Jetpack’s Photon could end up being a pretty big deal


Jetpack is nothing if not a fairly divisive plugin in the WordPress community. At this point I’m sure we’ve all had more than a couple of conversations about its positive features and its more frustrating ones. With Jetpack 2.0, though, the new Photon feature may prove to be one of the more impressive offerings of the bunch for users and developers.

Photon, when enabled, will filter through the site’s content and, if the images are local to the site, pass them off to and serve them via their content delivery network. So, for example, the post image above would be served from the following URL:

For the average WordPress user, getting this going only takes them installing Jetpack and turning this feature on. I’m not familiar with every CDN service out there, but this sounds like the easiest free way anyone can serve up their images from a CDN. Less taxing on the site’s host, likely faster page loads, and all without the user needing to learn a lot about the service or the setup process.

If that were all Photon were, I think it would be an interesting addition…

If that were all Photon were, I think it would be an interesting addition, particularly as a one point oh. But the feature also brings with it an API that theme and plugin developers can take advantage of. The Photon API wasn’t directly linked in the Jetpack announcement post, but is something every developer should have a peak at.

For sites running Jetpack Photon, there are a number of GET query arguments available. For instance, set the width, height, or cropping dimensions of the image. Filters, brightness and contrast controls, and image smoothing are available too. Given that Jetpack has seen the pickup that it has in the WordPress community (albeit mostly due to inclusion in hosting packages) the use of the Photon API could be a solid option for developers looking to do interesting things with a site’s images. It’s not a given for every site, but just about as close to a given as we have right now.

Photon is certainly not the best CDN option available for WordPress — heck, it only handles images for one thing. But it will probably lead to many WordPress users getting started with content delivery networks, which is a great thing.

And with the API available for developers, Photon is now the one piece of Jetpack I’m most interested in seeing grow over time.

7 thoughts on “Jetpack’s Photon could end up being a pretty big deal

  1. I agree, Photon could turn out to be massively important and I had not even thought of the implications for theme designers, very insightful.

    In the name of code text reuse, here is what I posted about this on Techcrunch yesterday, I picked up on a different angle but the fact that there are so many possible angles gives us an idea of how broadly important Photon could end up being:

    Offering what is effectively a free CDN (and, according to early reports, a fast one too!) is an incredibly interesting move by Automattic.

    Even with their economies of scale, that is going to mean a considerable ongoing expense, so, what will that buy them?

    Clearly, they plan to make themselves indispensable to the roughly 50% of WordPress users who are self-hosted (rather than using Automattic’s service) by offering a range genuinely useful free services that will tie in nicely with their paid services, such as their VaultPress backup service, but the long-term game could be far more ambitious: by establishing a strong presence WITHIN self-hosted WordPress sites, they would be in a great position to swoop in and grab almost the entire consumer and small business website hosting industry overnight, right from under the noses of the current giants in the industry.

    If you think about it, Photon is already saying “Hey, we can do a better job of hosting your images” and it would not be a huge jump from that to say “Hey, your site is WordPress, no-one knows WordPress better than us, we know that you’re paying your host $10 a month, for the same amount we can give you a better service and a faster, more secure site… and all you have to do is press this button, we’ll copy your entire site and handle all the transfer details!”.

    WordPress, the software, is becoming so ubiquitous that this could be an unprecedented opportunity for one relatively small company to grab the lion’s share of major, multi-billion dollar industry, one that people pay actual money to on a monthly basis, and which is particularly profitable when you have massive scale and consolidation. I think that might, just possibly, be the general direction they’re going in with this.

  2. One big turn off, it forever caches the images, you have no control over this, meaning the images you mistakenly upload to your very own site will is not be deleted-able.

    Keeping images in your own site is the right way to go, CDN is fast but not that fast, don’t forget that internet speeds all around the world are getting faster too.

    Also the trend is to keep content on page light and only what matters, so one picture per post(page) is the most common, if you do it right (optimize the image, content only what matters and such) you have no reason to host your assets somewhere else.

  3. I can see basic WordPress users going with Photon, but I wonder if anyone already using W3 Total Cache, Cloudflare, et al would make the switch. Regardless it will be interesting to see how many users of self-hosted WP will tie themselves into the system.

  4. I’ve never used Jetpack, because it seems like a lot of bloat for just the few features that I might want. However, this Photon feature is really interesting. I’ve already got a CDN lined up, so I wouldn’t use it myself, but I could see a lot of new and smaller bloggers taking WordPress up on their offer and using that feature extensively. I think it would make for a huge improvement in site load times, particularly those on shared, overloaded servers. One has to wonder how much that will cost them!

  5. In all honesty, there are several free CDN systems, with one being slow as cold honey. There’s Incapsula, CloudFlare and even CoralNetwork’s free CDN (The slow as heck one) and now we have Photon. So there’s 4 options right there.

    However I always recommend CloudFlare since it works with commercial CDN’s and (as I’ve tested) it doesn’t mess up Photon either so commercial CDN’s alongside Photon and CloudFlare can be used at the same time for the same WordPress blog or multisite network.

    I just think CloudFlare is superior because it caches the theme’s images as well as the rest of the static files and the cache can be purged. Just my humble opinion on it though.

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