142 Comments

Summary:

Webshots, one of the original photo-sharing companies founded in the 1990’s, is re-launching this fall after coming under new ownership again, attracting top Silicon Valley investors as the group works to achieve the difficult task of promoting older photo-sharing sites in the age of Facebook.

iPhone Camera Roll
photo: Ki Mae Heussner

Believe it or not, Webshots, the photo company founded in the mid 1990s, is still hanging around, but soon its service will go by a slightly different name after another change in company ownership. Threefold Photos plans to announce Tuesday that it has purchased Webshots and will re-launch the product this fall, transitioning it to become a more modern photo experience called Smile by Webshots.

Threefold Photos (see disclosure below) has purchased Webshots from American Greetings for an undisclosed sum, and has taken investments from groups and individuals including Freestyle Capital, True Ventures, Chris Sacca, Biz Stone, Mike Hirshland, and others.

Smile will roll out a variety of features this fall, but core to the experience will be a photo stream aggregating user photos that are easily searchable and shareable, targeting a user demographic that might not always upload to Facebook or iCloud. However, it’s hard to say how a photo-sharing site can compete in the age of Facebook and Instagram, which dominate the photo upload and sharing experiences. Older photo sites like Photobucket and Flickr have certainly struggled to find new footing.

Webshots was founded in 1995, and by 1999 had moved the product into photo-sharing as well as the original screensavers and wallpaper. In 1999, the founders sold Webshots to Excite@Home for $82.5 million in stock. In 2001 Excite@Home declared bankrupcy, and the founders purchased Webshots back for $2.5 million. In 2004, CNET bought Webshots for $71 million, which sold it to American Greetings for $45 million in 2007. Former Webshots executives Julie Davidson, Narendra Rocherolle and Nick Wilder are now on the Board of Directors for Threefold Photos.

Beginning Tuesday, existing Webshots users will start receiving notices that their photos will be migrated to Smile, which currently has iPhone and desktop apps, with Android coming within a month. Rocherolle and CEO Mike Sitrin explained in an interview that they want Smile to be the easiest way to search and share photos, although they were light on specifics as they focus on transitioning existing users to the new service.

Disclosure: Threefold Photos is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

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  1. Gregory Lewis Tuesday, October 2, 2012

    Hi, I’ve actually been a member since 1995……Will the new Smile affect my current membership in any way? To be somewhat redundant, I’ve been with you guys since the beginning….Good Luck with,”SMILE”……Gregory Lewis

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  2. If “Smile” is not ready to fully launch, why did they ask us to transition to a new platform and disable our photo download features? Like many other paid member, all I want is just a place where I can download some professional photos to my desktop. I’m not interested in their networking functions at all. However, after I followed their email to convert to the new platform, I couldn’t do anything with Webshots at all. I could not download any photos, so I tried to cancel my subscription. Guess what? That didn’t work either. How could they do this when they’re not ready for a transfer? Paiid members are the biggest victims.

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    1. I am at a loss, this isn’t good business number one, and obviously, you haven’t many happy followers. Though you may just shake your head at all of us, we are PAYING and without our monies, you all haven’t much. PLEASE let us know how we can SIMPLY, click into your sight, look at our Daily Photos, and download what we want. You may be all excited, but WE AREN’T, and actually, we don’t want to bare with you during the transition, we just want what we PAID FOR. Don’t YOU? I am very disappointed and obviously, I’m not alone. Come on guys, get with it and let us all know what to do……. Marylou

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      1. I feel exactly the same, and also a paid member

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      2. I agree. I can’t get my webshots pictures to do anything. I have the same fish looking at me everytime I log into my computer. You forced us to download it, but then it doesn’t work. How about refunding our money. I want my Webshots back and they better work when you get yourselves straightened out!

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    2. I too am not happy. I have had Webshots for 14 years and my primary usage was for wallpaper and screensavers and the calendar. I did what they said and now I’m having all kinds of problems. Screensaver shuts down showing a black screen, wallpaper doesn’t give an option for Smile. I too have been a paid member and would like the old webshots back!!! The old Webshots was user friendly. This one is a horror show. It they can’t straighten it out, I would like my money back.

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      1. I agree totally. Paid member for years and now I go in and no albums.. Where are my paid for pictures? I am so not happy about this I could cry! What did you finally do? Ever get your pics back?

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    3. Jean Chao – thank you for stating what I’ve been thinking and wondering! My biggest quesion is where the hell are my screen savers? Like you, I could not be less interested in the networking…all I want are my pictures back and have no clue where they are! What a mess and what a lousey way to introduce themselves…. Jo Anne aka arizonaroper

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    4. I was going to post a new post but I can pretty much recite yours, Jean Chao, to describe my experience exactly on my laptop. Now, the Smile Icon appears on the lower right corner of my computer but the library of pictures that I had do not scroll on the desktop properly. Some pictures appear too close and others do not fit the laptop dimensions. i am also not interested in networking functions. I do not own a smart phone and I don’t text. I still have a flip phone, my Christ’s Sake, and I am dragging my feet on making changes I deem unnecessary for me. I have also seen pictures appear on my desktop that I did not download from Webshots and I do not want. I resent the CONTROL Smile seems to have over my laptop, particularly when there is no one I can call to discuss this with! I see it as an unsolicited INVASION. However, anyone from this Threefold Photos can call me to tell me specifically how I can maintain my current usage of the photos I have in my library, many of which are mine. (239) 247-0339

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  3. James Williams Thursday, October 4, 2012

    All I want is to be able to download pictures to my Desktop to use as a screensaver and background pictures. I also like the feature where I can put up a calender on my screen in the Old Webshots. I was able to recommend the Old webshots to one of my Nephew (he liked the Calender too) when he asked about the calander on my screen.
    They have a section where people can upload pictures. It shouldn’t be to hard for them to add photo sharing to the Webshots program for those subscribers that want to share photos. All they are doing is pissing off all those subscribers that want to use it for a screensaver.
    I was able to download Smile and found it far less capable than The Webshots program they are dicontinuing. I won’t be using The Smile software They have lost a customer. The only way to get me back is to bring back the old Webshots.

