A Picture Ahead of its Time

Consider a piece of software that allows you to fix, manage, and store your photos. Better yet – you can assign “tags” to each of your pictures with as many keywords that you want, which allows you to find, sort, and retrieve your photos quickly and easily. And you can even share your tagged images with all of your friends.

Now, name that software. Flickr, which launched in early 2004? No. What about CNET’s Shoebox, which just launched last Friday? No.

Try Adobe’s Photoshop Album 1.0, which was released in early 2003. Yes, Adobe’s low-end consumer product was ahead of its time, quietly introducing photo tagging to the masses before it was hip among the digerati to do so. But now on its 2.0 release, Photoshop Album has been outpaced by desktop software offerings like Google’s Picasa and all of the next-generation internet services like Flickr. But, as I’ve written previously, the company is “is used to producing shrink-wrapped software, not online services.” So with a divide in the internal culture between the “internet folks” and the “product people,” the company has been slow to introduce a service that integrates both an online component with a desktop app.

But don’t expect Adobe to stand by idle forever. This company shouldn’t let opportunity slide by in any digital imaging space, especially when it appears that there is so much opportunity here. With a relatively rich currency for additional acquisitions Adobe could go out shopping in the next year or two to put them back in the forefront of consumer photo software and services. So besides for other obvious “internet company” acquirers, photo-sharing startups should continue to innovate and make themselves look pretty for Adobe as well.

(Disclosure: Although I’ve worked for Adobe in the past, my opinions expressed above are merely that – opinions. I have no knowledge of internal company efforts.)

UPDATE: In a comment, Sam Pullara points out that the tagging was available in iPhoto as far back as at least January 2002 (in function, but not name). Indeed, he notes that “Tagging isn’t new. People actively using it in a collaborative fashion is fairly new.” I have two thoughts from this feedback. First, it would be interesting learn more about the history of “tagging” (Wikipedia doesn’t add much). Second, though Album wasn’t the first instance of photo tagging, I still maintain the three main points of my post: that Photoshop Album 1.0 was very forward thinking in this realm, that Adobe has fallen behind in the consumer photo sharing game, and that there is a high potential for acquisition in this space by the company. Thanks, Sam, for the input.

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.