Open Source Software for web-based photo galleries has been around for a very long time. Web based photo galleries mean different things for different people. The casual user feels no compulsion to go Open Source and host his or her own photo gallery, thanks to Flickr®, Picassa®, Photobucket® and Facebook®. But apart from privacy and ownership issues, these services are fairly limited when it comes to integration with blogging platforms. For example, Photobucket® only allows its users to post a slide show of their photos in a blog post. A clickable thumbnail gallery cannot be inserted into a blog post as of now. And Photobucket® has the annoying tendency to automatically resize images to save bandwidth (at the expense of quality). For example, a 1.5 MB DSLR image will end up becoming a 70KB image once its uploaded to Photobucket®.
For me, experimenting with Open Source web-based photo galleries began when I began to realise the limitations of WordPress when it comes to photoblogging.
When WordPress started off, photos were more or less an afterthought. Photos on WordPress were given some advanced functionality by plugins. The best I could find was the nextGEN gallery by Alex Rabe of Germany, which seems to be partly inspired by oldtime photoblogging favourite, Coppermine.
Everything was great with nextGen gallery, until I wanted to add just a little more content to photo descriptions. I discovered that it was impossible to add a hyperlink into the image description field (unless I was willing to hack some components).
Even WordPress admits its helplessness when it comes to photos, suggesting that users change their site theme to a photoblog theme, or use a WordPress plugin that is compatible with an outside web-based photo gallery.
Since I am an occassional photoblogger, changing the site’s theme to a photoblog theme was not an option. Therefore I started on my quest to find an ideal Open Source web-based photo gallery. I had some very specific criteria.
- Maximum compatibility with WordPress, especially when it came to inserting image galleries into a blog post.
- The ability to add HTML content to a photo’s description.
- The ability to add Copyright info to a photo’s description.
With these criteria in mind, I found Wikipedia very helpful in narrowing down on Piwigo and Zenphoto. Apparently, these two Open Source web-based photo galleries have the most features. A close third would probably be Coppermine.
Please note that my comparative review is based on Piwigo 2.3.2 and Zenphoto 126.96.36.199. Things are changing fast in this area and this comparative review should be considered outdated in a few months.
It is interesting to note that while WordPress development has diverged from photoblogging, Open Source web-based photo galleries now draw cues from Wordpress’s famous “five minute install” and theme/plugin architecture.
Piwigo and Zenphoto; History
Both Piwigo and Zenphoto have been around for more than five years. Zenphoto is relatively newer (they don’t have a Wikipedia page). Zenphoto developers appear to be based in America while Piwigo developers appear to be clustered in France. It appears that Zenphoto is more small scale than Piwigo, in terms of code volume. This is quite surprising because I found it more feature-rich and more sophisticated. Both Zenphoto and Piwigo have had security vulnerabilities in the past (all appropriately patched). But Zenphoto appears to have had more than its share of bad press.
Piwigo also offers full fledged photo hosting service (in the fashion of WordPress.com).
Piwigo and Zenphoto; Installation
I ran into installation issues related to PHP on my host server and file permission settings with both Piwigo and Zenphoto.
In the case of Piwigo, I had to shoot in the dark because there were no preinstall checks. In the case of Zenphoto, a preinstall screen pretty much summed up all of my issues, giving me specific pointers on troubleshooting.
Newbie Tip: Never Install Piwigo or Zenphoto onto your existing WordPress database. Create a new database. And better yet, install on a subdomain instead of your WordPress domain.
Piwigo and Zenphoto; Support
I consider support for Open Source software as a courtesy and therefore my expectations were low.
But within a day of posting my problems on Piwigo and Zenphoto support forums, I recieved direction from their support staff.
Zenphoto appeared to have some (non-impacting) technical issues with their forums. They also have a system of moderating newbie posts.
Piwigo and Zenphoto; Features
Both Piwigo and Zenphoto were able to superbly meet requirements 1 & 2 (adding html content to individual images). But I found Zenphoto to be more sophisticated and advanced (detractors may use the word “dizzying”). There is the ability to fine tune everything. For example, Zenphoto has the option of enabling secure logins, (provided the server supports OpenID) whereas Piwigo does not. In addition, the bundled themes that come with Zenphoto are very clean and sophisticated. Zenphoto even has special themes that can replicate your original WordPress blog themes!
When uploading image files via FTP, Piwigo requires that thumbnails be also created and uploaded to a subfolder with the prefix TN-. This requires batch processing of image files by a local image editor such as Adobe Photoshop Essentials. The alternative is to avoid uploading images via FTP and instead use a special upload program (Ploader) created by Piwigo. Zenphoto has no such requirements.
Piwigo and Zenphoto; WordPress Integration
Zenphoto initially appeared promising when it came to WordPress integration. After all, there were four WordPress plugins for Zenphoto, compared to just one for Piwigo.
But the first Zenphoto plugin for WordPress is no longer under active development. Another one “may” support Zenphoto later on. One plugin (ZenphotoPress) that appeared promising works as intended, but only if zenphoto is hosted on the same site as the wordpress blog. Another plugin allows Zenphoto integration on another blog by reading the public RSS feed of the Zenphoto gallery (provided that it is enabled). But it does’nt appear compatible with the latest release of Zen photo.
This left me with no way to go but Piwigo. The Piwigomedia Plugin utilizes the TinyMCE interface and works exactly as intended. It does not duplicate images in the Piwigo gallery.
A demonstration can be found at the bottom of this page. While the link still works, the gallery is now a standard WordPress one, not a Piwigo one.
While Zenphoto clearly has sophistication and features, Piwigo has best managed to achieve WordPress Integration while offering an impressive, yet not dizzying array of features.
Update (December 2014)
Ever since I wrote this review, my requirements have changed, and WordPress has grown up as well. All I needed was some advanced gallery management to supplement my WordPress blog. Thankfully, WordPress now allows insertion of multiple galleries by default, without any other plugins. While the gallery formats are simple (tiles and slideshows), the images open up into container pages that allow advanced HTML descriptions, links, as well as the Akismet comment form. Whats more, users of the WordPress Jetpack plugin can avail image hosting through the WordPress Content Delivery Network (saving bandwidth), and they can also create flash-like Mosaic galleries. To top it all, My Piwigo installation died when I tried a recent upgrade (2.7.2). This was related to the limitations of being in a shared hosting environment, and I doubt that typical Piwigo users will encounter the same difficulties. While I no longer use Piwigo, It still continues to be my choice when it comes standalone image galleries.