Shutterfly tries to cut the hassle of sharing

E-mail invitations to view friends' photos on a site like Shutterfly, Snapfish or Kodak Gallery can often be as much a hassle as a pleasure.

Some services require tedious steps to open an album. Others ask for forgotten passwords. And even those albums that are easy to open could be hard to get back to at another time if you can't find the original e-mail invitation. There has to be a better way.

Now Shutterfly, a leading online photo service, has integrated simple photo sharing into personalized Web sites, which serve as a more permanent and collaborative place to communicate. This new offering is appropriately called Shutterfly Share (, and the sites are free of charge and without advertisements, for now.

Shutterfly created this souped-up arm of its company early this year after acquiring Nexo Systems Inc., a company that makes straightforward, clutter-free sharing sites. Shutterfly Share caters to groups, like families and softball teams, as well as to friends, who use the sites as home bases where photos and news can be posted.

Overall, this site-creating program does a nice job with minimal work on the user's behalf, though it currently lacks a few useful features and its security-related member permissions when setting up the site can be a bit confusing.

One of Shutterfly Share's best features is its emphasis on photos, particularly the ability to quickly see multiple images simultaneously on the site's home page. Various other categories of information dot the page, like links to favorite sites, calendars or team rosters.

But Shutterfly Share is still in its beta (testing) phase, and leaves room for improvements, some of which will be made upon its official release planned for Aug. 12. For example, a few features stuttered or didn't work the first time around. One photo that I added to the top of my page froze when I tried to open it for editing, and embedded video links wouldn't play during one test.

I created a site on Shutterfly Share called “middleground” for the purpose of staying connected with a handful of friends in various cities around the country. Our site let us digitally catch up by sharing photos, gossip and general news about one another's lives. I even added news feeds from my favorite sites at the bottom of the page.

Shutterfly obviously wants users to be able to quickly start a site, condensing this process to just a couple brief steps (the process is made faster if you're already a Shutterfly member). I chose a category and style for my site; categories included Family, Photo Journal and Baby while styles ranged from yellow lattice to artistic black backgrounds.

Privacy is a priority, for good reason, and I protected my site with a password. But I mistakenly assigned each friend with limited permissions as “Contributors” instead of “Editors.” It turns out that Contributors can view, comment, add and edit their own content, but not that of others; the Editors can do so. After my grumbling friends alerted me to my error, we were in business. Still, too many security options can be confusing during setup.

Shutterfly Share tries to make posting photos to the site as easy as possible by offering various ways to do so – even by simply e-mailing attached photos to a special address, which could be helpful for relatives intimidated by the process of uploading photos. But every person who adds photos to the site, whether via upload or email, may do so only if he or she is a member of Shutterfly.

People who aren't Shutterfly members but are invited to be members of a Shutterfly Share site (by the site's owner) can post anything other than photos, including comments, calendar entries and polls.

Daily e-mails update members on site activity, such as newly posted photos and comments, to keep each member in the loop on site happenings.