Views from Phanfare CEO and Co-founder Andrew Erlichson

Link Phanfare Publishing Model

We get quite a few questions on a regular basis about our permissions and sharing model for web albums. In this post, I will attempt to explain how it works, the history of it, and how we plan to simplify it.

There are two separate ways to publish within your Phanfare account. The first way is our Website Hosting Model, under which each customer can set a custom URL and has a site at, where ‘you’ is chosen by you. When you click Publish after creating an album, your Phanfare site includes the album. You can email folks about that URL or you can use our email tools to notify people.

The second way to publish is to make an album available to Phanfare Friends, Family and Groups. You do this by clicking on the “friends and family” button in album options and choosing from checkboxes for friends, family and your various Phanfare groups.

If you make an album visible through the Phanfare social network then it appears at When friends go to that URL, they are asked to login. As an added wrinkle, your Phanfare connections are automatically notified nightly of all the new albums created by you and their other Phanfare connections.

The Phanfare social network is a vestige of when Phanfare was a freemium service, back in 2008. In that model, you would invite your friends to connect to you within Phanfare, they would get free accounts with 1GB of storage and be able to participate at some level.

When we first came out with the social network version of Phanfare in 2008, people told us that they wanted to make some albums available to everyone, not requiring them to login. And so we added that feature. If you click through the friends and family sharing button in album options, the choices you are presented with are “just me”, “everyone”, or some combination of friends family and groups. When you choose everyone, the album gets published without restriction to

What this basically comes down to is that we have two completely separate but equal ways of publishing content. We know this is complicated and tricky and so we simplified it months ago by removing the Phanfare friends and family sharing options for people who have no Phanfare friends and family. New customers already see a vastly simplified sharing model.

Without the friends and family stuff, an album in Phanfare is published to your Phanfare site, or not. Your site can have a password. Or not. That’s it. You can also control whether or not your site gets indexed by Google (that’s in Site Properties).

We also offer subsites, which fits neatly into the website hosting model. With subsites, you can create a URL like and specify that certain albums are included at that URL. You can set a password for that subsite or leave it open.

When Phanfare was freemium, having a way to connect with other free users in Phanfare made sense. But Freemium did not work for Phanfare and we have long since abandoned it as a business model.

We plan to completely remove the friends and family features in a future release. They have outlived their usefuless. We now offer transfer to flickr and facebook for those looking for social networking. Most of your friends and family probably have facebook accounts, and if not, it’s free to join.

And yet there are those who love the friends and family features because they offer a form of access control lists (ACLs). We believe that you can essentially recreate this control using subsites. You can create a subsite called and publish albums into that only friends can see. You can create a separate subsite password. We know its not exactly the same thing – all the viewers to the site share a viewing password and you lose some reporting granularity – but it’s close.

Phanfare groups are a different matter. They were intended to allow groups to collaborate and all contribute albums to a common group. But the reality is that 95% of Phanfare groups are controlled by one person and only one person publishes content to them. Hence, they too can be replaced with subsites.

When we remove the Phanfare friends and family features in a future release, we plan to make the Phanfare subsites feature available to all. We will also attempt to map your current Phanfare friends, family and groups to new subsites for you, and we will create contact lists of the members of these containers so you can continue to reach out to them when you add new content.

I wrote this longish post because I want you to understand how the system works today if you are a power user and to let you know where we are headed with it.

In design, less is definitely more, and if it requires a post this long to explain our sharing model, we know it has gotten away from us.

In the interim, we suggest that all customers stop using the Phanfare friends and family features. When you create an album, you just need to click Publish to make it available on your Phanfare site. Be sure to set a site password if you want to keep your site private.

Finally, you have always been able to get an isolated URL that shows a viewer only a single album with no links to any other content. That feature remains the same and its useful when sharing an album on a one-off basis with someone who should not see other content. Those links are not in your site namespace and don’t lead back to your site if the viewer manipulated the URL in their web browser.

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  • Sean

    Andrew -

    Please keep the isolated URL's. I used them a lot and like that it doesn't lead back to my site.

    Thanks for the post

  • Stefan A.

    This sounds reasonable. I'm very new to Phanfare but I like it a lot. My prime use is actually a web based off-site image library/backup. I especially like the feature where I can decide directly from Aperture that all pictures rated below two stars is going to be invisible in the Album.

