American Greetings recently announced it will close operation of PhotoWorks, a free online photo storage, sharing, and printing service. After Monday, April 4, users will no longer be able to access their photos or place new orders or reorders for photo-related products such as photo books, prints, and cards.
The company is notifying its users via e-mail that they can transfer their photo collections to Shutterfly, a competing service, with just a few clicks. It is unclear if you can download hi-res versions of your photos from PhotoWorks instead of transferring your images to Shutterfly. PhotoWorks was unavailable for comment at the time of this writing.
If you are a PhotoWorks user you have until 11:59 p.m. EST on Monday, May 2 to click through the e-mail and transfer the photos to Shutterfly. PhotoWorks is offering its users a $30 credit toward Shutterfly photo products when you transfer your images to the new service.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
The irony of PhotoWorks' recent announcement is that just two years ago the service was in Shutterfly's position of rescuing stranded users. In 2009, users of AOL Pictures, another free online photo storage service, were offered a similar deal to transfer their images to PhotoWorks from AOL. At the time of AOL Pictures' demise, PhotoWorks told PC World that business was good and the site planned to stick around indefinitely. "It's expensive to maintain millions of images, but we're making it work," said Sally Babcock, then American Greetings general manager of digital photography.
The demise of PhotoWorks highlights the hazards of entrusting online services with your memories and data. Gmail recently experienced a bug that deleted data for about 40,000 of its users and the company had to resort to data tape back-ups to restore the deleted e-mail.
Similar concerns have arisen about the future of Yahoo's Flickr, the popular online photo and storage service. Consider the recent departure of Flickr's head of product, Matthew Rothenberg; then, rumors that Yahoo was cutting other popular Web services such as Delicious; and the rising popularity of new mobile photo services such as Instagram and picplz.