As described in a fresh new approach to digital albums, events tend to serve as the main organizing construct for media, better than boring old albums. It's straight forward for users to create an event in an album and upload or import media to be part of that event. Many users are doing this already during our Private Beta.

Beyond that, GreatAlbum offers a unique and exciting feature, where it can auto-create events based on media that you import from remote sources (like iCloud and Google Photos) or upload directly to GreatAlbum.  Here are the basics of how this works...

  1. User imports media from remote source into an album in GreatAlbum (right now, only Google Photos is available)
  2. User then requests GreatAlbum to auto-create events based on media clusters
  3. GreatAlbum triggers its Media Cluster Recognition (MCR) engine as a background process, so that the User can continue using GreatAlbum while the media recognition process runs in the background
  4. The MCR engine counts the number of media items per date/hour
  5. If more than 5 media items were created in a date/hour period, then the MCR engine creates a new event in the given album and links the media from that hour with the new event (using Drupal Entity API); the engine also updates the media_analyzed flag on the media items, so they are not analyzed again in the future
  6. If there are any more media in the next hour, then those are also linked with the event from the previous hour and the media_analyzed flag is set on them too
  7. If there is an hour break where no media is found, and then more media is found in the next hour, then the MCR engine creates another event and links the media from that hour with the new event
  8. At the completion of each event, with all respective media associated, the MCR engine creates an activity in GreatAlbum, mentioning that X number of media have been associated with that event. The activity is associated with both the event and all the media, so it will show up in their respective activity streams
  9. Once this process is completed for all events, media & activities, the MCR engine sends an email notification to the user informing them that a total of Y media was analyzed and linked to Z new events that were automatically created

Pioneer App LogoIf you look closely at the example in the chart, you'll notice:

  • The first event is identified on 2021-03-27 in hours 01-06
  • Hours 08-09 are ignored, because of the gap in hour 07 and the media count in hours 08-09 is below the 5 threshold
  • The second event is identified on the 27th, from hours 10-12
  • The third event is identified on the 28th, in hours 01-04
  • The fourth event is identified on the 28th, in hours 06-07, because of the gaps in hours 05 and 08
  • And so on for the fifth and sixth events

This is a very basic approach for now. Eventually we want to include geo-tagging (location) as part of the medial cluster recognition, but Google does not allow any third party app to access location information for its photos, so we have to solve that limitation first. 

As we continue with our Private and then Public Betas, we will continue test the thresholds of how many photos in an hour should trigger a new event (cluster length), and how long of an hour gap can exist between photos and still be part of the same event. Right now, we use 0 hours as the gap. If we increase the hour gap to 1, then the media cluster engine would have auto-created only two events in the chart above - one for all media on the 27th and another for all media on the 28th - because the gap between photo groupings on each day was never more than an hour.

When I started to entertain my dream of creating the GreatAlbum application, I always knew there were two missions that were important: 

1. Community Content Development
2. Community Application Development

In the process of building GreatAlbum, we had to think about how we would support the users of the app. We looked at a lot of traditional customer service applications, like Jira Service Desk, Zendesk, Zoho, etc. The problem was that with all of them, the model was to have a small number of customer service people providing all the support to end users. That didn’t feel right. As a result, we created a third mission for GreatAlbum:

3. Community Customer Support


Below are deeper explanations of each mission...

Community customer service1. Community Content Development 

Great would be a different kind of platform from any other I have ever seen, incorporating what I felt were the most important parts of family tree content management and multimedia management, with a focus on creating rich stories about loved ones. It would leverage the power of community to collaboratively create content and celebrate to celebrate the lives of people that content highlights. This means:

  • Albums have members, like traditional photo albums
  • But Albums would contain more than just media( photos/videos). They could also contain Events, Stories, Individuals, Places and Discussions.
  • Those content types would be interlinked, so an Event could have lots of media linked to it as well as stories written by different people, a Place where it happened, Individuals tagged who were there, and related Discussion threads.
  • Each Event would essentially act like a sub-album, only much better, and you would have to share it for others to see it, because it's already part of the larger Album.
  • Similarly Stories can be linked to Events, Individuals, Places, Media, Discussions
  • And Media can be linked to Events, Stories, Individuals, Places, Media, Discussions

In this way, you get a much better feel for the true nature of the relationships that exist between these content types, allowing you to tell more robust stories and explore the content more thoroughly. To learn more about this, see What is GreatAlbum? How is it Different?


Community App Dev2. Community Application Development 

GreatAlbum would also leverage the power of community in how the app is built. This means:

  • Building it on an open source platform, so that 80% of the functionality comes from others who have already done that heavy lifting. The GreatAlbum team would create the 20% the no one else has ever done before, which makes GreatAlbum unique and special. 

