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Online Albums Make It Easy to Share Photos

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Not long after his daughter was born last year, Nathani Latif puzzled over how to show pictures of his newborn daughter to relatives in India, Britain and the Middle East. Meanwhile, a close colleague at Microsoft, Carlos Blanco, had just returned from a vacation in Egypt and wanted a better way to share his travel experiences with friends and family in Spain.

From that dual quandary came EMemories (https://www.ememories.com), a free online scrapbook for thoughts and photos, which the two executives launched in April after leaving Microsoft’s employ. The service, along with an array of similar services popping up all over the Web, make it easier to share pictures over the Web than it was even half a year ago. But it will be some time before it will be as easy to deal with images on the Web as it is now to deal with text.

The idea of sharing pictures over the Net is hardly new. Millions of people regularly swap pictures by e-mail, or create Web-page collages to display their favorite snapshots.

But the process remains awkward. Many e-mail programs won’t accept attachments, which is how photos are usually sent. And image files are so large that an individual mailbox can fill up after receiving just one or two shots. Creating a Web page to display photos can be even more time-consuming and disheartening for the technically unsophisticated.

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The simplest way to get your photos on the Web is to pay your photo processor to handle the whole process. Kodak PhotoNet (https://www.kodak65.photonet.com) has deals with 40,000 photo finishers across the nation, including four in the Southern California area and a mail-in photo finisher. For an extra $6 a roll when you order your pictures, the service will convert your pictures to digital form and post them on the PhotoNet Web site for 30 days. After 30 days, it’s an additional $3 per roll to leave them up.

They then give you an access number you can send to friends to allow them to view the pictures and order reprints.

Seattle Filmworks (https://www.filmworks.com), a mail-in film processor, has a similar deal. The services make it easy to download pictures to your hard drive or to attach the pictures onto an e-mail.

But these sites don’t let you choose a large selection of pictures to share the way you would share a bunch of photos after a trip. And because you can’t add decoration or captions, there is a somewhat sterile look. San Francisco-based EMemories and San Jose-based Club Photo (https://www.clubphoto.com) both offer services that come far closer to the photo album experience.

(Warning! Don’t assume any digital photo will work on any site. My father-in-law, a photo buff, tried to upload pictures from a Seattle Filmworks CD-ROM onto the EMemories site. The site wouldn’t accept the pictures because they were stored in an incompatible format.)

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The easiest way to use these sites, it turns out, is to use a digital camera such as the Sony Mavica, which stores pictures on the same kind of floppy diskette you use for regular computer files. The diskettes make uploading the pictures a snap. These cameras still cost a few hundred dollars, but they are quickly coming down in price.

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Club Photo avoids the format problem by referring customers to a photo finisher associated with the site. This is a sophisticated site that offers software and tools to download to help you arrange photos in an attractive display and add captions.

Club Photo will even let you order T-shirts and other merchandise emblazoned with your pictures. Friends can order reprints from the Web site. But beware: The charge is $20 a print for a 5-inch-by-5-inch snapshot that might cost you $1 at the local drugstore.

Another problem: If your Club Photo page fails to maintain a certain level of traffic, it will be erased unless you buy a “premium” membership for $38.

By comparison, EMemories will let you keep your album online indefinitely for free. EMemories also lets other people contribute to your scrapbook so you can have a sort of family site with each member contributing photos. How does EMemories make money? By posting advertising on its pages--so if you want a pristine family page, EMemories might not be the service for you.

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If you have a digital camera or scanner or have a photo stored in one of the three most popular formats, EMemories is the easiest site to use. You can build a digital scrapbook or photo album in minutes without downloading any software. You just provide your e-mail address and a headline for the site, select a decorative wallpaper or backdrop and choose from four privacy options, starting with a public view, which lets everyone see the site, all the way up to full privacy, which makes your page not only password-protected but also invisible to search engines.

Another feature EMemories provides is the opportunity to provide e-mail invitations to friends with whom you want to share the site. An invitation complete with a fingernail-sized photo and a link to the EMemories Web site will automatically be sent.

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Randall Knowles, a retired Houston construction worker who spends hours chatting on the Web with more than 1,000 correspondents, posted pictures of some of his Net friends on the EMemories site a couple of months ago and invited his Web friends to visit. He has already had more than 6,000 visits.

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“It’s really fast,” said Knowles, who spent five weeks building an elaborate Web site on GeoCities a few months ago, only to have the whole thing disappear when the GeoCities system crashed.

Most sites, however, as Latif initially expected, are by people who want to share photos of their holiday or their wedding.

“Most of the sites are bland,” Latif said. “It’s like the real experience. It’s like you’re sharing photos with someone across the table.”


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