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Photobucket shares interface, matches Flickr

Photobucket let a few commercial partners build services using the photo-sharing site's interface. Now, as with competitor Flickr, all comers will get access.

Photobucket, is making a significant change aimed to weave the widely used photo-sharing site more tightly into the Web 2.0 fabric.

The company is releasing an application programming interface (API) for its site, said Chief Executive Alex Welch. That means that ordinary developers will be able to build more sophisticated services around the Photobucket services and content.

Photobucket CEO Alex Welch
Photobucket CEO Alex Welch Photobucket

Photobucket already made its API available to commercial partners, but now ordinary coders will be able to get access by signing up on the Web site, Welch said. The company is announcing the news in conjunction with the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco.

"What's happened in the developer community is that we have a ton of developers writing applications for OpenSocial and Facebook. There's a huge appetite for writing against these APIs," Welch said, and now it's time for Photobucket to take the plunge.

Ultimately, Welch believes the move will mean more Web site traffic for PhotoBucket and potentially lucrative advertising and sponsorship deals. Toyota, for example, sponsored a Photobucket partnership with an online image-editing tool, FotoFlexer.

Missing from Welch's peer-pressure list is Flickr, a Yahoo photo site that rivals Photobucket in scale. But Walsh wasn't afraid to give his competitor some props. "I think it's a fairly well done API," Welch said. "It's been interesting to watch and learn from."

The API will let developers write applications that can be used to log in to accounts, upload photos and videos, search public content, access and change metadata such as titles and tags, and share content through e-mail, Photobucket said.

Following Flickr
For an illustration of what an open API can get you, look no farther than Photophlow, a site that builds a lively photo-sharing and chat room interface atop Flickr. With it, users can post photos into a chat room for discussion, add comments directly onto the Flickr site, and flag pictures as favorites in their own Flickr account. It was put together without formal help from Flickr.

The API makes Photophlow on Photobucket possible, said Photophlow co-founder Neil Berkman. "We're interested in enabling real-time media sharing in a variety of contexts, and since Photobucket is one of the largest hosts of photos and video, we'd certainly consider building on top of their API," he said. "Their audience is a bit different from Flickr's, so this would likely be a separate application, taking advantage of the same technical core we've built Photophlow on," he added.

Web 2.0 loosely refers to the gradual rebuilding of the Internet as a more interactive domain, with users supplying their own content, information from one Web site being embedded into services from another, and bloggers avidly commenting on all the developments. APIs are the mechanism by which much of those interconnections are made, and without them, a Web site risks being an island unto itself.

Photobucket got its start as a no-frills site that could store photos, but hardly as an island. It's widely used to host pictures that actually appear on Web sites such as MySpace, eBay, or Facebook. And after Photobucket's 2007 acquisition, it's a part of News Corp.'s Fox Interactive Media division, along with MySpace. And it's gradually become more fully featured.

Programmers who want to use Photobucket's API can sign up for a free key online, Welch said, and they're free to try to profit from the resulting work. "For the small developer, we're not concerned if they're monetizing it in some way," Welch said.

Some developer limitations
Well, not concerned up to a point. The developer API will let Photobucket throttle Web site traffic to prevent abuse, but the company will watch for busy applications that could be new business opportunities, he added.

"If we see a noncommercial application that's doing something clearly in our commercial terms of service or doing something very creative, it's our responsibility to go out and figure a way to partner," Welch said.

Current partners using Photobucket's commercial API include FotoFlexer and TiVo, which can present slideshows on TVs drawn from Photobucket members' accounts and let people search Photobucket content.

The company will announce several new partnerships Tuesday, too:

• Intercasting is working on technology that could let mobile phone users upload their pictures taken with camera phones to Photobucket accounts.

• Snapvine is integrating Photobucket into its Web-based audio commentary and blogging technology.

• Time Warner's AOL will launch an application called BlueString that will let people browse Photobucket and other content.

Photobucket's move is just the latest in a long line of companies to woo programmers; that courtship has moved online as the Web has grown to house rich, sophisticated applications.

Even if many impressive but unprofitable Web sites fall by the wayside, those with the programming skills will likely stay gainfully employed. A Monday report by analyst firm Forrester says corporations will spend a lot of money to use Web 2.0 technologies within their walls. In the report, the firm predicts growth from $764 million in spending in 2008 to $4.65 billion in 2013.