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Hewlett-Packard Puts Focus On Improving Its Photo Unit

Hoping to become a bigger fish in a fast-growing pond, Hewlett-Packard is beefing up its online photo service with a design makeover and new sharing and printing features.

Snapfish, which HP bought last year, lets customers store digital photos online and have physical prints made for 12 cents apiece. Users also can order T-shirts, mugs and calendars with their favorite pictures.

Now is adding a feature called group rooms, which let users share photos with friends and family in a sort of online gated community. Once invited to a group room, users can add and edit photos on a common area of the site.

In addition, Snapfish will offer more design options for printed calendars and greeting cards. Changes also include a cheaper paperback version of its memory books, which are bound volumes of photos.

"When we say we're launching a new initiative, we take it pretty seriously," said Ben Nelson, Snapfish's general manager.

Snapfish operates as part of HP's printer business, which aims to expand its reach.

While touting the ease of printing digital photos at home, the firm also wants to cash in on users who prefer to get photos the old-fashioned way.

Users can pick up their prints from the local drugstore and, in some areas, from HP-branded kiosks in grocery stores.

Snapfish's changes come in the face of upgrades by photo-sharing sites run by Yahoo, Google and others. All are aiming for a piece of the $1.4 billion photo printing market.

Yahoo works with Target stores and other partners, taking an unknown cut for sales of prints and custom gifts.

Yahoo recently upgraded its photo site with a flashier interface, giving the site the look and feel of installed software rather than a static Web page.

It also runs Flickr, an easy-to-use photo site that emphasizes online photo sharing, but also offers prints and custom gifts.

Flickr uses Web-design techniques that give the site a snappy feel. And it lets photographers add tags, a type of label that makes it easy for others to find photos.

Such features are referred to as Web 2.0 to distinguish them from older, more traditional Web sites.

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