How Photobucket Works

Popular Web Sites Image Gallery It's free to create your own basic Photobucket account. See more pictures of popular web sites.
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One of the main functions of the Web is that it gives people the opportunity to share information with audiences scattered around the globe. As the Web has evolved, so too have other technologies such as digital photography and digital video. As digital camera prices decreased enough to come into the reach of the average consumer, sales also increased. People began to look for ways to share their new collections of digital pictures and movies with others.

In 2003, Alex Welch and Darren Crystal founded Photobucket in an attempt to meet this need. Photobucket is a media storage site that allows members to upload photos and video to a personal account and share it with others. But perhaps more importantly, members can also display their photos on other Web sites by including a direct link, which refers back to the original images stored on Photobucket's servers.


­The direct link feature uses HTML code to create a link between the destination page -- such as a blog entry -- and the storage server that holds the media. While many blogs, Web forums, message boards and other Web sites allow users to post images, not all of them allow people to store the images on the site itself. Direct links give Photobucket members the chance to embed pictures in other Web pages. The image displays in the targeted site but Photobucket stores the actual file on its own servers.

Photobucket also provides its members with photo and video album options. Through partnerships with products like FotoFlexer and Adobe Premiere Express Remix, Photobucket offers members the ability to edit uploaded images and video. There's also a scrapbooking feature that lets members create themed slideshows to share with friends and family. These features have helped make Photobucket the most popular photo-sharing site on the Web [source: Alexa].

Next, let's take a look under the hood of Photobucket.­


Photobucket Hosting

The Javascript-based user interface makes it easy to upload images and video to account pages.
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Photobucket uses two different programming languages and a multimedia software suite to deliver services to members. They are:

  • The Java programming language, which is a popular, robust computing language humans can read. The Java language allows programmers to create complex Web applications using a comparatively simple language. After writing the application, the programmers must run their program through a compiler, which converts the code from the Java language into a machine-readable format. Primarily, programmers use the Java programming language to create applications designed for network computing. Photobucket encourages all members to enable Java on their respective Web browsers -- otherwise, the Web site might not work for those users. Java does the heavy lifting in the Photobucket infrastructure.
  • Photobucket also uses the JavaScript programming language. JavaScript and Java are not the same thing. The JavaScript language is a client-side scripting language (CSL). That means a JavaScript application consists of several lines of code embedded in a Web page. The application runs within Internet browsers, which have interpreters that detect and execute JavaScript applications (apps). JavaScript apps tend to be relatively simple compared to programs built in other computing languages. With most Internet browsers, the user can choose to enable or disable JavaScript -- so Photobucket users should check their settings if they experience problems with the service.
  • The third element Photobucket uses is Adobe Flash. Flash is a multimedia software suite designed to create animation and Web applications. Photobucket's interface uses Flash to make the user experience interactive and intuitive.
Photobucket uses a Flash-based video player for all the video stored on its site.
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You can think of Java as the platform upon which the Flash and JavaScript components stand. Paired with the HTML code for Photobucket's Web site, these three elements are what make Photobucket work.


Behind the scenes, Photobucket stores images and video on a network of servers and data storage devices housed in various facilities in Colorado. Photobucket partners with companies like Data393, and Switch and Data, which provide data center facilities. A data center is a specialized warehouse -- its design incorporates the cooling, bandwidth, networking and power capabilities necessary to keep a large network of physical machines running. Photobucket uses its own hardware and software in these data centers.

Next, we'll take a look at some things you can do with your Photobucket account.


Photobucket Pictures

Members can add descriptions, titles and tags to uploaded photographs.
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The heart of Photobucket's service is digital image storage. But images can come in many sizes and file types. Photobucket supports the following image file formats:

  • Graphics interchange format (.gif)
  • Joint Photographic Experts Group files (.jpg)
  • Portable network graphics files (.png)
  • Bitmap files (.bmp)

There are a few ways to describe images on the Internet. One way is to refer to the file size -- the number of bytes of information in a file. Another is to consider the resolution of the image, represented by the height and width of an image in pixels. Photobucket places limits on image and file sizes depending on the type of account the user has (more on accounts later). A basic account holder can upload images of up to 1 megabyte (MB) or up to 1024 x 768 resolution. Pro account holders can upload images that are up to 5 MB or have a resolution of 2240 x 1680 [source: Photobucket].


When you create an account with Photobucket, you have to agree with the site's terms of use. Part of that agreement states that Photobucket can delete or refuse to post any content for any reason. The purpose of this policy is to prevent users from posting offensive, pornographic, disturbing or illegal material. A user who uploads a taboo image and then direct links it to another site may find his or her photo link is gone after a few hours. Instead of the image, people visiting the site will only see a message stating the image's owner violated Photobucket's terms of use.

­Users can add labels to photos called tags. Tags help categorize photos, which comes in handy when you're searching for pictures of a specific person or event. The photo tagging function makes Photobucket more than just a photo storage site -- it's also a social networking site. Photo tags make it easy for users to connect with one another through simple searches.

Now we'll take a closer look at the account options Photobucket offers.


