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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 28, 2000. All rights
DotPhoto: Smile & Click
For digital photos, the focus is on production
Last month Glenn Paul, Princeton entrepreneur and
co-founder of the Clancy-Paul computer stores, launched the website
for dotPhoto Inc., a new Ewing-based "dot com" company
photo archiving, sharing, and printing services for users of digital
Indicative of the Internet’s growing maturity, DotPhoto is actually
Paul’s second version of a website for digital photographers. The
original site, PhotosByNet, went live in June, 1999 (U.S. 1, August
18, 1999) and took a few hundred orders. However, it had insufficient
production facilities — an existing one-hour photo-processing
store for making prints — and inadequate infrastructure, and Paul
now calls it a "trial."
While new Internet virtual companies are called "clicks" to
distinguish them from more traditional "brick and mortar"
type businesses, the truth is that any click site that sells tangible
goods, even high-flyers like Amazon.com, needs to make major
in real-world operations like warehouses, factories, and, of course,
The evolution of PhotosByNet into dotPhoto required the development
of a much more sophisticated "brick behind the click"
To take this step, Paul teamed with co-founder Joe Godcharles, owner
of the MotoPhoto franchise in Plainsboro, to develop a new
factory in Ewing. He also hired Walter Krieg, of Research Park-based
InfoFirst Inc., to design and implement the Web hosting service
and powerful on-line data servers behind the site. Eric Moser, a board
member who is a producer at CNET, the San Francisco-based new media
company, redesigned the look and feel of the site and the way it
The company aims to create a piece of Internet infrastructure that
every other site can use to manage images and has a deal pending with
an 800,000-member group to do a co-branded site. "We raised about
$1 million through January," Paul says, "through angels, the
board of directors, and private sources. DotPhoto acquired PhotosByNet
and will take it to a whole new level."
DotPhoto is the latest in a series of photo sites aimed at solving
the problems of digital photography: organizing and sharing images.
The advantage of digital cameras is their immediacy: the images can
be easily transferred to a computer to be edited and shared via the
Internet. Your kid’s birthday photos can be instantly E-mailed to
family and friends, or your company’s new product design can be posted
on your website for customers.
The online photofinishing market is supposed to reach $1.4 billion
in annual sales by 2003, according to InfoTrends Research Group.
marketing focus will be affiliations with businesses and membership
organizations, and it is also trying to position itself as the
of images," so that photographers can post images and charge fees
for their use. Funds have also been set aside for "weblicity,"
PR on the Internet.
"Digital opens up so many more possibilities to people using
as point-and-shoot cameras break and get old," says GodCharles.
"People like the immediate results. You can see your pictures
right away, and delete shots if you do not like them."
The disadvantages of digital photography are storing and sharing the
photos: you end up with lots of big images, with files strewn around
your computer and taking up lots of space. And sharing them with
gets clumsy as the images get larger; you can only fit a few at a
time on a floppy disk. Plus, you do end up missing those old-fashioned
photo prints. Prints are easy to share with others, look great framed
on a wall, and store away in a shoebox. Although you can print out
your digital photos on an ink-jet printer, the quality is not the
same, and premium computer photo paper can cost over $1 a sheet.
DotPhoto and similar sites address these problems by offering the
ability to upload your digital images, organize them into albums,
share them with others over the Web, and make photo prints. However,
these companies still are trying to figure out the right positioning
for the consumer market.
"We’re not in an unoccupied market," says Walter Krieg,
the others have had the chance to iron out the kinks. Zing is the
best site, but they have changed their user interface five times in
six months and changed the color scheme three times."
Some competitors, like Intel (www.GatherRound.com) and
Zing (www.zing.com) are focusing on the shared Web experience. The
emphasis is on storing, organizing, and sharing your photos. These
sites aim to become an online photo community. "Invite your guests
to see, and then trade comments about your pictures," says Intel’s
In contrast, such established developers as Kodak see online photos
as more of a byproduct of developing traditional 35mm film. When you
drop off your film with Konica (www.konicaonline.com), or mail in
your film to a processor like Seattle FilmWorks (www.filmworks.com),
you also can have your film digitized into digital images and returned
on floppy disk, CD-ROM, or posted on the Web. Since you always get
your prints back when they are developed, these sites tend to also
offer a wide range of novelty merchandise that can be printed with
your image, such as mugs, T-shirts, and mouse pads.
Kodak has been working diligently to expand its presence in digital
photography, with efforts like PhotoNet Online (www.photonet.com),
a partnership with America Online, and its Print@Kodak, announced
on June 26, which will offer traditional prints from digital photos
Other startup ventures are hedging their bets, including Ofoto
and Shutterfly.com, the next big thing from Netscape Communications
co-founder Jim Clark. Some of these sites also offer traditional film
developing to attract a wider market of online users. Ofoto now does
free film processing in order to get your images onto its site,
it returns only the negatives and not prints. You can then share your
photos online and choose to pay only for the prints that you want.
