The New Smugmug: What’s Missing

I am a Smugmug fan and have been using their service since designing my very first photography website. I run both of my business sites through them:

http://www.justinreznick.com

for fine art prints and

http://www.landscapephototours.com

for my workshops and tours. They have fantastic customer service and an extremely reasonable pricing structure. What they have always lacked is the ability to customize your site without the use of CSS, HTML and Javascript. Through the use of their excellent forum (dgrin.com),  their excellent customer service, and plenty of self-education, I have built my site over the years and I am content with it. There are some further customizations I would like to do here and there and will continue to work to make that happen. I have also used the services of http://www.newskinmedia.com when I needed some customization beyond my abilities.

This week Smugmug announced their new site. The customization looks amazing. Kudos to them for creating a simpler interface. But here’s the problem:  if I want to use these features, I have to abandon my site and migrate to the their new system. Unfortunately, I can’t use the customization on my “Legacy” Smugmug account. Yikes. I don’t want a new template or a new design, I just want to make changes using their new, simpler, interface.

Another issue I have, and this is purely subjective, are the new templates. They are 500px and flickr clones. How many images can we display and how large can we fill the screen at one time? It’s information overload. They showed a sampling of sites that were up and running and I didn’t care for any of them. These types of templates work well for photo sharing websites like 500px because, as a viewer, you are looking to find a diamond in the rough. The images are from different people, and you are searching for one to catch your eye. Or you use 500px as a research tool, for example, typing in Iceland in the search bar to see as many images of Iceland as you can in order to help plan a trip. A personal website is something completely different to me. It should be clean and simple, highlighting each and every image of one’s portfolio. Each image should be on your site for a reason and be worth viewing. There should be a level of consistency amongst your work, and, unlike 500px, it’s not about searching for a diamond in the rough, but about enjoying an individual artist’s work. Although I am sure that you can use the customization tools to create a clean site within the new Smugmug, I am compelled to write a critique on the direction of photography websites.

During the release presentation and while reading Smugmug sponsored blog posts, a similar expression was thrown around: “the old Smugmug was ugly”. WOW. It’s not; it really isn’t. It needs some customization love, but the old Smugmug is capable of creating great websites. For those of us who have designed our own Smugmug websites, whether through our own sweat, or hired out for customization, what does the new Smugmug do for us? Take a look at these impressive Smugmug sites, keeping in mind that I’m a landscape photographer and so I’ve selected sites within my field:

http://www.chipphillipsphotography.com

http://www.davidthompsonphotography.com

http://www.ryandyarphotography.com

http://www.dorinbofan.com

There is a theme within these sites: first and foremost they are clean, simple, and highlight each image from the artist. Granted, photography sites have had this look for a few  years now, and maybe the future holds something different. But from a landscape photographer’s perspective, I’m hoping future sites won’t include the information overload templates from the new Smugmug.

If you have not built a site or are just starting out, I highly recommend Smugmug. You will be working with a great company and building a website from scratch with a superior interface. My issue is for the legacy users, not new users. New users are in for a treat. That’s the joy of new tech!

UPDATE: I have just learned that Smugmug is going to force everyone to upgrade but that no timetable was given. I have also heard that advanced Javascript is not allowed. This would destroy many customized sites. I don’t know this as fact, just passing on what I have heard /read. If this is true, it might be time to start looking elsewhere.

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19 responses to “The New Smugmug: What’s Missing

  • Victor Rakmil

    I am a smugmug user, and have a clean website I customized my self using smug only tools. It follows the same pattern as those above. Are you saying that is no longer possible? I have not had much of a chance to look at the new smugmug.

    • Justin Reznick

      If you want to use the new tools, you have to migrate to the new site. If you’re happy with your site, you can stay in Legacy mode for now and still use the tools you are familiar with.

      • Victor Rakmil

        They have not said how long – my question and I have put it to Smug help, is what template comes closest to what i have now. Frankly that, information, would make everyone’s migration easier.

