RockYou clicks with social network sitesRockYou clicks with social network sites

RockYou clicks with social network sites

By Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY
Sept. 5, 2007

"The whole point of sharing is to be able to see your pictures all over the Internet, not on just one site," says RockYou founder Jia Shen, 27.
By Vance P. Jacobs for USA TODAY
"The whole point of sharing is to be able to see
your pictures all over the Internet, not on just one site," says
RockYou founder Jia Shen, 27.
 
LOS ANGELES — Jia Shen wanted to make a big
splash with his new photo-sharing site, RockYou, so he targeted users
of social networks such as MySpace and Facebook.

RockYou’s pitch: easy-to-share slideshows and decorations, including floating hearts and glitter text.

Shen
is clearly onto something. In May, red-hot social network Facebook
added RockYou to the list of outside applications Facebook fans can add
to their personal pages; 15 million have signed up.

RockYou
is one of a new breed of photo-sharing sites that cater to young and
savvy Web users. The top three in the category — Photobucket, Flickr
and Slide — garner more than 50% of all photo-sharing traffic,
according to measurement firm Hitwise.

RockYou
is one of three kinds of photo-sharing sites on the Web. There’s the
hip brand, with cool ways to doll up your photos and share them. Second
category: traditional upload-and-print sites such as Shutterfly and
Kodak, primarily aimed at selling photo merchandise. In a category all
its own, the single community sites such as Yahoo’s Flickr, focused on
sharing and interaction, with group comments.

Some sites say goodbye

With
the changes in photoland, some traditional sites are struggling to
remain relevant. Early next year, Sony will shut its ImageStation site.
Two other familiar sites are closing down this month: Yahoo Photos on
Sept. 20; and PhotoSite on Sept. 27.

Traditional
upload-and-print Yahoo Photos saw its audience plummet to 3.5 million
users in July 2007 from 8.6 million in July 2006, according to market
tracker Nielsen//NetRatings. Yahoo is migrating most Yahoo Photos
customers to Flickr, a more community-oriented photo-sharing site that
has been a hit for Yahoo since it acquired it in March 2005. Flickr’s
audience almost doubled year to year, to 11.1 million users this July
from 6.3 million users in July 2006, says Nielsen.

At
Flickr, members can showcase their work in large, impressive displays
and post directly to blogs. Sites such as RockYou and Slide take it up
a notch. RockYou invites members to share their work at Facebook,
MySpace, eBay, blogs and newer social sites such as Bebo, Hi5, Tagged
and Zorpia.

"The whole point of sharing is to
be able to see your pictures all over the Internet, not on just one
site," says Shen, RockYou’s co-founder and chief technology officer.
"We don’t want to keep you on our site; we want you to go to MySpace
and Facebook, where your friends are."

Sites in a ‘paradigm shift’

The market shift happened this year, with the new sites attracting mega-audiences.

"In
the old days — like a year ago — you would upload pictures to a site to
share with family and friends," says Bill Tancer, general manager of
research for Hitwise. "What’s happened in photo sharing is a clear
paradigm shift from, ‘I have some photos to show some friends,’ to ‘I
want everyone all over the Internet to see them.’ "

Traditional
sites such as Kodak Gallery, Shutterfly and Snapfish will "have to find
a way to play in the social networking space, to remain relevant," says
Tancer.

Publicly traded Shutterfly says it’s
not worried about the changes among netizens. The social network
audience is a younger demographic, and "they don’t buy prints," says
CEO Jeffrey Housenbold. "Our audience does."

Even
while next-generation sites dominate the charts, the explosion in
digital photography and online display has paid off for Shutterfly,
too. "Our audience has grown 50% year to year," says Housenbold.

It’s about to grow even more. Sony is encouraging its ImageStation members to transfer all their images directly to Shutterfly.

Housenbold
says he’s open to adding social networklike tools for his members,
letting them share pictures all over the Web, with links to share on
blogs and websites. "But it’s not something our users have asked for."

Shutterfly’s revenue stream stems from prints and photo goods. Sites such as RockYou and Slide are looking to advertising.

Shen
says he has agreements with NBC Universal and Sony to sponsor
slideshows and other RockYou widgets, both on his site and within the
photo window on other sites such as Facebook. He wouldn’t offer
specifics.

RockYou grew while Yahoo,
ImageStation and PhotoSite stumbled, because "the younger demo has no
affiliations to older brands," he says. "By targeting young people and
the social networks, it allowed us to grow virally."

RockYou
does more than just share photos; it also offers horoscopes and
quizzes. Shen says he envisions selling prints one day — just in a
different way. A popular RockYou add-on is glitter text. "Our users
will put glitter text on their prints, and turn them into their own
creations," he says. "The print isn’t dead; it’s just going to evolve."

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