Katherine Boehret

Mining Facebook to Make a Real Photo Album

As kids, we’re taught to share and share alike, and nowhere is this more clear than on Facebook, where some 600 million users share private details about their lives—and a lot of that sharing involves photos. People who once shared digital albums via photo-sharing websites now simply post those on Facebook for friends to see.

This week, I tested an effort by photo-sharing sites to win back users’ attention: by importing photos from none other than Facebook, itself. With your permission, these sites access your Facebook page’s photos, as well as the pages of any friends who share their Facebook photos with you, and use these images to make photo albums—for online or for the coffee table.

I tested Shutterfly Inc.’s new Custom Path for making photo books, which produced a handsome book but didn’t link as smoothly as it should with Facebook. I also tried a beautiful new website called ZangZing that grabs and organizes images from a variety of social networks to create digital albums.

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Shutterfly’s Custom Path lets users make pages their own by adding stickers and images.

There are ups and downs to using photos from Facebook in this manner. The major advantage is you can access several people’s photos rather than relying on just your own photos to create an album or project. This means if you forgot a camera at your parents’ 40th anniversary party, you may be able to use a friend’s photos to create a digital album or a photo book. And because photos shared on Facebook are often captured using smartphones and shared nowhere else but Facebook, they are then unique memories of the event.

On the negative side, Facebook downsizes photos before storing them on its website, so the quality isn’t that of the original digital file. This factors in when creating photo books. I planned to make a large photo book but had to choose a smaller one because the photos were too low resolution to be used as large, full-bleed images spread across a page; images from Facebook couldn’t be larger than 4-by-6-inches. If the photos imported from Facebook were captured on smartphones, the quality is already lower than that of a digital camera, though smartphone-camera technology is improving steadily.

I checked in with Google’s Picasa, Kodak Gallery, and Yahoo’s Flickr services to see if they were considering the idea of importing photos from Facebook. Each of these photo-sharing services already shares its albums out to Facebook—table stakes in the social-networking world. Of the three, only Kodak disclosed imminent plans to import photos from Facebook to its Kodak Gallery website; it will start this in late June. Kodak already lets people use in-store kiosks, like those in Target stores, to import images to albums from Facebook.

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The end result is an album book.

Shutterfly’s Custom Path photo-book-making process automatically places photos onto book pages while allowing the book’s creator to tweak and adjust the book to a high degree. The books come in five options ranging from $13 for a 5-by-5-inch softcover book to $55 for a 12-by-12-inch hardcover book. Prices are currently marked at 20 percent off; adding pages will increase the price. I chose a 20-page, 8-by-8-inch book with a padded photo cover that cost $28 by the time I was finished with it (prices for this size book start at $20).

I skimmed through nine categories of book styles and several options within each category before deciding to create a photo-filled wedding guest book. Photos for the book can be added from one’s computer, a Shutterfly account, other people’s shared Shutterfly photos or Facebook. I chose photos from all of these sources and they dropped into a digital bin, showing me what I already had in the book so as not to grab the same photo twice from two sources.

I used Facebook Connect, a one-click option to enable my Shutterfly account to access my Facebook content and that of my friends, but it took me several tries to see the photos from Facebook. Shutterfly couldn’t replicate my problem and a spokeswoman thought it might be an issue with Facebook. It was fixed later in the day, but photos from Facebook still seemed sluggish to display on the screen.

Custom Path is easy to use but not easy enough. Text boxes are difficult to maneuver, and while some items can be taken away when you press Delete, others must be dragged off the screen. But once I figured out how to customize images and added stickers on pages, I could really make the page my own—not just another cookie-cutter pattern from Shutterfly.

ZangZing is a sharing site with a clean and easy-to-use user interface. It’s focused on the idea of creating digital albums by getting photos from all sorts of sources, including Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Kodak Gallery, Picasa Web, Shutterfly, Photobucket, SmugMug or your own PC. I created albums with photos from five sources, and I enjoyed watching the elegant animations that illustrated the step of adding an image to an album. One click will add all photos from an album, or individual ones can be selected, and the images appear in a tray at the bottom of the screen. The site walks users through six steps to build an album, making the procedure feel transparent and uncomplicated.

The simplest part of using ZangZing was setting an album’s privacy permissions. I selected from Public, Hidden (anyone who knows the link to the album can see it), or Password. Too often, the process of sharing a digital photo album feels nerve-wracking because it’s hard to know if it will be shared with hundreds of people or too difficult for anyone to view. ZangZing’s emphasis on clarity shines here and throughout this sharing site.

Thanks to Shutterfly, ZangZing and other sites, creating a book or album to share doesn’t need to be restricted to your own photos. Rather than putting everything into your social networks, these sites let you take something out.

Write to Katherine Boehret at katherine.boehret@wsj.com


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