Internet

Yahoo to unveil online photo album service

The company is quietly previewing a new Web site that will allow people to store and view digital photos on its popular service.

\ Yahoo is quietly previewing a new Web site that will allow people to store and view digital photos on its popular service.

Shutterfly.com, a digital photo start-up backed by Internet entrepreneur Jim Clark, plans to announce a deal with Yahoo tomorrow, according to a Shutterfly representative.

"Welcome to Yahoo's new Photos service!" the site reads. "The easiest way to put your photos online and share them with friends and family. 15 FREE MB of space."

Called Yahoo Photos, the site allows consumers to upload, store, share and develop photos through its service. It also lets people create photo albums that can be viewed publicly or by a predetermined group.

A Yahoo spokesman declined to comment on specific details of the service. But the company did confirm the authenticity of the site and said a launch is imminent.

"It's something we will launch very, very soon," said Mark Hull, senior producer of Yahoo Photos.

With the addition of photo publishing and photo albums, Yahoo is stepping into a market that has attracted the attention of several Net heavyweights.

In October last year, America Online formally launched You've Got Pictures, an online photo service created with Eastman Kodak. Later that month, Netscape Communications founder Clark launched Shutterfly to offer enhanced digital printing services over the Web. Hewlett-Packard also has an online photo album service, Cartogra, that allows friends and family to share pictures over the Web.

Other online photo start-ups include Snapfish.com, which began offering free photo processing and prints when it launched in January, and PhotoAccess.com, a site similar to Shutterfly that went live in December.

The budding of online photo sites is in response to the expected rise in popularity and sales of digital cameras. According to research firm International Data Corp., digital camera use is set to take off, growing from sales of about 4.7 million units this year to 22 million units by 2003.

Yahoo Photos ties together other Yahoo sites, including home page publisher GeoCities, message boards and clubs--features likely aimed at boosting community offerings to keep customers on the site longer. The site also includes links to Yahoo's shopping, auctions and classifieds pages where people can search for digital cameras and other photography hardware.

In addition, the Web site includes a searchable picture gallery that people can surf to find photos to illustrate home pages, greeting cards, auction pages and so on.

Yahoo's move into online photos makes sense, according to Jupiter Communications analyst Aram Sinnreich. The company has focused heavily on owning or operating services that foster recurring usage. Services such as clubs, home pages and photos give people more personal space for posting their own content.

But cultivating customer loyalty with an online photo service remains an untried business that has yet to cause a stir among consumers.

"It is a stretch," Sinnreich said. "Nobody's figured out the magic formula yet to cause a sea change in consumer behavior."