Tuesday, April 25, 2006

What is common with all online photo sites of most reatilers

I've been writing about my experiences using online photo sites for pickup at retail shops.

And guess what? I found that this company PNI Digital Media is providing the Digital Media Platform, as a private label hosted solution for CVS, walmart, Hannaford and EchardRx and a lot many companies.

First, I appreciate them as any early provider of technology, especially hosted solutions.. I wish them success as I love all change agents and PNI has brought the into these retailers.

Wish they would improve their UI to keep up with times.

I stopped by at my local CVS and checked out that the local photo center guy knows about the kodakgallery deal with cvs for pickup at the store. He just thinks its in the works and I should wait for the operational details to be worked out.

Wonder is its a big company DNA, one arm not knowing what the other is doing? Why would CVS host at PNI and start another hosted deal partnership? Expecting better marketing through Kodak?

I spent another $20 at cvs for the prints and found that the local prints are much faster than I had originally calculated. I got 90 prints in 15 minutes, not bad!

PNI will lose if CVS and other strike deals with Kodak and others. They need to focus on two key things most needed for any hosted business - building brand so the end user knows them, and customer lockin of their retailers who host their private label sites.

Its good for me as the consumer to get more choice, but its not good for the retailers to keep switching unless the newer offer is much much stickier than the previous one, which is not the case with the Kodakgallery deal. I am likely to forget CVS altogether to move to someone else.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Remote photo printing - kodakgallery and Yahoo

I got a coupon mailed to try digital photo printing at kodakgallery.com/cvs for pickup at CVS pharmacy. Don't ask me what I do with all these printed photos, I like to try them all out.

Ok, its a logical partnership, they've spent on marketing and reached me and I am a good potential customer. I've tried photo upload for priting at cvs.com many years back when it was buggy and liked that they've moved to Kodak Easy share.

I've been a regular user of Kodak Easy share from its early days.

But, guess what! http://www.kodakgallery.com/cvs routes to the regular home page of kodak gallery and it has no mention of CVS. Talk about falling thru the cracks!

Its sad that Kodak has the core competency in this business and has been a pioneer in several digital photo solutions from the same company in parallel, appearing to come from different groups inside the company and there are people like me ready to give another chance if they have a easy solution for me and we are here with a partnershuip that will make my life easy but all I get is marketing supported with no execution.

Yahoo Photos and Target partnership:

Oh! I noticed that Yahoo photos has a partnership with target for store pickup. Its a logical choice, since Target is walmart's competion who offer their own printing from their stores.

Since Walmart chewed corners of some of my pictures in their own intelligent sizing ( or is it some incompatability between their online site and store printers?), I am cautious to send a bunch of prints to target, though being a Yahoo photo fan, I'll try it out soon.

In fact, I saw this option on Yahoo photos, and thought, Hmm, I am not going to target anytime soon, so let me defer it for now. Then, guess what, I ended up in target and thought, oh, I wish I could just go online to Yahoo and upload the pictures now while I shop at target. Maybe target should setup an online kiosk to access Yahoo photos from their store as they'll make money in that process. Maybe Yahoo photos should demand that as part of their deal with target.

Mobile Photo Access:

Don't lets get started on all mobile upload options, its my dream, technically possible today, but, its a long way to go. My photos all sit online on an online photo site, say Yahoo photos. Yahoo can allow me an option to use my phone or PDA to select and purchase select pictures for pickup at target. Its not enough to allow uploading on my low resolution pics taken on my phone. That seems more driven by the carriers to charge me for bandwidth for the upload. It needs to be driven by Yahoo who owns the consumer and cares for their loyalty and direct dollars.

I keep going back to Yahoo as they are the market leader in digital photo space and have caught up well with Picasa (ok,ok, Yahoo did come up with the deskup photo upload option well before Picasa, but it wasn't as sticky as Picasa, ok) and everyone else in terms of all sticky features available in the market today with their AJAX version. So I am waiting for consumer centric mobile ecommerce...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Hosting your dreams digitally

Digital Photos on the web started out for the photo labs and has seen several solutions for consumers. Digital photography has transformed how we communicate as people. Its given us a new medium to express ourselves and tell our stories.

