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The Wonders Of Digital Photo Sharing

At the risk of stating the obvious, digital photography is one of the great revolutions of our time. By eliminating the cost of film and developing, and making cameras cheaper, smaller and more readily available, the technology has sparked a renaissance in photo taking.

Now that most cell phones have built-in cameras, digital cameras are literally everywhere and always with us. Even those of us who don't think to pack our cameras when we leave the house, probably have a camera thanks to cell phones.

One of the biggest changes brought about by digital photography is the way we show off our pictures. Until a few years ago, the only way to share photos was through prints, but most digital pictures taken today are never printed. Many, I suppose, are also never shared, but those that are shared with others are often viewed on a screen rather than on paper.

In some cases, we share our pictures by showing them to our friends on our camera or phone's LCD screen. That gives us that instant gratification that my generation first enjoyed back with Polaroid cameras. But unlike those very pricey Polaroid prints, digital images are free.

Speaking of free, there are also a number of ways to share photos online, including social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, as well as dedicated photo sharing sites like Flickr, SnapFish, Shutterfly, Picasa and Photobucket.

Photobucket, which is owned by Fox Interactive, the division of News Corp. that also operates MySpace, is very popular among teenage users. One of the reasons is the fact that it's well integrated into MySpace, Facebook, Blogger, Bebo, Hi5 and other Web sites. As a result, users can easily display their Photobucket pictures on their social networking profile. If you can put an HTML link on a Web site, you can display your Photobucket content. The site also provides photo editing powered by FotoFlexer and basic video editing through Adobe Remix.

One of the things I like about Photobucket is the very straightforward and easy to use interface. Like the competitors, it has a "bulk" uploader that allows you to upload several photos at a time, but you don't have to spend a lot of time downloading and installing a separate application. The plug-in installs automatically and almost immediately and works from within your browser. The site also has some nice built-in tools, including the ability to create a musically annotated slide show and to place fun borders around your pictures.

Photobucket recently released an application programming interface (API) that allows others to build applications that can access photos and videos. One of the more interesting applications now available is Scrapblog that allows users to create a multimedia online "scrapbook" from your photos and videos that you can share on Photobucket as well as on Flickr, MySpace, Blogger and other sites.

Earlier this week the company announced the launch of group albums, giving groups of people a new way to create and share photo and video collections. For example, each parent of a Little League member could snap photos and videos of the kids and post them on an album that could be public or password controlled. The same could be true for guests at a wedding or other celebration.

Each album is controlled by a moderator who can pick and choose which photos will appear and delete. Individuals who post can also control which pictures are available to the group. The company will allow users to register for unique URLs (Web addresses). When my daughter Katherine marries John this August, I'm hoping they'll let me create the site, but that decision will be up to the newlyweds.

Speaking of photography, one of my favorite photo accessory companies is about to release a very cool new product. Eye-Fi, which makes a little digital camera SD memory card that automatically transfers photos from your camera to your PC (and to the Web if you want) via Wi-Fi has announced a card that will also geo-code your pictures.

That means that you won't have to remember or type in where a photo was taken. The new card, which will be called Eye-Fi Explore, will look for Wi-Fi networks near where you're taking the picture and, if it finds one, it will make a note of the location and add that to the data that is associated with each picture. It will get the geographic information from Skyhook Wireless, a company that has mapped the location of thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots around the country.

Even if the hotspot is encrypted, Skyhook can determine where it is physically located and transfer that location information to the new Eye-Fi card and directly to your photograph. The new card will also allow you to upload pictures from hotspots even while you're away from home, which will be very handy for travelers who want to share their photos from the road.

Eye-Fi Explore is expected to be available in early June for $129.00.
By Larry Magid