How Smug is your Mug??

My last blog post for ETAD874 addressed the generation gap and technology.  I decided to take a different twist on this post and give and in-depth review of one of the on-line gallery tools my team is looking at to present to our client – The Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society.

From an initial consultation and needs assessment here is what the client would like:

  • The online publishing of the over 9300 Baker Slides.
  • To have these images organized and tagged (and if possible geotagged).
  • To have these images available for purchase.
  • To protect the integrity and authenticity of the images (possible watermarking of viewable images).
  • An interface that is easy to use and maintain.
  • An interface that is easy to access by the public.
  • An interface that is accessible or integrated with the overall web redesign that is taking place.

Our team came up with 3 possible ideas for the Baker Slides:

  1. Using FileMaker and constructing our own database of the slides.
  2. Using Flickr.
  3. Using SmugMug.

I had never heard of until it was suggested by a fellow team member.  Another team member and I took on the task of developing a Sumgmug prototype.  Developing the prototype required some investigation into the workings of SmugMug.  Here are some of the findings.

SmugMug offers three levels for customers.  This blog entry will be reviewing the “Pro” version.  I will explain costing at the end.

Account set-up and Registration

Set-up and Registration was as easy as setting up an e-mail account.  The SmugMug main page offers multiple opportunities to sign-up for the free 14 day trial.  This trial is for the Pro features.  The initial sign up does not ask for personal information other than an e-mail address and setting up a password.  No personal information is required at this stage.  During setup, you are asked to set-up a domain within SmugMug.  It can be *anyword*  Users have the ability to go into advance settings and map their existing web-address to their sumgmug site. Set-up is quick and easy, and you are ready to upload your images.

Images and Galleries

After registration you create an initial gallery.  SmugMug allows for users to have multiple galleries (for ‘big picture’ categorization and sorting of images).  It also allows users to assign individual photos to more than one gallery.  Gallery pages are organized into thumbnail images on the left hand side of the window (with right and left arrows to see more photos) with a larger image preview on the right hand side of the window.  Clicking on the thumbnail changes the image preview. Floating the mouse over the preview image brings up image options.  Users can click “thumbs up or thumbs down”, download the image, and get more information about the image (size and data on the image).  Beside the preview are options to make purchases.

Uploading images is quick and easy as users can select multiple files from a folder on their computer and batch upload into SmugMug.  Users can then click the thumbnails to see the preview of the photo, and from the preview users can geotag the photo, tag the photo with keywords (which then makes them searchable in an one-stop search bar), and add a caption to the photo.

On the public side of sumgmug, viewers of images have the opportunity to share the images via Twitter and facebook.  They also have the opportunity to comment on the image or on an entire gallery.  All comments can be moderated by the managing account.


SmugMug Pro offers an e-commerce solution for the professional photographer who would like to sell their images.  Products offered range from common 4×6 photographs (with sizes increasing to the limit of the resolution of the uploaded file), mugs, posters, calendars, framed photos, wallet-size, and photo stickers.  All items are given a base price (price that SmugMug charges).  Users can then apply a mark-up percentage to the entire catalogue of items available or can take the time to set mark-up prices on each category or individual item available for purchase.  All items in the catalogue are produced on-demand so there are no overhead costs to inventory production.  Item check-out is similar to checking-out at any e-commerce site.  Customer service is handled by SmugMug, so users do not have to deal with any customer issues.

One of the negative components to SmugMug is that it is American based.  All transactions take place in $USD.  For the client, they need to set up a pay-pal account to receive their sales proceeds.  Canadians are charged 1.5x the U.S. shipping rate, which is discounted from other international shipping rates.  Base US shipping rates are quite reasonable.

Customization and Security

SmugMug offers users the ability to switch certain features on or off depending on how they would like to handle customization and security.  SmugMug allows users to:

  • Watermark their photos.
  • Disable the ‘right-click’ Save photo option.
  • Password protect certain photos/galleries.
  • Remove SmugMug headers and replace them with their own logos.
  • Moderate comments from the public.
  • Have a website free of ads and spam.
  • Enable viewing on iPhones, iPads, and other mobile devices.
  • Embed a flash slideshow of their photos in blogs.
  • Upload an unlimited number of photos (max file size of 24MB’s a photo).
  •  Have a dynamic display of the most popular photos.
  • Choose from (and change at any time) 50 different themes.
  • Have full HTML control over their website.

Maintenance and Cost

Once the images are uploaded, organized, tagged, geotagged, and captioned appropriately, there is very little maintenance that needs to be done to the site.  Users can come in and change a theme with a few clicks to refresh the look of the site without major time and work.  Users can go into the site at any time and change galleries or edit photo information.

The costs for SmugMug are as follows.  Basic – $5.00/month or $40.00/year, Power – $8.00/month or $60/year, and Pro $20/month or $150/year.  Here is a link to a comparison chart of the different price points.


Taking into consideration information provided from my fellow group members on the FileMaker and Flickr prototypes, I feel that SmugMug is the most appropriate choice for our client.  The features in SmugMug seem to check-off many of their ‘must-haves’ and most of the ‘would like to’s’’. The pro-version may be more than a semi-professional or hobby photographer may need, but the Baker Slides are a priceless historical collection of esteemed photos.  The money and time spent on developing proper galleries, which in turn the client would be able to keep control and security over, is important.  The e-commerce options also allow the selling of digital images as well as print photos (and other merchandise mentioned above).  Since the e-commerce is built into SmugMug and handled by their team, SHFS should be able to sit back and let the pictures sell themselves.  It could be as simple as waiting for the ‘cheque in the mail’.  As the SHFS is a not-for-profit, hiring or contracting work after the instructional design team has finished it’s work may not be in their budget.  SmugMug allows for an easy hand-over of the account settings and will require very little maintenance and upkeep.