  • Stephen DesRoches

    I only saw a few of the new templates but I had a similar reaction. It’s interesting how one site design follows and is clearly inspired by another.

  • Nitin Kansal

    Hey Justin, I’ve my site in legacy mode : http://www.nitinkansal.com with complete self customization. Looking at videos from smugmug i was in impression that you can migrate to new model w/o missing current design? Do you mean using new tools, you can not preserve existing design?

    • Justin Reznick

      Nitin,

      Thanks for the comment! Your site looks great and I love the customization. If you decide to migrate, I would love to get info on how you did it. From my understanding, you will lose a lot of your customized options, and from what I just heard, there’s no javascript in the new Smugmug. The PayPal shopping cart system so many of us have goes away. I haven’t read the dgrin forums diving into the migration, so lots to learn for sure.

      • Nitin Kansal

        Thanks for the reply Justin! I somehow missed the reply last time and never read it until now :)

        You are right about no support for Javascript in current model. Except that, i’m able to re-do all the customization i want using a test account :-) . Disabling JS pretty much removes paypal shopping cart.

        I did some follow up with Smugmug.. They responded back saying many are not happy about no support of JS. They are re-considering JS option in future release. Hopefully if they roll out support for JS before forcing legacy users to adopt new system, we will be good. If they force us to adopt new system before JS support, we are screwed and need to do some migration!

        I’ll keep you posted and please keep me posted if you find some new interesting news!

      • Justin Reznick

        Nitin,

        Thanks for the reply!

        If only! That would be amazing to see JS come back before legacy users have to switch. Or even sooner so we can play with the new bells and whistles. If you hear anything about JS I would love to know!!!

        Thanks,

        Justin

  • David Thompson

    Dead on with your right up Justin! I had the same reaction, and thought it was just me. I’m still taking this all in. I’m going to wait for some of the smoke to clear to decide what I’m going to do. Great write up buddy.

    • Justin Reznick

      Thanks David! We’re in the same boat:). I’ve been looking at alternatives, but I’m sure we have quite a while before the forced upgrade so no need to rush into anything. Waiting for the smoke to clear is a smart plan, I will follow your lead!

  • David Lawrence

    Hi Justin,

    First off — I want to tell you how much I enjoyed looking at your portfolio! Your images are just lovely.

    Regarding your critique of the new SmugMug, I just wanted to add one observation. While I am not aware of your customization, everything that I see from a “display” standpoint should be very easy to accomplish in the new system. All your galleries seem to be displayed in the “Smugmug” style, which is one of the current offerings in the new system. So from what I can see, nothing visual about your sight would need to change at all. You may indeed have important back-end customizations that cannot be accomplished with the new system — that I cannot comment on. But I think you should have no problem knocking out a copy of your existing site within the new system from a “visual” standpoint.

    Best of luck to you!

    David

    • Justin Reznick

      David,

      Thank you for your kind words! I agree, a similar style should be easy enough to obtain. The real problem is the lack of javascript. If I can’t do e-commerce on the site, it’s unusable. I hope Smugmug fixes the problem soon!

      Cheers,

      Justin

  • John Baker

    A degree of caution is merited. I like the look of the new site but migration broke a custom API application I wrote and my keywords were mucked up. If you are generating revenue from your current sites give it a month or so for things to settle down.

  • Michael bollino

    Spot on Justin. Just spent an hour trying to “clone” my old SM website using the new interface. Everything was going well until I realized no javascript. For me this means no paypal buttons. Have to wait and see if they add this capability in before terminating access to old SM sites. If not, I’m jumping ship somewhere else as well.

  • John Manuwal

    Hi Justin,
    I loved your talk awhile back in Seattle. I used to have a smugmug account but I left and went to zenfolio. I find that I’m not happy with them, they are ok but I want more. Not sure if I should come back to smugmug or just try a wordpress for everything. Any thoughts?
    Thanks!
    John

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