    Anyhow, the subsite feature is a feature that I can really se useful in my case.

  • erlichson

    isolated URLs are not changing. we learned our lesson in 2008 when we
    inadvertently broken isolated links. social networking URLs will also
    continue to work, but will redirect to subsite URLs that we autogenerate
    for you.


  • Mike


    I agree, this issue has gotten away from Phanfare.

    The problems with the shared password among a group of people solution are numerous. What if I want to change my password? I now have to contact everyone individually? What if I decide I dont want my old friend Joe to have access anymore? I have to change the password then contact everyone else? I also believe people feel a lack of ownership or responsibility with shared passwords. What's stopping my good aunt giving the site password to my bad aunt who I dont want on my site? How will I know if my bad aunt is viewing my site? etc, etc im sure you can use your imagination.

    What's wrong with a forum style security setup? This website is available to everyone, or its not. If its not, you need to register. Enter a username and email address. I will approve you. You will get an email with a password. Login, change your password, access the content. Want access to this private post? You will need the password. Logout.


    I need a friends and family style security system and subsites do not fill the void. Due to recent developments, I dont want any of my albums available to the public but I do want my family and close friends to be able to see our content. I want the people I trust to have default access to all of the content but still need an internal password so I can post something just between me and dad.

    Make sense?

  • erlichson

    I think you made a pretty good argument for why simpler security is needed than having your relatives register to get access. Too complicated. Look at it from the other wide. Do you want to register and maintain a login to get access to your friend's photos from disney? Remember, these viewers have no photos on phanfare. They just want to see the disney photos. When you ask them to go through hoops, they just give up.

    As for getting rid of an old friend's access, just change the site password and don't send them sharing invites anymore..

  • Mike

    The people who are prepared to go through the hoops are the only people I want viewing my family photo's. If I want my entire friends and family to view a photo or video, ill post it on facebook. If Phanfare wants to lessen the “hoops” then just have them apply for access. Phanfare shouldn't be asking everyone to register and then giving them a website with a free gig of space. Just give them a simple username and password to access my site.

    My wife uses a website called She has registered to host a page and upload photos and information. Her girlfriends, her mom, my mom, my sisters and many others have simply requested access to view her site. She gets an email, she approves or denies them and they get a password. They don't have any other fancy access. They can just view her site with their private username and password. Thats it.

    Managing logins is now a way of life! Everyone has logins for their facebook, hotmail, internet account, ebay, work user account, even google. The list goes on. The people who care to go and punch in their details are the ones I want to be able to access my photo's. Thats why I am securing it and thats why they will care to manage this password. People who care to view my site will manage the username and password themselves. It can be as simple as their email address with an even simpler password. Phanfare should have a very loose password policy so they can make near any phrase or word their password. Easy for them personally to remember.

    As far as your “simpler is better” argument goes, its just not the case. The current policy is not scalable, offers no real authentication and has zero accountability! It is a mediocure level of security at best. I do not believe it will stand the test of time. Phanfare should have a better system in place.

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  • Natalie

    Hi Andrew,
    Thanks for the update. This is a blow for our family, because we have different branches living on three different continents, and it was so easy for us to all have our own Phanfare accounts, but link certain albums to the same family group so that the grandparents could get all of the albums showing up on one page. In addition, all albums thus linked would also appear on the grandparents' phanfare iphone app, making it easy for them to share their latest photos from all members of the family. Is there any way to keep that linking functionality?

  • keithlife

    One of the features I enjoy most about Phanfare is the ability to look and see who has viewed my albums! Its a great feature! I belive with the new changes this will go away. I see how Phanfare skirted around the issues with the note above…

    “all the viewers to the site share a viewing password and you lose some reporting granularity – but it’s close.”

    I really hope this is not the case. I have used Phanfare for about three years now and have over 100 albums with them. If I can't see who has viewed my albums I may pull stakes and move to a different site.

  • keithlife

    One of my favorite things about Phanfare is the ability to look everyday who has viewed my albums! Based on comments above Phanfare seems to be skirting this issue but with the statement above:

    “all the viewers to the site share a viewing password and you lose some reporting granularity – but it’s close.”

    I think they are saying we will loose the ability of viewing who has looked at your albums! I hope this is not the case. I have been with Phanfare over three years and have over 100 albums. If it is I will consider moving on to a different site.

