Sharing with SmileBox

There are times when we get so stuck in our ways, we never realize there are new and better ways to do things. Take photo sharing. I used to email my photos to my parents and family, until Ofoto and Snapfish came along. Then came Flickr, and now Facebook. It doesn't seem like there's any reason to change the way I share photos -- but sometimes we need to step back, see things in a new light and think outside the box.

One company that is helping me think outside the box is the aptly named SmileBox. I first heard of them a couple of years ago, at BlogHer, when they contacted me and invited me to try their service out. I was perfectly happy with Flickr, so I saw no need to change. This year they invited me to a holiday blogger lunch to show me how Smilebox can create holiday cards. I'm always on the lookout for nice online card companies (and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get together with some of my favorite bloggers and friends!), so I accepted the invite and agreed to download the Smilebox application and try it out.

Well, I have yet to create a single holiday card, and I already love Smilebox.

So what is Smilebox, and how is it different from all those other photo sharing sites? Here's a snippet from their website to give you an idea:

At Smilebox we believe that how you share your photos should be as memorable as the photos themselves. So we've designed a new way to bring your photos and videos to life.

Our simple application for PC or Mac lets you quickly and easily create slideshows, invitations, greetings, collages, scrapbooks and photo albums right on your computer. With more than 1000 customizable templates to choose from, you'll find inspiration around every corner. With our new iPhone app you can share your moments on the go as well.

And Smilebox gives you more ways to share: Facebook, email, blog, printing at home or to a store, and burning to DVD. Smilebox makes sharing photos with your family and friends easy, unique and memorable.

With Smilebox, you're not just pointing your family and friends to a whole bunch of photos they have to wade through. Smilebox lets you present your photos (and videos) in a more entertaining, interactive way, all prettied up with pretty frames, stickers, music and animation. You know how animated greeting cards work, right? Imagine all that music and animation applied to a holiday newsletter, or a recipe card, or scrapbook that you send via email, or share on Facebook. Imagine being able to click on a photo in your newsletter and have it come up full size, or being able to click on a video of your kids singing Merry Christmas on your e-greeting card. For that matter, imagine having the audio track of your kids singing Merry Christmas play as you read through the e-greeting card. That's just part of what Smilebox can do.

I just downloaded the Smilebox app yesterday, and already I've come up with two great creations. The first is a holiday newsletter. It has a beautiful design, and I can add text, photos and videos. I can email it, post it to my blog, or share it on Facebook. When people click on it, music will play, and they can enlarge the photos (or play any videos) by clicking on them. I can even print it out and include it with my holiday cards.

Click to play this Smilebox newsletter
Create your own newsletter - Powered by Smilebox
Personalize a newsletter design

My second project showcases some of my favorite photos from my favorite month, Halloween. Again, I could share it in all the ways I could share the newsletter. I could also create an avi file and post it on YouTube, or I could create a DVD and give it to my parents so they can watch it without having to huddle in front of their tiny monitor (and I could do the same with the newsletter). The possibilities are amazing! I can just imagine my dad asking me to help him with a slideshow of him and his classmates for their 50th year med school reunion party.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow
Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox
This slideshow design made with Smilebox

Much as I love the results, there are a few things you do need to know about the Smilebox service and app:

* It's not web-based. You have to download the Smilebox app onto your Mac or PC. I was bummed about that too, but other people like it because it means your photos aren't floating around the web for other people to hack into.

* I don't know about the Mac version, but when I downloaded the app on my PC, I realized that I could only run the SmileBox app when I logged on with the user account that I used to download. None of the other users set up on my PC could find Smilebox or run it.

* Gathering photos to use from your hard drive is cumbersome, and if the photo you want is not on your local machine (i.e. it's on another machine on your home network), it's impossible.

* I haven't tried creating all the different kinds of projects, but for slideshows, at least, I have some beefs: you cannot zoom or crop the photos you add to a slideshow, you are limited to 1 photo per slide (i.e. no collages), and all slides must have the same basic design template.

* All you can do with the basic (free) service is create your projects, use their designs and templates, and share them via email, facebook and blogs . You cannot play your creations back on a full screen, and they also run a small ad during your playback. The premium service (Club SmileBox, $39.99 per year) gives you much more functionality, including full screen, ad-free playback, the ability to burn to DVD or save to disk, the ability to print at home or in a store, and unlimited storage.

Some of these issues might go away as I use Smilebox more and become more familiar with it -- and there is no doubt, I will be using Smilebox more. It's such a fun way to share photos and videos -- to think I could have been using Smilebox years ago! Well, it's never too late to see the light.

Disclosure: I attended a blogger lunch hosted by SmileBox, where I received a complimentary 1-year membership to Club Smilebox. I will also be receiving a complimentary personalized photobook courtesy of SmileBox. Product information is provided by the featured company/product and is indicated in italics. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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