Yahoo to test photo-sharing feature in Web mail service

Yahoo is testing a feature to make it easier to share photos via its Web mail service.

E-mail and photo files traditionally haven't played well together, but Yahoo believes it can help improve the situation with an enhancement to its Web mail service that it plans to announce on Thursday.

Photo files are typically large and sharing them via e-mail isn't a smooth process because bloated messages are often difficult to send and receive.

On Thursday, Yahoo plans to begin testing a new feature called PhotoMail in its free Web mail service that lets senders ship small thumbnail images which, when clicked upon by recipients, launch the original, and larger, photo file.

The PhotoMail feature will be available to a small percentage of Yahoo Mail users starting Thursday, but those who are interested in testing it and weren't randomly selected can sign up for it at http://photomail.mail.yahoo.com.

PhotoMail works by placing small thumbnail pictures in messages and storing the actual large photo files on a server of the Yahoo Photo online album service, said Andy Spillane, vice president of Yahoo Mail. Up to 300 thumbnails can be inserted in a Yahoo Mail message. When recipients click on a thumbnail, the original file residing on a Yahoo server is launched, so that a high-resolution version of the photo can be viewed, printed or saved, Spillane said.

Yahoo Mail users will see a PhotoMail button on their message interface labeled "insert photos." When clicked on for the first time, this button sends users to a one-time download and installation of a small piece of software that's needed for the PhotoMail functionality. From there, users are taken to the PhotoMail interface, where they can choose photos located on their PCs, on their Yahoo Photo image albums or on the Web, this latter option enabled through Yahoo's image search service, which has been integrated into PhotoMail.

Users drag-and-drop the photos they select to a window in the PhotoMail interface. In the background, PhotoMail places thumbnails of those files in the body of the message and stores copies of the files on a Yahoo Photo server. Back in the message window, users can manipulate the thumbnails in various ways, changing their layout, adding borders and rotating them. They can also increase or decrease the quality, and thus the size, of the actual photo files.

Non-photo files, such as word processing documents, can also be attached to e-mail messages from the PhotoMail interface. However, those non-photo files aren't stored on Yahoo servers, and are instead tacked to the e-mail messages as conventional attachments. Recipients don't have to be Yahoo Mail users for PhotoMail to work for them, as long as their e-mail service supports e-mail messages based on HTML (Hypertext Markup Language).

Other enhancements to Yahoo Mail the company plans to announce Thursday include:

-- In June, Yahoo Mail's interface will be available in six additional languages, for a total of 21, and in seven additional country-specific Yahoo sites -- Poland, Turkey, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia -- for a total of 34.

-- For the first time, users will begin to see notifications generated by Yahoo's DomainKeys authentication technology informing them whether messages truly originated from address in the sender field, a feature intended to help protect Yahoo Mail users from spam and phishing scams.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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