharing. It probably failed to grab market share in the massive prosumer digital photographer trend between 2004 and 2010, during which Zenfolio reigned and 500px emerged of late.

However, after trying out 500px for a year (in parallel with Zenfolio), I decided that it's really more a social photography platform where users compete to "attract the most eyeballs" by overprocessing the photos and using all social networking tricks. It also has a deliberately clumsy management interface that is not suitable for doubling as on-line backup. In other words, it's simply not for me.

Then I stumbled across the new version of Smugmug recently — immediately impressed by the *speed* and the simplicity of the look. I invested some time customizing it and uploading full-res photos. The system never seemed to slow down and just looks hi-res awesome across all devices — even in web browsers on Retina iPad 2012 which wasn't rolled out to support HiDPI browsing to begin with.

Smugmug's iPhone and iPad apps rock, too, as users could download hi-res photos for off-line demo — all at an impressive speed. There's really very little to complain about the new version of Smugmug so I pulled out the credit card and signed up, while sending an email to Zenfolio and 500px respectively to terminate my account.

Bottom line: As a business you always have to be aware of the market trend. The more successful you are, the more effort you will have to expense to keep up with the market and the new comers. If you wait until it's "imperative" to change, you will find yourselves in a very awkward situation where you simply couldn't figure out why users are deserting you.

Downside bias in startup decision makings

An alternative view about competition