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PayPal co-founder readies photo-sharing service

Max Levchin's Slide, which lets members subscribe to one another's photo blogs, will launch Monday, CNET has learned. Images: Photo sharing via Slide

It's been awhile since Max Levchin's job forced him to pull an all-nighter.

But the co-founder and former chief technology officer of PayPal has found himself working around the clock lately to launch his new Internet company, Slide. The San Francisco company, which he started last year, is Levchin's first big plunge into an Internet start-up since cashing in on eBay's $1.5 billion purchase of PayPal in 2002.

The free service, which the 12-person company plans to open to the Web-surfing public on Monday, CNET has learned, combines aspects of social networking, photo sharing, Web syndication and e-commerce. At the heart of Slide is a downloadable desktop program that indexes all the photos on the user's hard drive and creates a slide show at the edge of the screen.

From there, members can invite family, friends and other Slide members to view and save the member's photos and join Slide as a "friend" in the member's network. Members can also add one another's images to their own slide shows and alert one another to new albums. A set of access tools lets users publish their photos to as few or as many people as they wish, and subscribe to other people's photos.

Slide builds on several trends du jour, including digital photography, personal publishing and Web syndication. But the company has a lot of company in this intersecting market. Yahoo, News Corp.'s MySpace and a number of others are developing services that tie blogging, social networking and photo sharing together. Flickr lets users subscribe to photo feeds using the Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, protocol made popular by blogs. Imeem, a start-up that launched last week, is adding instant messaging to the mix.

"Consumers are learning to do more with digital content than just print out pictures and paste them into an album," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at JupiterResearch. "Tools that let them edit, crop and share information and online content are coming into play, making it easier to get their stuff out."

Yet Levchin, who just turned 30 and has invested $1 million of his personal funds in the company, may have hit on the right way to make Slide stand out. He claims Slide's publish and subscribe tools are easier to use than other services, which require some technical know-how and a familiarity with RSS. The general public, including people like his mom, need simpler tools, he said. Jupiter's Gartenberg agrees.

"The key to taking it to the next step is getting to the point where you don't have to know what RSS or other technical concepts are," Gartenberg said. "You want to get to the point where you can just invite your grandpa to subscribe to your photos and all he has to do is click a few buttons."

Slide's "playback," or slide show, feature is unique too, Levchin said. The desktop toolbar looks like a strip of film with different photos in each frame, and it continually scrolls through a trove of stored images that people would probably rarely view otherwise. When consumers mouse over a particular shot, the slide show pauses and enlarges the image. The program gives people the option of e-mailing the photo from there.


The company plans to let members incorporate video, text and news headlines with photos too, creating multimedia "channels."

"I want it to be the preferred way people share digital media with each other," Levchin said, describing his vision for Slide.

For now, Slide works only on Windows computers, but the company is working on versions for the Macintosh.

Slide's business model is another distinguishing feature. Advertising is the main source of revenue for most competitors, but Slide plans to sustain itself on commissions from facilitating online shopping. It has already inked agreements with online shoe store and designer-clothing outlet Bluefly. The Web stores have agreed to maintain a Slide photo gallery of their products with links back to their stores. Slide members can subscribe to the photos, and whenever they purchase something, Slide gets a cut of the transaction.

The fact that Zappos is one of Slide's first partners is no coincidence. Levchin came up with the idea for Slide while watching his girlfriend browse for shoes online. She spent so much time scrolling through pages of shoes at Zappos that he offered to write her a program that would do it for her.

"The idea was to encourage her to spend more time with me and less time browsing for shoes," he said.