AOL: Hello to Facebook, goodbye to Xdrive, Pictures

All in the same week, AOL opened up user access to outside social networks, while starting to shut down user access to its own AOL Pictures, Xdrive and Bluestring services.

AOL told users this week that it's closing down access to its own AOL Pictures, Xdrive, and Bluestring services as of the end of this year. Yet at the same time, the company went ahead with previously announced plans to link the AOL Home Page to various outside services.

The company went live on Thursday with a redesigned AOL home page featuring access to multiple social networks and instant messaging services, initially including Facebook and MySpace as well as AOL's Bebo and AIM.

Meanwhile, though, AOL users received letters this week giving them until December 31 of this year to download their files from AOL Pictures, Xdrive, and Bluestring.

With the start of the new year in January of 2009, "all files and data stored on those services will be deleted," according to AOL.

To retrieve those files, users need to go to log in to Xdrive using their Xdrive or Bluestring user IDs and passwords. They can then either create a downloadable ZIP file containing all their files; download individual files via a standard Xdrive desktop or Web client; or buy an archive of their own files on DVD from AOL.

The scenario is a bit reminiscent of the music escapades of MSN and Yahoo earlier this year, in which users were given short notice to take action around their old digital content. But in those cases, DRM servers were about to be shut down. Users of MSN Music and Yahoo Music were told they'd be unable to retrieve license keys needed to enable playback on computers other than those used in earlier downloads.

Users of My Pictures have things a bit better than their Xdrive and Bluestring counterparts. "The good news is that AOL has partnered with American Greetings PhotoWorks to enable continued access to your pictures through the PhotoWorks service," read AOL's e-mail. "You can access your images on PhotoWorks simply by providing your screen name and password to register for a free American Greetings PhotoWorks account."

AOL said that while it recommends the American Greetings PhotoWorks option, users may also "download your photos to your computer using a new tool that will enable you to quickly save multiple images and albums; or purchase a DVD archive of your images." AOL also noted that "there is a charge for the DVD archive based on the number of images you select."

AOL isn't the only company to announce the demise of an online photo service this week. In a letter to its own users, Digital Railroad -- an independent site designed to let professional photographers archive and sell their work -- announced that it, too, was about to shut down.

Users were told that Digital Railroads business had "become unsustainable" when efforts to find "additional financing and/or a strategic partner" proved unsuccessful.

Unlike AOL, which is giving users about two months to download their files, Digital Railroad provided its customers with only 24 hours. Further, the photography pros reportedly didn't even get a full day. The Web site closed down only ten hours after the letter to users got posted to the site on Monday of this week.

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