The benefits and costs of running your own Twitter photo server
Want to post your Twitter photos to your own domain, keep your traffic and identity in-house, and maybe make a few bucks in the process? If you’re running a self-hosted WordPress blog, and are up for getting your hands a little dirty, running your own Twitter server is actually pretty painless, I’ve found, albeit with a few drawbacks.
For a few months, I’ve been running my own Twitter photo host using a WordPress plugin, Twitter Image Host for WordPress. (Thanks to David Chartier for the recommendation.) It’s running on my standard WordPress install at FromeDome.com, and for style points, I’ve set up a second domain — fromepic.com — as a mirror for posting photos to Twitter.
Posting the photos themselves is simple: I use the standard Twitter for iPhone app, which requires a little one-time configuration in the app’s photo host settings, but is otherwise straightforward. You can also upload photos into the system using a computer and web browser.
First and foremost, I’ve been able to post my photos under my own domain, branding, and identity. I find the big Twitter photo services — Twitpic, Yfrog, and Lockerz — pretty tasteless, and I have no interest in giving them my business or my photos. Instagram is a decent option, and Twitter’s native photo hosting service will be the most simple going forward. But I wanted to “own” my photos, and I’ve been able to accomplish that. (More on this topic from Marco Arment.)
I’ve also been able to earn a tiny amount of money doing this. In June, my Twitter photos drew slightly more than 3,000 pageviews, generating about $9 in Google AdSense revenue. Over the course of a year, that’s not a bad side-effect — enough to buy a few sandwiches to photograph and post on Twitter. (This sandwich photo was the top earner in June, I’ve learned, thanks to the Google Analytics I can now use on my Twitter pics.) People with more Twitter followers will see more traffic, obviously; people with fewer will see less.
My biggest concern right now is that the WordPress plugin I’m using for all of this doesn’t seem to be in active development. There are many issues with the plugin, ranging from lousy Twitter password security to ugly archive URLs if you host WordPress in a subdirectory. One day, I fear, I could upgrade WordPress and break the whole thing. (Or Twitter for iPhone could get rid of the custom photo host feature.)
It also isn’t making WordPress blog posts out of the photos — they’re living on their own, relatively disconnected. This may not be a bad thing, depending on how much you want to do with them, but it means you can’t display your photos in line with the rest of your posts.
And it takes time and expertise to set up — I’ve spent an hour or two on that so far. And, of course, you need a web hosting account, which costs a little money.
If you want to share your photos beyond Twitter, you’ll have to set that up manually: For now, I’ve been pasting the tweet manually (including the photo URL) as a Facebook status update, and then using the Instagram app to separately post the photo to Instagram and Tumblr. That takes another minute or two per photo.
Last, it’s not as user-friendly for people trying to look at your photos on a mobile app: They load your entire webpage, and not just the photo file, the way some other Twitter photo hosts work. But in my experience, it’s good enough, and if you want to tinker with the mobile CSS on your site, you can improve the user experience further.
Overall, I’ve been happy with the experience. I’m going to keep tinkering with it — which, frankly, is part of the fun — and I hope it doesn’t break. I’ll also consider another option, which I came across more recently: Using the WordPress iPhone app to post photos as blog posts, and then auto-tweeting them via plugins.