Yes, there have been many site, and many successful acqusitions. But it still seems to be in infancy as far as consumer solutions go. Theres a startup opportunity for few more companies to come with better stickiness to make successful companies.

I categorize the different solutions for different segments based on type of customers based on their usage/need for digital photo solutions:

Photo delivery for photo labs

I think Pictra Inc was the first in 1996-97. They offered a hosted solution allowing industrial photo labs to scan and deliver photos to the web. It offered sharing features as much as available in todays photo sites for a fee, I think $49 subscription. It was a pioneer to offer selling of photos and photo products via ecommerce.
Photorolo, from MCL Software Service is founded by the same Pictra folks and has a good base with photo labs.

Photo sharing for consumers - We've seen a whole bunch of players from Yahoo photos, to flickr, snapfish, picasa, kodak (and their ofoto), webshots, photobucket.
My friend Malay Kundu founded invino software, the first instant messaging software in 1996 before the IM markt got flooded and had the best photo sharing on IM Invino was sold to Youthstream for less than $10m in 98 and they pretty much lost it in m&a integration. Picasa offers hello, a new IM for photo sharing, which is good, but I like Picasa's photo organizing on a desktop best. Of course Flickr is best known for its tagging.

The new AJAX version of Yahoo photos has IM sharing, tagging and a slick look. I like how Yahoo has integrated photo sharing via email with Yahoo photos. This helps people who share photos by email (I am generally not one of them) and stores the originals on yahoo photos.

Mobile photo uploads: We were ahead of our times with my first startup Coola and we spent a lot of time integrating with Kodak (before ofoto aquisition) with a cool software to upload pics from cameras to hosted sites. Coola allowed the photos from Palmpix camera attached to a palm pilot to be uploaded remotely anywhere you want, and Kodak wanted it uploade to kodak.com
Then all phones didn't have cameras and some sprint folks didn't think it was useful.

Today most every photo site has that as a photo upload feature. Its still long ways to go to solve a problem for a customer. These sites should allow me to click and buy the photo from Yahoo, or click and share with my friend, instead of asking mt to upload as a separate boring task.

Photo printing solutions - print delivery, store pickup, print at home.

I've tried everyone of the photo delivery options. ofoto was good, after the kodak merger they offer some large partnerships and deals for store pickup at local pharmacies (cvs, i think).
I love the print quality of shutterfly best of them all.
They all offer borders and some tools for red-eye reduction etc. Walmart.com seems to measure picture size differently and always chops off some pictures for me.

Why can't Adobe just do it? Here's another of my dreams. I used photoshop to edit my pictures. I should be able to simply click and order prints or share with others too. Adobe doesn't have to do built a hosted photo solution afresh. They can simply parter with any online photo player for starters.

International delivery of printed photos - Kodak was a pioneer in this and I loved kodak.co.in for delivering my pictures to India by a simple upload. They had similar options in competitive prices in many far east countries, now it seems to be a neglected site. I heard about 3 other options that has come up, locally from India. I'll check them out and write again.

Photo commerce - printing photos, ecommerce of photo gifts
All the photo sharing sites do this too. But I think this is a different market, different people who would like to buy or gift such products. Don't we all buy fundraiser gifts for our kids schools? I bought my child's artwork as a gift for grandma to help fundraise for her school or to get those people off my back. I think thats a much viable gift buyer channel than the same photo sites selling to consumers who want to share photos.

Photo search - Picasa took the first step. Riya is cool in its image recognition. My same friend Malay Kundu has a cool image search technology, but too bad he has decided not to focus on conumer photo markets.

Photo blogs - Blogger has done it as part of its mobile blogging, pretty seamlessly to upload photos to a blog, also from a mobile phone. I haven't had a chance to check Yahoo moblogging. There are also a few which are like slideshow software and varients of it.
Why don't I write again after checking these out?

Future: I've written about several of my dreams already.

I have my heart out for an obvious one - for photo sites to integrate into online communities to allow using photos to communicate (build upon photoblogs) and build a whole new business model integrating digital communication using pictures and communities.

One more is a digital scrapbook site. ok,this is not all for current hosted photo site customers.
There are a lot of site offering digital scrapbook components. I dream of one which will replace the $2b scrapbook market digitally allowing enough creativity to build and host our dreams and stories digitally.

