"The Internet changes everything." You've heard that a lot, probably 98 percent of the time from someone who wants to sell you something. And you probably agree. But how true is this well-worn phrase when it comes to a presenter's -- or a digital-imaging professional's -- day-to-day work?
If you use images in your work, the odds are that, after you've processed your photos, you stick the printed version in a file folder and the digital ones here and there on your hard drive or maybe on a Zip disk. But that doesn't make them beautifully cataloged and organized. (If you are one of those rare people whose files and images are truly well-organized, you can stop reading this -- but only after you stop by and help me clean my office.) Most businesspeople, like most people in general, are woefully behind in organizing their photographs -- and personal computers, no matter how powerful, have not necessarily helped this process.
To address this problem, quite a few companies are lining up to organize your photos for free. A slew of major imagers, including Adobe, Intel and Kodak, offer free online photo storage and sharing; so do less-familiar names, such as Club Photo, e-memories, Ofoto, PhotoAccess, Shutterfly and Zing. Although these services are largely aimed at people who want to organize personal photos, they can be helpful to professional presenters as well.
How does online photo sharing work? In its simplest form, these sites give you free storage for digital images. If you are working on a presentation for a board meeting, for example, you can upload your digital images, including PowerPoint slides or anything in a JPEG format, to the site and put them all into an album called Widget's April Meeting (or any other name you choose). You can keep your album on the site for a month or so; the length of time varies with the service, but most sites let you buy additional or even unlimited storage time. You could also send the album to board members or simply notify them by e-mail so they can view the album on the site.
Or say you're working on a presentation that involves input from employees in different locations. You upload what you need to a photo-sharing Web site, then e-mail your colleagues to log on and look at the album. They can go to this central location to examine various images and then e-mail you with feedback so you can make any necessary changes.
The basics of these sites are quite similar: You register for free, in almost all cases, then download a small software program that lets you send images and arrange them into albums. The software is basic, but most programs work well. Adobe ActiveShare software stands out as excellent, and its site (www.activeshare.com) also lets you manipulate images online using other Adobe software, such as PhotoDeluxe.
A free lunch?
There is no question that these sites offer a valuable service. But why do they do it for free? The short answer is that free image storage and cataloging is the way they bait the hook to sell you additional services, usually processing and reprints.
This is not necessarily a shortcoming. You are not obligated to buy anything from the company that stores your photos, even if Adobe, for instance, is hoping you will upgrade from the free ActiveShare software to other not-so-free products. But you may well want to. As a presenter who's likely already using some Adobe software, you probably want to know what new stuff is available, right?
Not only software is for sale. FotoWire, Ofoto and Shutterfly are among the growing online entities that offering free online storage and albums while seeking to sell you reprints. And getting professional reprints makes sense for presenters.
Shutterfly, for example, can take your digital images, enhance them online for you before processing, and then mail back high-quality prints. The other storage sites offer similar services, although reprint quality varies. So does the price -- Shutterfly's is about 49 cents for a 4 x 6-inch print, $1.99 for a 5 x 7-inch print and $4.99 for an 8 x 10-inch print. At Ofoto, it's 49 cents for a 4 x 6, 99 cents for a 5 x 7 and $2.99 for an 8 x 10. One site, e-memories, will actually process your 35mm film free on the theory that if you process film there you'll probably have your reprints done there as well.
What's the bottom line here? Say you want to have 250 color photos as handouts for a presentation. You could print them on your office inkjet, but the quality wouldn't be as good as commercially processed prints. When you factor in the time, the quality and hassle, using an online processor can make a lot of sense.
And if, instead of prints, you want 250 photo-imprinted coffee mugs, most of these sites can do that, too. Handing out personalized specialty items can be a big plus at meetings, conferences or anywhere else you're giving a presentation.
Or let's say you are based in New York City and going to a meeting in Los Angeles. You send some images from a presentation to one of these Web services and your client checks them and approves them online. You order 350 reprints, then have them shipped directly to your Los Angeles hotel.
Check them out
Each online service has slightly different pricing, options and atmosphere. All provide storage, archiving and reprints, three services that can nicely enhance your presentation portfolio. For one presenter, an easy way to store photos might be the key. For others, the advantages may lie in image-archiving, sharing photos with colleagues and clients at remote locations or gaining high-quality reprints.
To find out which service appeals most to you, sign up on several of these Web sites and use the software, arrange your album, order a few prints and see what makes sense for you.
Jon Pepper is the co-founder and publisher of Sunderland, Mass.-based DigitalFocus (www.digfocus.com), a monthly newsletter on digital imaging. He has written for The New York Times, Fortune, Popular Science, Verge, InformationWeek and Nation's Business. He is a frequent speaker at industry events and a consultant on imaging to major corporations. You can contact him at email@example.com.