  • erlichson

    We track when users click through sharing invitations and are able to report down to a specific person. We cookie them and can see future visits as well. If they direct navigate from a new browser then the access is anonymous.

    We may add features in the future that allow you to optionally force viewers to register as your viewer, but the registration would be with you not with us. That is, imagine yourself like the nytimes that has user logins. But this is not on the short term horizon.

    The current social network is not working and the wrong model for us but if our customers want registered viewers in great numbers, we will provide it.

  • erlichson

    We track when users click through sharing invitations and are able to report down to a specific person. We cookie them and can see future visits as well. If they direct navigate from a new browser then the access is anonymous.

    We may add features in the future that allow you to optionally force viewers to register as your viewer, but the registration would be with you not with us. That is, imagine yourself like the nytimes that has user logins. But this is not on the short term horizon.

    The current social network is not working and the wrong model for us but if our customers want registered viewers in great numbers, we will provide it.

  • erlichson

    It is a blow to you because you got the model working as originally intended and educated everyone involved.

    Some ideas: my mom uses my yahoo, which is also an rss reader in disguise. She has added (ok maybe I did it) all the kids' phanfare rss feeds and gets a new headline whenever someone publishes and album. She is usually the first one in the family to view everything.

    Another idea: use the screensavers. They take multiple phanfare sites and can mix and match photos from different members of the family.

  • erlichson

    If our customers want us to provide a way allowing viewers to register for site or sub site access, we will. But I don't believe the interest will be there broadly.

    To your point, the registration would be to your site and not with phanfare. That it, it would come with no storage and be viewer only.

  • Natalie

    Is the screensaver feature on phanfare? How can I set it up to access different phanfare sites? How will the phanfare app change? Any way for users to access albums from multiple sites owned by different users from one screen on the app or phanfare homepage?

  • erlichson

    You can download the screensaver from apps and extras. It can be configured with multiple Phanfare site URLs.

    The Phanfare downloadable clients don't change much a result of our removing the social network. The Friends and Family button, viewable in album options, will no longer be there. That's it.

    We are also rolling out a new web-based client next Thursday (that is the release) and that client lacks the friends and family features as well.

  • Vera

    I'm glad. I liked the old Phanfare better. :)

  • erlichson

    Well, that was the message we got from the vast majority of our customers. We removed the feature (never an easy decision) to simplify the product, reduce support costs, reduce development costs and free us up to work on the stuff that our customers actually do ask for (tagging, more site layouts, better search, better editing tools).

    I know that if it takes two pages to explain the sharing model, it got away from us.

  • Skosche3

    As a software engineer and a long term customer who has been through all these changes I definitely understand what you are trying to do. All my family that I have gotten to sign up is very confused by two ways of sharing pics: publish to album or share with friends, families, groups, etc. I have tried to clear things up multiple times on how they need to publish pics to their main for people to visit by knowing the link and then also sharing to friends and family so that everyone is notified that there is something out there to look at. So you are trying to move to a K.I.S.S. model (Keep it simple, stupid) because everything is too complicated at this point.

    I totally agree and my ideas are listed below. First let me explain why I don't like the path you have chosen. I think most people would agree with me that the point of Phanfare is a secure location to store you photos and easily share with only the people you want to, even if that is everyone. This new model eliminates the ability to share safely and easily. I myself am forgetful and never check up on my friends pics who don't notify me when they post them, whether it be Phanfare, blogs, etc. So my main problem is that there is not an easy way to notify friends that there are new albums to look at. This is why I like currently like Phanfare so much. Because people are actually looking at my pics and I know they are being looked at by only the people I allow.

    With the new model, one solution would be to email everyone through phanfare with new postings but I find this a very tedious option to be required to do with every album uploaded and it isn't really a solution. Many times family have shared multiple albums that spanned multiple years since they were uploading old photos and new ones. Without Phanfare letting me know through nightly emails I would have never seen the old albums since I wouldn't know to look for them.

    Another solution is to have everyone setup an RSS feed like you suggest but I can't teach everyone how to do it and I know most of my viewers are not up on RSS technology to do it themselves.

