I've been searching and doing lots of reading about image hosting today, and I think that I'm going to give it a shot. There was one really good thread here with 60+ replies, which really got me thinking about running a successful free image hosting company.

I agree that there are too many free image hosts that are all identical to each other, so I just opened Dreamweaver and I'm going to handcode my image hosting system, not buy one. What features would you look for in a free image host? I am looking to do something similar to ImageShack, offer free unregistered uploads, free registered accounts where you track and manage your images, and a paid account with more. As a user, what would you look for in each?

As far as hosting, I think I'm going to start with a 10MBPS unmetered VPS from jvps.com, and grow from there.

One other aspect that seems to be important is to target a niche market. That seems to be more difficult for free image hosting than it is for regular paid hosting. It was mentioned that you could target photographers. I was also thinking online sellers, such as eBay sellers who want more flexibility than what eBay offers. Besides photographers and online sellers, are their any other niches that you think are worth considering?

I've seen lots of free image hosts advertising via PPC, but instead I think that I'm going to do some SEO work and try to rank high in the organic SERPs, and also get listed in free directories. I don't intend to pay for advertising for this. As far as making money, I think I'm going to go with Adsense. As it grows (hopefully) I think I'm going to sell text links, and possibly banners.

As there are a lot of image hosts out there, I think that differentiation (is that even a word?) is one of the main factors of success. That's why I'm asking you for your input on features that you think are important, for both free and paid accounts, and I'll try to code them into the program. I'm also hoping that I can get some current image hosts to comment on this, and maybe help me out a little bit, and help people in the future who are looking for ideas. Thanks for any input.