"This is the future of photography," says Paul. "You get
exactly the sizes you want the first time, and the number of prints.
You don’t have to print the whole roll a first time. It’s like having
a Fotomat in every bedroom."
The dotPhoto service is focused on three major components: free
and storage of images, inexpensive photo printing, and sharing of
photo albums as presentations, with the addition of audio clips.
view the picture as a piece of a story," says Paul. "Kodak
is focused on the picture itself. It has huge overhead and investment
in old ideas. We have no interest in selling you a CD or a roll of
Like other sites, dotPhoto will store your images for free, in the
hopes that you, and your friends and family, will purchase prints.
There is a limit to this generosity, though. After the first year
you must upload at least one photo per month or spend at least $5
on prints over a six-month period. Subscribers get "unlimited
perpetual storage" along with discount rates. In the future disk
space might be limited to 50 megabytes, equivalent to 100 to 200 color
photos. Images are stored for at least three years, or six for images
that have been printed.
With the digital approach to photo printing, these sites can print
your images for less than the cost of developing a roll of film.
costs more at Wal-Mart," says Paul, "plus you have to go
Sites like Ofoto, Shutterfly, and Zing charge around 50 cents, $1,
and $3 for 4 by 6, 5 by 7, and 8 by 10 prints, plus $1.50 postage.
DotPhoto matches these prices for large prints, and has significantly
lower prices for the smaller sizes.
DotPhoto has various introductory offers, but its "family
provides 26 4 by 6 prints a month for $4.99 a month (or $0.19 a print)
plus some extras. The 4 by 6 per-print price is $0.21 ($0.30
and 3 by 5 prints are $0.17 ($0.24 non-member), plus $1.99 postage.
But the most visible difference with the dotPhoto site is the support
for audio clips. You can upload sound files from digital cameras,
add sound clips to your digital photos, and even communicate via
voice mail" with friends as they view your photo album. "The
picture is just the beginning of a presentation," says Paul.
sit on a couch and view the photo album and tell a story."
This capability also makes dotPhoto more than just a consumer site.
"For business to business you can upload a PowerPoint presentation
as images," says Paul, "and annotate it with your voiceover.
When you post a new presentation, we can send the mail to notify
associates. It’s not faceless sharing, there’s a feedback loop. The
creator knows that you have been there to see it."
Sites like dotPhoto require a significant investment in the back-end
server infrastructure as they go live and attract customers, including
"big iron" to store and process all of the customer data and
images, and fat pipes to transmit this data back and forth over the
Internet. "It’s all about speed: You need the right
For dotPhoto, this back end includes "the database cluster serving
the Web and a string of file servers for the photo images," says
Krieg. "We’re starting with over 850 gigabytes (billion bytes)
of storage, on fault tolerant disks. With this design, we can extend
the file servers infinitely, all over the world."
For the fastest and most direct connection to the Internet backbone,
dotPhoto uses dedicated servers located on site at DataPipe
formerly HiSpeed Hosting. "They are located in Newark, a block
from Bell Atlantic, in the old Macy’s building," says Krieg.
have a big enough pipe for a small city."
The dotPhoto pipe is an "OC48" connection that runs 1,600
times faster than a typical office complex "T-1" service,
and 44,000 times faster than the best dial-up connection that a
might use to upload a file. (OC48 is measured in billions of bits
per second or 2.5 gigabits, T-1 in millions or 1.4 megabits, and
service in thousands, 28.8 or 56 kilobits.)
In order to handle large image files efficiently, dotPhoto actually
keeps several versions of each photo on its servers. When you upload
each original photo, the server makes a small "thumbnail"
image for quickly browsing through a large collection of images, and
a larger "Internet" image that is used for viewing the photo
in a Web browser. The original image at the full resolution is used
only for creating a photo print.
While the original image might be 1 to 2 to even 3 megapixels with
the newer digital cameras (around 1000 x 1000 to 3000 x 3000
the Internet image needs to be only 360 x 270 to view on a Web page,
and the thumbnail image can be 120 x 90. This is a major savings in
download time when browsing your images on the Web.
DotPhoto uses a dedicated T1 line to ship the photo images to be
to the factory in Ewing. At that speed, even a big original photo
can be transferred in around three seconds, or 20 images a minute,
and 1,200 images an hour. This is about right for the initial
since the factory equipment is rated at around 1,000 8 by 10 prints
Within the factory, one server is dedicated to pulling
images from the website, and a second for crunching the photos to
the right size. The dotPhoto software downloads the images, orients
each print correctly on the page, and resizes it for printing.
uses custom software to "upsample" relatively low resolution
digital images to a larger size before printing them. The trick with
this software is to enlarge the image while keeping it sharp and not
blurry. "The upsampling looks terrific," says Paul, "I
guarantee you can’t tell the difference between this and a film
DotPhoto does provide recommended guidelines for the maximum print
size for different image resolutions: no more or no less than 1024
by 768 pixels for 4 by 6 prints ("results will vary" for
640 by 480 images), 1152 by 864 pixels for 5 by 7 prints, and 1600
by 1200 pixels for 8 by 10 prints.