    So besides all the other comments users have posted that I agree with I am also concerned that the sub albums is not a valid solution since anyone can easily manipulate the url as you mentioned to get to which I don't want. So in my opinion sub albums are not a very safe solution, only an added convenience to filter out soccer pics as an example.

    Now you might suggest that I could just simply password protect my site which I have done but without the email notification and family being able to log in through their accounts I doubt they will visit the site enough to remember my site password over time. Especially if I have to change it because I found out a friend shared it with someone I didn't want to have access like another user has commented.

    In summary you really need to come up with a better automatic solution to notify the people we want that new albums are uploaded like the nightly notification solution we had!

    One suggestion is to eliminate the unnecessary steps of clicking “album options” then “friends and family”. Simply use the publish button to bring up the friends and family dialog. Within the dialog I can choose who should be able to see the album like me, friends, family, groups. The dialog should still default to automatically notify all the selected groups. In addition I could choose a “publish to site” checkbox that would also allow anyone to see the album who knows the url. This dialog then simply summarizes who would have access to the pics and who would be notified like it currently does. Last eliminate all other buttons about publishing that currently exist to keep it simple.

    Another suggestion is with every email we send through phanfare about a new album that we can provide a “Would you like to be notified about future albums?” link that adds them to a friends list that we can control on our site for automatic notification. Keep the Publish to Site model and loose the additional step to send to friends and family since they will be in this automatic list to just get notified and not need a Phanfare account. Currently even though we had separate Friends and Family list, we always share with both groups anyway. Take out the extra step of which groups to share a new album with and AT LEAST GIVE US ONE LIST of people who would get automatically notified every time we “publish to site”. Any other needs can be solved with custom emails of sub albums or private links and don't need to be automatic.

    Just some thoughts and sorry for the long response that is not K.I.S.S. : ) I thought it was important though since I love your site and think its the best in the world to share pics securely and safely. I don't want to threaten to leave or anything like that since I have a free lifetime account at this point anyways, but I do want to feel good about using Phanfare in the future and continue to brag about it to my friends and family. That way they sign up with Phanfare and I benefit from being able to see all there nice hi-res pictures for years to come. Good luck on solving this and I hope you don't loose too many customers with this change.


  • Vera

    I just thought it was what made every other site out there obnoxious – people having to register, getting notifications they may or may not want, all this complicated social networking stuff… I just wanted a place to back up and organize my photos and send people to if they want to see them. (In fact there's probably a long ranting post of mine when these changes came out ha!) I love Phanfare for its simplicity and unobtrusiveness, and am glad to see it go back to that.

  • erlichson

    One feature we have long considered and may build is to permit people to
    “subscribe” to a site or subsite by entering their email address. here is
    how it would work:

    On your Phanfare site it would say “Subscribe to Receive Updates [ enter
    email ] “

    Viewer (mom) gets a site invite from you and goes to visit. She enters her
    email, that triggers a confirm email to your mom asking her to confirm she
    wants updates. She clicks. Done. She is now opted-in.

    Everytime you publish, she gets email telling her that there is new content.
    Every email has an opt-out link. You would also have a way of removing any
    viewer from the admin side (maybe a pass-along viewer you don't care for).
    The email notifications would be encoded in a way that the viewer did not
    need to enter the site or subsite password. Hence, from their perspective
    they just click.

    The beauty of this is that its the viewer who decides they want to be
    updated. Hence, its not spammy. You still get per-visitor reporting since
    people are clicking through notification emails.

    What do you think? I am not saying this is around the corner; It's just an
    idea at this point.

  • MAG

    The 3 features that attracted me to phanfare are:
    1. User-friendly, i set up the grandmas with their phanfare account and they can view pictures easily.
    2. Ability to create groups so that different people see different albums.
    3. Ability to track/see who is viewing pictures and when.
    4. The fact that everyone is automatically notified that new content has been uploaded.

    How can I replicate these features with your new model?

  • MAG

    Me too. In fact, I liked it better before the social networking was introduced. What we had 2 years ago was much better. I wonder what kind of survey or focus group Phanfare did before making these changes. I invested a lot of time uploading my pictures on Phanfare and now I face the frustrating choice of potentially having to start over elsewhere or just keep my pictures on my hard drive and share a few ones through flickr or some service like that. I can't believe they did this.

  • MAG

    Sorry, should have said four features.