Photobucket Accounts

A Photobucket Meez is an avatar -- an animated representation of a Photobucket member.
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The basic Photobucket account is free of charge and comes with the following:

  • One gigabyte (GB) of storage space
  • The ability to upload videos of up to 5 minutes in length
  • 25 GB of bandwidth each month
  • Access to Adobe Premiere Express for Web-based photo editing
  • The option to create a personal avatar called a Meez
  • Options to transfer digital images to physical products (which you must purchase)

For $39.95 per year, users can upgrade to a Pro account. Pro accounts have all the features of a basic account as well as:


  • 10 GB of storage space
  • The ability to upload 10-minute long videos
  • Unmetered (but not necessarily unlimited) bandwidth
  • File transfer protocol (FTP) upload access
  • The option to upload high resolution images
  • Support for Flash files (.swf files)
  • A 10 percent discount on items from the Photobucket store
  • Premium technical support

Photobucket allows users to create direct links on Web pages to pictures in their accounts. But that means every time someone loads the respective Web page, Photobucket must send the image data to the appropriate server. As more people view the Web page, Photobucket has to send more image data across the Internet. Most Internet service providers (ISPs) charge individuals or companies for heavy use of their networks. That's why Photobucket institutes bandwidth caps -- to reduce the possibility of having to pay fees for its direct links.

Whether you have a basic or a pro account, you can choose to make your account public or private. Anyone can view pictures posted in a public account, which is the default setting on all user accounts. If you have a public account and label a photo with a tag, anyone searching Photobucket for that tag can see your image.

Photobucket gives members the option to share photos through direct links or photo albums.
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­Private accounts are different. Users with a private account can choose who can view the images and videos they've stored. Private account members create a guest password that they can share with trusted friends and family. Whether an account is public or private, the user must still adhere to Photobucket's terms of use. Just because an account is private doesn't mean the account holder can upload photos prohibited for public accounts.

If you decide you no longer want your Photobucket account, you can cancel it. Free account holders can cancel an account through their account options on their profile page. Users must enter a reason for deleting the account and include a security code to prevent fraudulent deletions. After 48 hours, Photobucket deletes the account and all the media stored there -- there are no backups, so it's important to save all media locally.

Pro account holders have to contact the Photobucket support team in order to cancel an account. Only by contacting the team can a user ensure that Photobucket doesn't automatically bill the user.

Next, we'll take a look at how Photobucket turns a profit.


Photobucket Business

Alex Welch and Darren Crystal founded Photobucket in 2003. In 2007, Fox Interactive Media acquired Photobucket for an undisclosed amount. The site claims to be the number one photo-sharing Web site on the Internet, with more than 39 million unique visitors every month. How does the service make money from all that traffic?

Pro accounts are one source of revenue. Members can choose to pay for a Pro account on an annual, tri-monthly or monthly schedule. But Pro accounts aren't the only way Photobucket earns money.


Advertising plays a large role in Photobucket's revenue strategy. Photobucket hosts online advertising from various vendors. And it's not just on the main page -- members with free accounts will see advertising on their respective profile pages, too. Photobucket omits advertising on Pro account pages.

Photobucket's advertising options are diverse:

  • Advertisers can buy traditional ad space on Photobucket. This includes common Internet ad formats such as banner ads.
  • Photobucket partners with major advertisers by altering the appearance of the Photobucket homepage. For the right price, an advertiser can alter the colors on the homepage, incorporate custom animation, and even tweak the navigation bar and include branded videos.
  • With custom slideshows, advertisers can embed their branding directly into the user experience on the Web site. When users view a slideshow, they'll see the advertiser's message within the borders of the slideshow view itself.
  • In a similar vein, advertisers can insert their ads into the image editor or the Photobucket Remix tool, which is an online video editor. Ads appear along the inner border of the editor window.
  • Photobucket also allows advertisers to host contests on Photobucket's site. Whether it's a photography contest or a video editing competition, advertisers can create interactive events that market their respective brands using Photobucket as a platform.

W­hile Photobucket has become more popular over the years, not all of the attention has been positive. In June 2008, a group of Turkish hackers defaced the Photobucket homepage by redirecting incoming traffic to an alternate site. The site displayed a message in Turkish to would-be Photobucket visitors. The message admonished the world for forgetting the hacker group. Fortunately, the hackers didn't gain access to any personal information from Photobucket's members [source: ZDNet].

To learn more about Photobucket and other related topics, take a look at the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Alexa. "Top Sites." (Sept. 4, 2008)>
  • Arrington, Michael. "Photobucket was a Steal v. Google/YouTube." TechCrunch. May 7, 2007. (Aug. 29, 2008)
  • Danchev, Dancho. "Photobucket's DNS records hijacked by Turkish hacking group." ZDNet. June 18, 2008. (Aug. 28, 2008)
  • Fox News. "MySpace Parent Company Buying Photobucket." May 30, 2007. (Aug. 28, 2008),2933,276502,00.html
  • Java. "Learn About Java Technology." (Aug. 29, 2008)
  • Photobucket. "About Us." (Aug. 27, 2008)
  • Photobucket. "FAQ." (Aug. 27, 2008)
  • Techrockies. "Interview with Darren Crystal, CTO of Photobucket." July 12, 2006. (Aug. 28, 2008)