Although the "look and feel" of the site has been redesigned
since InfoFirst’s original design, Krieg and a team from InfoFirst
were responsible for the infrastructure. Krieg has a PhD in organic
chemistry from Rutgers University and worked as a chemist in the
With his cousin, lawyer Frank Armenante (the barrister), he started
the Alchemist & Barrister restaurant on Witherspoon Street.
Krieg met Glenn Paul through the restaurant and the A&B was an early
Clancy-Paul corporate client for business systems. "They set up
an Apple II Plus to do payroll and our books," says Krieg. This
experience got Krieg hooked on computers, and he went back to school
at Trenton State to earn a degree in mathematics and computers in
1986. Since then, he has started three software ventures while also
working at AT&T until 1995. In 1996, Krieg and Simon Blackwell formed
InfoFirst, originally to sell a Web-based targeted ad delivery system
Joe Godcharles, vice president of operations, is
for the photography end of this business. He was introduced to Paul
by a mutual friend who knew of his background in both computers and
photography. A native of Lawrence, Godcharles graduated from Rutgers
University in computers and went directly to Report Concepts in New
York City, where he eventually become vice president of operations.
Meanwhile, he was working as a freelance professional photographer
on a part-time basis "for events and weddings."
After 10 years Godcharles decided to "move in full-time" to
photography, and became owner of a MotoPhoto franchise in the
Meadows Shopping Center in Plainsboro. Over the next nine years, he
became more involved with digital photography, doing digital
photos to CD, prints from digital, digital scans, and large format
prints and posters.
The dotPhoto staff now includes seven full-time employees and six
people working on the Web interface. The office and factory is located
in the American Enterprise Park at Ewing, near the West Trenton train
station, and next door to Airborne. As Paul points out, it doesn’t
have the traffic of Route 1.
The processing factory uses standard chemical photo processing.
bought the state-of-the-art in digital photography," says Paul.
"The equipment has a powerful LCD screen that needs to be tuned
to the magnetic field of the earth when it is installed."
Adds Godcharles, "Just the digital exposing part is over $100,000.
It’s designed for high capacity: We can print 1,000 8 by 10 prints
To process a print order in the factory, first the digital unit
the prints, then the paper goes into the processor to be developed,
then through a dryer, and then to the high-speed cutter. Finally the
photos are inspected, packaged, and passed to the shipping department.
"We ship within 48 hours," says Godcharles, "and can also
send a Web notification."
The entire process works with 600-foot rolls of Fuji photo paper.
"It’s a premium grader," says Godcharles. "Fuji has the
longest fade life in the industry, 70 years, while the others are
around 15 to 20."
The trick to efficient processing is to lay out the
prints automatically on the photo paper roll, and to track which
get shipped where. This is handled by printing marks on the paper
that the cutter can use to automatically cut the photos to the right
sizes. The customer’s mailing label is also printed on the roll, so
the order can be assembled and slipped into a glassine envelope ready
Says Godcharles. "The focus has been on getting the back end
and production running smoothly. We are set up for rapid growth; we
can add up to four or five more production lines here in the six to
The remaining issue with the whole online photo approach is that the
images from the megapixel digital cameras are big and can take a long
time to upload. Each image can take a minute or two to transfer over
a good dial-up connection (for 500 kilobytes), so a full
of photos from a camera can take a half hour or so, even after
the bad shots. On the other hand, there are lots of people on the
Internet happily downloading much bigger MP3 audio files these days,
even when a song file of four megabytes can take around 20 minutes
And, with a DSL or cable connection, these numbers get much more
two to four times faster, or more. "In the next two years everyone
will have a fast connection," says Paul. Or at least many of the
people who will own digital cameras.
The next step is to sign up customers. As an introductory offer,
is offering memberships for $4.99 per month, including 36 prints,
free shipping, member pricing for one year, plus a free personal
"We are creating a great visual experience, with sounds for
the site for working, and inexpensive prints," says Krieg. "It’s
been a heck of an experience."
"Our focus is concentrating on the user experience," adds
Godcharles. "This is the most exciting space on the Internet."
"This is the killer app among ASPs (Application Service
says Paul. "This is a GRASP, a Graphic-Relational ASP. Text and
pictures and sound, creating a multimedia presentation on the fly,
out of the database in any order."
"This kind of opportunity doesn’t come along too often," says
Paul. "We can handle pictures better than anyone in the history
of the world."
Paul, founder, president. 609-434-0340; fax, 609-434-0344. Home
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