  • erlichson

    I am a bit confused by your post. Phanfare started out with a simple publishing model, added the social network/freemium stuff in 2008, removed freemium in 2009 and and 2010, went back to the original publishing model. So if you are old-time user, these changes should be welcome.

  • erlichson

    1. This is more user friendly since grandma does not need to register.

    2. This can be accomplished via subsites. Create a subsite for each interest group. And unlike our groups feature, you don't need to get everyone to opt-in to be part of the group. Just notify the relevant people via our email tools when the subsite has new content.

    3. You still get this because we track when people click through the sharing invites and nearly all viewing comes via sharing messages, not because a person randomly decides to look at your albums.

    4. This we still need to build. I was thinking maybe a feedburner style feature where a person can put their email address in on your site and opt-in for automatic email updates.

  • Skosche3

    That sounds great. Especially the idea with clicking through a email without needing a site password. My only request is that you hold off on your current updates until something like this can be rolled out at the same time. Otherwise I have to explain to everyone the new Phanfare and how it is limited. Then later when you implement this explain to everyone again the new feature for auto updates.

    It took us months if not over a year to get some immediate family members connected up in a way that they would see our updates and be able to see our pictures. They really wanted to see them but were not tech savy enough to really understand what is going on with creating Phanfare accounts etc. Now that they are hooked its changing again. Bummer.

  • erlichson

    we are going forward with removing the phanfare social network. next week's
    release is a new web-based client to manage your photos and videos and it
    lacks support for social networking.

    we understand the need for lowering the effort that family has to goto to
    see photos and are happy to help you set up interim solutions, including
    having family use RSS readers or the phanfare screensavers to stay up to


  • MAG

    Thanks, I will have to wait and see, the email I received yesterday is not very explicit with respect to my concerns, which I believe are shared by many users. As to #4, I definitely would like to automatic updates, even if it means the recipient subscribing to it. One of the reasons for using Phanfare is to minimize the amount of time I spend sharing the pictures.

  • Pwu

    Glad to see the old Phanfare coming back. The only ting that kept phanfare viable over the last few years was the use of isolated URLs. Never wanted to force friends/family to create and maintain a phanfare account simply to see some pictures of a BBQ for instance. Although these arguments were made by your loyal customers back when you decided to go into the social networking model ;) . Thanks for listening to and understanding what your core customers want. The communication in the forums is appreciated as well.

  • Skosche3

    I appreciate how fast you get back to your customers. It says a lot that you notify us of updates and support any of our concerns. I will keep your suggestions in mind and look forward to seeing enhancements in the new web-based client. Please keep automatic email notifications at the top of your todo list for future features. Thanks!

    BTW, I do totally like that you are getting away from friends needing logins to view our pictures as I requested the “Publish to Site” feature to come back through the Social networking changes. Just got really used to the bonus feature of automatic emails but like you said you guys are looking to bring that back.

  • ChrisMN

    The main reason I use phanfare is that different individuals can have access to multiple groups and access can be assigned based on passwords per visitor. Now that this feature is going away in favor of the more “loose” security of shared password per group I have no option but to discontinue this service. I understand that phanfare wants to make it easier for the 95% who don’t need this functionality but now I’m in the dark. I don’t know of any other service that I can turn too. Any ideas? Anyone?

  • galoki

    #4 is a very important feature to me. I think it would be better to hold off on implementing all these changes until you can address your user's concerns. It looks to me like all the features that I felt was worth paying for are going away. At the end of this, what are you offering that the “free” services don't? Why should I continue to pay for your service?

  • raphaelfreeman

    yes, 4. it critical!

  • erlichson

    We offer lots that free sites don't including customer support, and archival preservation of full size originals at amazon s3. Amazon provides very reliable storage, keeping your assets at multiple data centers. We also have apps for mobile, plugins, screensavers and synchronizing desktop clients. But at the end of the day, each customer needs to decide whether we deliver adequate value for them.

  • Mike

    Yes, viewer only registration to my site would be nice.

  • Daryl Peloquin

    I know you can't please everyone but…
    You mention simplicity and you start talking setting up RSS feeds and you loose me. The auto notification to my friends and families was killer – I loved it everytime I created an album! I will miss this feature and it will create a lot of work for me.

  • erlichson

    We will implement a better alternative for this.

  • erlichson

    We will implement a better alternative for this.

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