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    1. Yes I agree, I miss the calender also, and the screensaver does not change or even come on,i have to go to the old webshots icon and click start screensaver, that’s not right.. I do not think I will become a member of this cheap version of a webshots program. I am with you the other had a lot of options and was perfect. I miss the calender, I know I said it before but I really do. It is not worth that kind of money with all of those options taken away. That’s it fort pit!!!!!

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    2. Couldn’t have said it better! That’s exactly my issue! I’ve been a member since my first computer…..way back when!!! Screensaver doesn’t work. Can’t restore my old one! Lost the pictures I had. I’ll go back too if they bring back the ‘old Webshots’!!! Think they’ll listen to any of their customers?????

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      1. Me too! I’ve been a customer since mid 90’s. Seems like at the very least we could have received an email telling us this MAJOR change was going to happen. The update happened when I turned on my computer yesterday, it crashed and I now don’t have any screensaver, calendar etc. That is ALL I want. I haven’t received an email from my customer service request. VERY disappointed, what was wrong with Webshots? I don’t mind change but sheesh don’t inconvenience me while you do it!

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    3. Tonyandshelia Ostroski Monday, October 8, 2012

      i have to agree….i have nothing but problems as well

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  4. I, like James W. above, enjoyed Webshots as my screensaver and a place to display my select photos in a pleasing display. Now, 3 Fold Photos with this SMILE program want to load ALL my photos for whomever to view. I have NO desire to share my pix. Poor move new adventure capitalists!
    And to boot, the WS calendar seems frozen to Oct. 3 for . . . ever?
    What a loser!!

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  5. They’ve lost more than one customer. I’m another paid member who can’t get the new software to work, and won’t be joining Smile. If Webshots are so worried about their future, maybe they should stop alienating the customers they already have

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    1. i just want MY pictures back! I am a paid member for a long time. Sheeze a bit of notice would have been nice so we could have backed up our pics

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  6. How is “Smile” an improvement over downloading photos for screensavers?

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  7. Hi, I think they turned it into a cheap program, that is the new Smile webshots. I do not think that I will be using this new program.

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  8. There are curretly 975 posts on the Smile Webshots blog about the poorly handled transfer from Websots to Smile. The vast majority of these comments are very negative and I have added to this list of negative comments! I am a long standing user of Webshots since its inception and a paid user since 2000 and my membership was automatically renewed in mid-September and my credit card automatically billed for another year. I have sent emails and tried to get a refund but so far no luck. Smile is the worst pre-launch or beta release of a web service that I’ve ever encountered and the online community needs to stand-up and shut-down this mess called “Smile”. I’m sure somebody, somewhere is grinning about this but it’s surely not existing Webshot members!

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  9. So Nick and Narendra, two of the original founders of Webshots in 1995 are taking back their company by being on the Board of Directors of Threefold Photos, Inc. They sold it in 1999 for $82.5 million in stock, repurchased it and sold it again in 2004 for $71 million in cash, and have now repurchased it in 2012. Why worry what customers think when they have a cash-cow like that? Yesterday I was able to post a negative comment on smile.webshots.com, but today they have blocked all comments and their help line does not work so all customers have been abandoned.

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  10. I HATE IT … HATE IT … HATE IT!!! …

    You have lost ALL MY ALBUMS and all the HARD WORK I put in researching my photos to let my friends and the community know just what it is that they were looking at and a little bit of history about the places I had photographed …

    Once I retrieve all my photos (MINUS MY COMMENTS) I WILL be cancelling my account …

    OH! The friends I have lost … and the Camaraderie … from the community … This is a SORRY, SORRY DAY for us … AND DO YOU CARE … YOU SAY YOU DO … DO I BELIEVE YOU … THAT IS A RESOUNDING NO!!!!! NO!!!! NO!!!! Otherwise you would have, firstly let us all know what was happening … and done more research into how to save our Shots as they were and in the way WE had presented them … before changing ANYTHING ….

    To be honest I think you fellows have made the BIGGEST mistake of your lives in changing Webshots as all the Serious Photographers will be heading elsewhere. I know my friends that I have already spoken to are in the process of doing just that … I sincerely hope that this site falls into a HUGE HEAP …

    I have tried to download your new Smile desktop so I can still have a wallpaper and screensaver, but my Virus Checker is telling me not to, as it may not be SAFE!!

    Also … just what will happen to all the BEAUTIFUL photos I have lovingly downloaded from my friends and the community … WILL I LOOSE THEM TOO????

    I AM A VERY VERY VERY UNHAPPY CAMPER!!!!!!

    R.I.P Webshots …

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    1. Totally agree! I have scores and scores of albums on Webshots and they and the captions for all the photos will be lost. Why on earth would I want to say with Smile????

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    2. I agree , having problems getting my photos back. Cant get webshots to send my photos to be via zip.
      Sad to see webshots go

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    3. I could not have said it better Trish.

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