PluggedIn-Embracing social media, photo sites stay in the game

BANGALORE, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Someday the Kodak moment may be called the “Facebook” or “Twitpic” moment, but old-school photo management services are fighting to stay in the picture.

People have been flocking to popular social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace to share images with friends and family, ditching sites like Flickr, Snapfish, Photobucket, Shutterfly Inc SFLY.O and Picasa.

But with over 20 billion pictures uploaded to “traditional” photo-sharing sites, they can’t be counted out. In particular, when it comes to prints and personalized services, photo-sharing websites are still holding sway.

Photo-sharing sites let you create photobooks, calendars, cards, posters and mugs. At the same time, they know that consumers want to be able to share photos online.

Photo-sharing on Facebook, whose investors include Microsoft Corp MSFT.O, is growing nearly three times as fast as the top photo-sharing websites, figures from market researcher comScore show. Facebook has more than 250 million users, while Snapfish has 70 million members and Flickr has 40 million registered users.

Still, Toronto resident Kate Wienburg - a Facebook user since 2006 - prefers a site like Yahoo's YHOO.O Flickr for sharing photos because of the quality of the website and the photos.

“I like Flickr best because it has such a huge (photo) community around it,” she said. “There are tons of groups for everything from sports events to cupcakes to people jumping.”


With that in mind, most of traditional photo sharing companies are now looking to incorporate social media tools and tying up with the social networking sites.

Picasa’s latest version includes several social media tools. Other sites like Kodak, while sticking to their key revenue drivers, have been adding social media applications.

Shutterfly allows users to share photos uploaded on its site with blogs and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Flickr, which has the most social-networking feel of the photo-sharing sites, has an active user community.

Hewlett-Packard's HPQ.N Snapfish offers photo-sharing with Facebook, MySpace, Google's Blogger platform and Typepad, said Ben Nelson, worldwide general manager, Snapfish.

And some websites allow users to buy prints from the Facebook photos they upload.

However, users are becoming wary of the difference in quality. For instance, Facebook photos are typically smaller and lower resolution making them ill-suited for enlargements and posters.

“Their average size is 40 to 50 kilobytes, but our average is 1.5 megabytes. So we’re talking about 30 times the size,” Victor Cho, general manager of internet and software services, Eastman Kodak, which runs Kodak Gallery.

There’s no denying the broader appeal of the social networks as consumers start to treat the web as an integral part of their lives and that photo sharing - a rudimentary part of bigger picture -- will eventually be a part of all that.

“Social networking sites have a much broader appeal because there’s a kind of a lifestyle sharing functionality, it’s almost like micro-blogging in a way,” IDC’s Christopher Chute said. (The PluggedIn column appears weekly. Comments or questions on this one can be e-mailed to john.tilak(at)