  • Making GreatAlbum app available as an open source download, so that technical people using it can also tinker with it and offer technical suggestions on how to improve it (even technical patches to the code).

  • Where the GreatAlbum team makes improvements to existing modules, offer those as patches back to those module maintainers, so they can consider accepting the improvements.

  • Where the GreatAlbum team is able to create new modules that serve our purposes and can also be generalize to be useful to others on their websites, then we will offer those as new modules to the development community and become the maintainers of them.

To accomplish #2, we chose the Drupal content management system. For more on this, see Why we built GreatAlbum on Drupal?


Community customer service3. Community Customer Support

GreatAlbum would provide a community support model, just like you get with open source communities like Drupal. The GreatAlbum team would provide the foundation of support, and more importantly, our users to be able to help each other. That approach would be much more scalable and it would reinforce the sense of community, not only in sharing content with members of your Albums, but also in helping other users with how they do the same with their own albums, even when you aren’t a member of their albums and can’t see their content. As a result, GreatSupport was born, which is a community support site for GreatAlbum and could become a model for other companies. 

To learn more about this, see How GreatSupport provides community support for GreatAlbum.

Erik's personal albums
The albums I made in my 20s & 30s


For over thirty years, I have been obsessed with collecting “artifacts'' about my life experiences and those of my family members, especially my ancestors. Since at least high school, I’ve always felt someday I would create the platform to share all these photos, videos and documents with others, hopefully in the format of rich, multi-media stories. In my 20s, I made 20-30 albums from pictures, ribbons certificates and other things I had collected so far. About the time I turned 30, this interest intensified as it became connected to a new interest in genealogy. I discovered one of my dad’s cousins had built a family tree in Family Tree Maker software, and one of his brothers had done a bunch of research, collected lots of family artifacts and taken lots of detailed notes about them. I actually took a week of vacation in 1997 to fly from Boston to visit my “Aunt Mary Lynn” in Minnesota, to go over her family tree, and to visit my “Uncle Mike” in Sandusky, Ohio, and “borrow” a box full of these family heirlooms.  Since that time, I’ve continued to collect photos and documents, not just of my nuclear family, but of many other family members as well.

Rediscovering Family Artifacts

I remember when my Grandma Webb died. Her kids, my aunts and uncles, were sitting around the table, telling stories about her and their life growing up together. One of them turned to me and said, “Erik, don’t you have a lot of pictures and other stuff scanned in your digital archive?” I said in fact I did, and in no time we were going through hundreds of these items in my Dropbox folder structure. I told them someday I would have a platform that made it easy to share these precious moments and to capture the stories that really brought these to life!” 

Tony Robbins DWD 2019Explosion in the Digital Era; Overwhelmed by Media

My obsession has taken on new dimensions with the explosion of digital media, thanks to smart/camera phones. I now have over 150,000 photos, videos and scanned documents. I have the photos/videos in Google Photos, and I've created 1500 albums, but that still only scratches the surface. I'm sure many people can relate to my feeling of being overwhelmed by it all. It's hard to go back and find media for specific events, even with the date/location/facial tagging that Google does to the media. Ironically, just when people have more home videos/photos from which to create and watch home videos, I think people actually "relive" these past memories less than before, because life has become so busy and it's so hard to assemble the media into manageable home videos. This is a key problem I aim to solve.

Multiple Starts

Since 2001, I’ve tried three different times to get a prototype off the ground to address these challenges, but always tried to do it myself and never had enough talent to make it fly. Finally, while attending Tony Robbins’ Date with Destiny event in December 2019, I realized this dream was too important to postpone any longer. I decided then and there I was going to build a team and turn this dream into a reality.

What's In A Name?

I decided to call the app GreatAlbum, because the idea is that all content will be organized into Albums, which can contain events, stories, media, places, individuals and discussions. Albums enable users to maintain privacy based on memberships, and events become like sub-albums with media, stories, places and individuals attached to them. And Great means this is a really great idea/application, but also because through it you will learn more about your Great Grandparents, your Great Great Grandparents, and many other loved ones in your life and family history. 

Three-Part Mission

As I've dived into this project, I've discovered this dream has actually turned into a 3-part mission: (1) build the GreatAlbum App, as I've long dreamed, (2) harness the power of the Drupal community for its development and give back to that community as we create breakthroughs, and (3) create a new community support model that could be powerful for GreatAlbum and other companies/products/services. Read more about this at 3-Part Mission for GreatAlbum.

Pervasive Theme

Now, it feels like every other day I encounter people who really wish they had something like this to celebrate the lives of loved ones. They almost never say it that way, because they don’t know that something like this exists, but I can tell how much they want to celebrate and appreciate someone, and when I tell them about GreatAlbum, they say, “That sounds amazing. How can I join?” Very soon, they will be able to. And you will be able to as well!