Walmart again

I was hoping not to focus more talk on walmart.com photo shop.

But guess what! Walmart photo shop allowed me to cancel my order after I realized that I could not get it the same day but charged my card and printed it in NY and shipped for my local store for my pickup. Remember the tactic of photo studios to print several poses of your child so you would buy more than what you planned for! I turned out such a sucker and took all my pictures and let the charge for the canceled order go!

Theres a b-model for photo shops to print extra copies to make people like me pay!

I've been talking only about printing copies from a photo store online.

I've tried every possible online store for prints ever since I heard of the first one. I'll write again as I'd like to do justice in evaluating all the players and how the space has evolved.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Printing at Kodak machines at CVS and the walmart.com process

I used to be a fan of using the kodak machines at CVS pharmacy to print my pictures at 29 cents each, until 1 year back. It takes about 3 minuts for 2 pictures to print. I used to print copies from my digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix 3100 and stayed in CVS for an hour waiting for the prints sometime.

So, I switched to this mode of "let me upload the pictures from home and pick it up at the store. I tried cvs.com to upload the pictures to keep it printed for me to pickup and it had problems. The other alternative was walmart.com and thats how I ended up where I started my day today.

So, I went back to CVS and got the bookmark pictures printed and am cutting it to bookmark size by the side now :-)

Interesting enough, this afternoon, as my print was waiting at walmart store (so I believed), having selected the store-pickup option, I was wondering how walmart.com folks must have implemented this.

Does my purchase from walmart.com trigger a remote printing to be spooled at the photo shop at Walmart store I selected or was it an intermediate stage of process change at walmart that made the web site email the store and they would continue their process of printing manually?

This thinking might appear crazy if you are reading this as a fellow consumer. But, I derive my web product building experience from going through this exercise with many brick and mortar companies who used the web to improve processes for efficiencies and it usually takes one step at a time in a large company. Its ok as long as the end experience for the customer is seamless.

Walmart.com offers the choice of 1 hour photo print, store pickup and home delivery (at no extra charge). Why would I, the consumer select a store pickup (after a week) option at 15 cents a print while they offer home delivery at no extra charge at 12 cents a print.

Is it the typical business myopia of thinking from inside the company and not from the customer perspective? I can understand how it will benefit Walmart by bringing people to the store if they picked the "store pickup"option, but whats in it for me, the consumer?

I am a big believer of extension of printing and lot other processes into remote machines across the web, lets hope these sites get better in understanding our needs.

BTW, Walmart has the same kodak machine that CVS has, that one can used for self-prints, but it was 35 minutes before the walmart store was closing for the day and the lady at the photo store had decided to shut it down for the day.

I had to call my husband to surf and find the nearest CVS that was open late. Another of my dreams is to be able to use my phone and find that store option from my cell. Better would be to send my photo from my cell to spool at the store printer.

We don't have to start the discussion of upload speeds and storage and resolution of cell camera photots. A hosted photo solution company like Yahoo or Shutterfly can still allow me today to store my photos online from my digital camera and just click and purchase prints from a remote store like CVS or Walmart for pickup or for delivery in I can afford the extra few days time.
It technically doable today. I am waiting ...

Digital prints from walmart.com

I just returned from walmart, disappointed that the pack of pictures I uploaded for pickup was just not ready, its on its way to New York!

I am a digital space enthustiast. I have tried all possible web solutions to digitize, print and share photos since 1996, built technology to transfer pictures from palm pilots and cameras onto the web in 1999 (from my own startup) and amd quick to try all available solutionds today.

In the web democracy, this blog is my drop in the bucket to influence change to get digital media to work for me - the consumer.

I'll write again, sharing my experiences of the past decade in this space and lets track whats available out there today, together.

As for the walmart story, I have to get bookmarks for my kids class for a project and decided to make it as a photo and simply print from walmart.com last night. I have used walmart photos before with success. Now I chose the store pickup option and when I went there, it turned out I should have selected the 1 hour photo option, and the store pickup meant it was sent as an order to my store and the store shipped it to New York for me to pickup next week. I didn't see this fine print which doesn't appear on the site as I completed the transaction.

I have 12 more hours to get my bookmark photos, let me see the state of digital photos on a Sunday evening in America!