America Online, Inc. announced today the launch of AOL Pictures, a free photo sharing Web site with unlimited online digital storage in original resolutions, photo sharing and printing.
"Available for free to anyone on the Web at AOL.com, AOL Pictures gives consumers a complete digital photo experience with benefits like unlimited, free photo storage and integration with the AIM service and our blogging tools," David Liu, General Manager and Vice President, AOL.com said in a statement Thursday.
Additional features of the new AOL Photo include an improved uploading tool with drag and drop functionality, mobile phone access to stored photos, an online print store, and slideshow and album-creation functions, as well as a sleek interface based on development platform AJAX.
Formerly known as Youve Got Pictures, and boasting six million monthly visitors, AOL has relaunched the previously members-only service in a continuing effort to change its image from an online service provider to an internet portal.
While new tools and features such as these allow it to better compete with Yahoo and Google, AOL Pictures jumps into a tight photo-sharing market.
As a seasonal promotion, AOL Pictures is offering each user 100 4x6 glossy or matte prints at no cost.
What does it offer that the other services do not?
"We have unlimited free storage," said Jay Esmele, a spokesperson for AOL, "as well as integration with AIM, AOL journals and AIM blogs."
"Whether or not you are an AOL member, you get the same features. The advantage of being a member is that there is greater integration with our other areas, such as your personalized welcome screen," said Esmele.
Ludicorps wildly popular and fast-growing photo service, Flickr.com (purchased by Yahoo earlier this year), teamed up with mega-retailer Target last month to add photo printing.
With a focus on the social aspects of photo sharing, Flickr allows users to tag, comment and share photos with all or just selected users. Basic memberships are free, allowing limited uploading per month, storage of resized images and viewing of just the 200 most recent images in a stream.
Flickrs advanced offering known as "The Pro" costs $24.95/year and removes most limitations on uploading, storage and photo formats in an ad-free environment.
Building on its portal strategy, AOL plans to monetize the Pictures service with a subscriber-less model.
"Our audience strategy is to build our network of users, and we think that this is another application that will draw people into the portal, which translates to advertisers. AOL audiences appeal to advertisers," Esmele said.
AOL Pictures does not offer tagging at this time, "but were looking into it in the future," Esmele said.
Users must create a free login to use AOL Photos, but a current AIM screen name will suffice.
In other photo sharing news, rumors emerged today that Google may buy Riya, an alpha product whose technology uses face recognition to tag people in photos, as well as objects and text.
Riya takes the tagging principle behind Flickr one step further by not expecting users to add tags and descriptions – it does so automatically.
Nobody from either Riya or Google has yet commented on a potential deal.