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Shutterfly targets your desktop

Shutterfly targets your desktop

The hardest part about growing an online service is getting people to use it. And with photo sites--many of which count on revenue from prints, photo books, and other photo-tchotchkes to stay afloat--you've got to get people to use it a lot. And the best way to do that is to build a toll-free yellow brick road leading from the user's PC to the site.

Shutterfly Studio is the latest freeware designed to encourage you to send your photos skipping Shutterfly-ward. It's basically an organizer, which it does pretty well, with barely-there editing capabilities, that provides an easier entrée to the site.

On the upside, Studio's organizer doesn't import or duplicate your files, just maintains a separate list of pointers to them. You can nest keywords and assign them via drag and drop. And it implements a very interesting search interface from its automatically generated lists of searches to an innovative and easy-to-use Boolean (and/or) technique.

Unfortunately, the potentially value-added part of the package, the editing tools, need a lot more work. For example, we've come to think of Auto Fix as, well, a feature that corrects a host of photo problems--exposure, white balance, sharpness, and so on. Studio's only corrects white balance. I suppose that's for the best, because its brightness correction seems to be linear; in other words, it simply brightens the whole image rather than retaining the dark and light portions and brightening only the midtones, which is what you really want it to do.

So why waste so many words on the software? Because it's part of a cautionary tale that I'll probably repeat over and over. It goes like this: as we become increasingly dependent on Web services, we allow ourselves to become increasingly locked into particular solutions. This is especially true of photo-sharing sites. After you've invested so much time organizing, uploading, and keywording your photos, how motivated will you be to switch to another service if you're unhappy or a better option rolls around? There are no migration tools to move all that keyword data from service A to service B.

To bring it back around to Studio: if you're looking for a cute little photo organizer, Studio is as good as any of the other freeware around, and you don't have to use Shutterfly to take advantage of it. And I don't have anything against Shutterfly or its competitors--clearly, they fill a need. But with any software like this, just think before you succumb to the allure of the easy free trial, which is its real purpose.

Paranoid, much?