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In principle, a Riya user could upload an entire photo collection and allow the site’s face-recognition technology to categorize them according to the people who appear in them. Later on, it’s easier for a user to find old photos or for others to come across them in image searches.

In addition to faces, Riya’s software can read text that appears in photographs and use that information to create tags. For example, if you and your family appear in front of a sign for the Piccadilly Circus Underground station in London, Riya could automatically give the photo a “London” tag. In the future, according to the company, their software will also be able to recognize well-known objects, such as monuments.

Both BubbleShare and Riya offer free uploads and storage, and plan to earn revenues by publishing advertisements alongside user’s online photo albums. The specific ads that appear will be determined by a keyword-based advertising system similar to Google’s AdWords. In Riya’s case, the tags automatically derived from users’ photographs could be used as keywords – so that a photograph of the National Park Service’s “welcome” sign at Alcatraz, for example, might be accompanied by ads for ferry services in San Francisco Bay.

People will need more and more help as their digital photos pile up, says Ed Lee, a digital-photo analyst at research firm InfoTrends in Weymouth, MA. “The heavy [digital camera] users will have tens of thousands of images on their computers – and even the light users are probably still in the hundreds or low thousands,” he says. “I personally have about 15,000 photos that I’ve accumulated over six years. In the big scheme of things, it’s going to be really important to be able to find your photos wherever and whenever you want them, no matter where they’re located.”

Lee’s only concern about the latest crop of photo-sharing startups: How will they stay afloat financially, given that they aren’t charging fees, such as Flickr’s $24.95 annual subscription for an account that allows unlimited uploads? “There’s only so much money out there from advertising,” Lee says. “And only a small percentage of people – less than one-quarter – say they’re willing to pay some money for a premium-type photo service. There’s a market opportunity here, but where the money’s going to come from isn’t clear.”

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