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Scroll to the bottom of this page to see my Helsinki slide show,
or view a higher-resolution, larger-image version at http://www.bubbleshare.com/album/16284.

I’ve searched for years for the perfect photo-management program – something that combines powerful photo editing, a sensible user interface, the ability to share, tag, and annotate photos, and an easy way to create slide shows with narration or background music. I haven’t found it.

There are, however, several programs or websites that do at least one of these things well. For photo-sharing, tagging, and annotation, there’s Yahoo’s Flickr. For organizing photos on your hard drive and watching slides shows on your own computer, Google’s Picasa is nice. And while Adobe Photoshop is the ultimate in image editing, I find that I can get along quite well with Corel’s much cheaper Paint Shop Pro.

But the missing element has always been a simple way to create slide shows with music or audio narration, then share them over the Internet. Now there’s a startup called BubbleShare that provides exactly that. Today I tested Bubbleshare’s service (which is still in beta) on a batch of photos that I took two weeks ago while on assignment in Helsinki, Finland. The result is below, at the bottom of this post.

Building a BubbleShare slide show couldn’t be easier. Step 1: Upload your photos to BubbleShare’s site (registration required). Step 2: Add captions and/or audio snippets (BubbleShare lets you record up to 30 seconds of audio per photo.). Step 3: Paste the HTML code that BubbleShare provides into your own Web page or blog entry. Then you get a mini-slide show player like the one here – or you can post a link from your page to a higher-resolution version of the show hosted at BubbleShare’s site.

The only technological prerequisites are a camera, computer, broadband Internet connection (otherwise uploading and recording would be excruciatingly slow), and microphone. I used the same $20 Radio Shack PC headset that I use for Skype calls and podcasting. You don’t need anything fancier, since Bubbleshare drastically compresses the audio track anyway.

Granted, a BubbleShare show isn’t the grand, full-screen, hi-fi experience that certain desktop programs help you create. But if you’re sick of fiddling with MP3 tracks, synchronizing them with your photos, burning your shows to a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM, and mailing them off to your friends and relatives, a service like BubbleShare might be for you.

I think my little 24-frame Helsinki show came out well – considering that I threw it together in about an hour. (Not counting the emergency evacuation to Starbucks after we lost power here at TR’s San Francisco bureau this afternoon.)

I can imagine all sorts of uses for a service like BubbleShare. For example, if you were on vacation in some exotic spot (but not so exotic that you don’t have Internet access) and you wanted to supply your friends and family with a daily photo travelogue, you could use BubbleShare to build one in just a few minutes each evening. Or if you were a teacher or professor who had to quickly put together a distance-learning lecture, you could convert your Powerpoint slides into JPGs and upload them to BubbleShare. (Of course, for this to work, either BubbleShare would have to increase the 30-second limit on audio snippets, or college professors would have to become a lot more succinct.)

BubbleShare’s service is so simple, cheap, and convenient that I wouldn’t be surprised to see similar features turning up in future versions of Flickr or Picasa. In fact, it would probably be easier for Yahoo or Google to buy BubbleShare than to write their own software – it could be one of those rare tech startups that gets acquired even before its beta testing is over.

If you decide to try BubbleShare yourself, let the rest of us know what you thought in the Comment section below.

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