Katherine Boehret

A Photo-Sharing Site Where Active Participation Is Allowed

Wouldn’t it be great if, after attending an event — like a wedding — at which friends and family took digital photos and videos, everyone could contribute to the same online album? It would be even better if everyone could access the album through a simple email invitation instead of having to create yet another log-in profile.

The once-frustrating process of sharing digital photos and videos has noticeably improved over the past year, thanks to seamless Web-based programs that work like desktop applications. But many of these sites give all the power to whoever created the album, leaving invited guests to simply look at photos or add comments.

Shwup by muvee Technologies gives friends a common album in which to share digital photos and videos.
Shwup by muvee Technologies gives friends a common album in which to share digital photos and videos.

This week I tested shwup (www.shwup.com), a free Web-based application that’s available starting Wednesday from muvee Technologies and works as described above with only a few pitfalls. The concept is simple: Anyone who signs up for a shwup account can create an album filled with digital photos and videos, and this album can be shared with anyone else via email whether they have a shwup account or not. Recipients of these email invitations can click on an embedded link to view and add content to the album. Or users can completely skip visiting the site and instantly upload content by replying to the email invitation with attached photos and videos.

Muvee Technologies is best known for selling software that automatically creates short movies, or muvees, by blending digital videos and photos with music and transitions. Muvee’s namesake technology is a part of the free shwup site; a few muvees are automatically generated in each of the albums and everyone who is invited to the album can create muvees using its content. But shwup’s main focus is making sharing easier for everyone. It differs from most of the company’s software programs in that it’s free and completely Web-based.

A shwup album takes just a few minutes to set up and even less time to share. It works on Microsoft’s (MSFT) Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s Firefox 2.0 and 3.0 browsers but won’t work on Apple’s (AAPL) Safari until the fall. Shwup is available Wednesday but is still technically in its beta, or testing, phase, and I ran into a few kinks. I had trouble getting its useful reply-to-email uploading capability to work when two friends and I tried to upload content to my album using attachments in email replies. My friends had to visit the site to upload content. Muvee couldn’t figure out what went wrong when I asked the company about it.

I did, however, add content to someone else’s album using the reply-to-email method, uploading a digital photo in seconds. And in another instance I received a shwup email invitation on my BlackBerry and replied to it with an attached photo, which — in seconds — sent that photo from my BlackBerry to the specified shwup album.

Shwup automatically makes muvees, or short movies with music and transitions, using album content.
Shwup automatically makes muvees, or short movies with music and transitions, using album content.

A glaring omission from shwup is the ability to view photos in full-screen view, a feature that most photo-sharing programs offer in slideshow mode. A friend of mine said he would use shwup over other photo-sharing Web sites that require user names and passwords if only it had full-screen photos. Muvee recognizes this as one of shwup’s biggest issues and says it will add this feature in August.

I uploaded over 60 high-resolution digital photos into my first shwup album, noting that the only limitation on files is that no individual file can be larger than 100 megabytes. These images can come from your computer, Flickr, Facebook or any Web site. Out of curiosity, I plugged www.cnn.com into the Web site entry box and shwup automatically grabbed images from the site that were available for me to use. I checked two of the images and they were added to my album in seconds.

Shwup automatically made and added three muvees to my album, using my photos put to music it chooses with dramatically timed transitions. These short clips looked really well-done, and were labeled as “sample muvees” so as not to be confused with my content. I followed a few simple steps to create a muvee of my own for the album by dragging photos into a tray, choosing from seven different layout styles and a handful of stock music licensed by shwup.

An option lets you upload your own music to play with your muvee, which I did. Seconds later, my homemade muvee played with transitions that were perfectly timed to the beats of a Fountains of Wayne song. After filling an album with digital photos, videos and muvees that I made, I invited friends to my album using emails generated from shwup.com. Within each album, a clear list of whoever was invited to the album can be seen on the top right side of the page. If someone hasn’t shared content yet, he or she can be “poked” by anyone invited to the album, sending them yet another email invitation.

Everyone invited to an album receives notifications from shwup whenever someone contributed content to the album and everyone can change the layout of the album to one of three settings: Grid, Simple or Mosaic. Moving my cursor over an album’s images showed data about each file including who contributed the photo or video, when it was captured and how many comments it had received in the album. (Comments are readable after clicking on an image to see a bigger version of it.)

Digital videos are labeled with small Play icons to distinguish them from digital still images. But a friend who uploaded a video to my album pointed out that the still image representing his video was a gray square rather than a still of the first scene as it did with the other videos — perhaps because this is where the camera was focused at the start of the video. Without an image to illustrate what the video was, it wasn’t as appealing as the other videos and images. Muvee explained that the ability to select a still image to represent a video was available in its pay software, but not yet in shwup, though the company plans to add this to shwup in the future.

Another hitch: If you invite someone to your album and then add something to the album you’d rather they not see, you can’t un-invite the person. Muvee says it plans to add the ability to un-invite members in July. Individual contributors have the ability to delete or “unshare” the content that they added to an album, while album creators can unshare and delete all pictures or entire albums. Album creators also are given the authority to merge albums.

Along with shwup, muvee also announces a new version of its downloadable pay software Wednesday: muvee Reveal. This $100 software has much more detailed features that specifically tweak your videos to become extra personalized.

When it works, shwup serves as a neat, artistic way to share photos quickly. Friends and family will be relieved that it doesn’t require any forgettable usernames and passwords, and the email-uploading tool will make anyone who knows how to attach something to an email feel like he or she can contribute to a photo-sharing Web site without a second thought. After shwup adds its full-screen photo-viewing option and clears up the glitches of its email-uploading feature, I’ll be using shwup for many group events to come.

Edited By Walter S. Mossberg

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