December 17, 2001 1:50 PM PST

PhotoPoint goes dark, draws concern

Online photo site PhotoPoint has been unavailable for days, wreaking havoc with thousands of customers who store pictures on the popular site.

The company began referring some 1.25 million current and former customers to partner EZ Prints for printing and other services in a Dec. 7 e-mail message. The note said the shutdown was due to technical difficulties, but it left unanswered the bigger question of when, if ever, customers would be able to access their PhotoPoint files.

Executives at PhotoPoint and parent Pantellic Software, which acquired the service this summer, could not immediately be reached for comment. Web sites for both companies were unavailable Monday. A published company phone number listed as the contact for both companies had been disconnected.

"We have encountered some technical difficulties and hope to have prints, framed prints and photo gifts back online as soon as possible," the San Francisco-based company wrote, acknowledging the inconvenience this might cause customers during the holiday season.

Jamie Bardin, chief executive of Atlanta, Ga.-based EZ Prints, said the PhotoPoint service has effectively shut down, at least temporarily.

"To the extent of my knowledge, PhotoPoint is not in existence at this time," he said. "It's tragic that this happened at this time in the year."

Bardin said his company has been signing up former PhotoPoint customers for the past 10 days, but he would not reveal exact numbers. He said the future of PhotoPoint is unclear, but he did not rule out the possibility that the site could eventually relaunch.

PhotoPoint's troubles come as once-hot online photo sites face a tough shakeout, marked by takeovers and closures. Eastman Kodak acquired online photo service Ofoto in June. In October, mail-order film processor District Photo bought online photo company Snapfish. And in June, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers-backed Zing.com said it would shutter its consumer operations.

For its part, PhotoPoint has been passed around like a hot potato. Halifax, Nova Scotia-based Pantellic spun the company off about two years ago and scored about $11 million in venture capital financing for the start-up. But VC firm Sherwood Partners shut it down and sold some of the assets back to Pantellic in July. After a five-day outage, the site returned but began charging for its services.

The latest shutdown was greeted with anger and confusion from some customers, who said they fear losing photos stored with the service. EZ Prints' Bardin said his company is accepting new photos from PhotoPoint customers but said there are no plans to transfer files stored on PhotoPoint's computers.

Eric Foltin, a self-described "disgruntled" customer, said he lost photos stored for use in eBay auctions, potentially costing him sales.

"I am a seller on eBay and I lost all my pictures for the last three days of my auctions, probably losing me a couple hundred dollars out of my pocket," he wrote in an e-mail to CNET News.com.

Gary Madison of Lake County, Calif., said he's worried that he might lose two years' worth of painstaking work on a surprisingly popular Web site devoted to describing modifications he's made to his 1991 Mazda Miata. The site has racked up a million hits, according to Madison, who said he's been getting "quite a bit" of e-mail from fans wondering why some of his pages are inaccessible.

Madison said he backed up the 1,000 or so photos associated with the site, but he wrote detailed captions describing the sometimes complex mechanical work that exist only on files stored by PhotoPoint. He said the company's editing tools made it easy to make changes to the photos from the Web site, and he never worried that PhotoPoint would leave customers in the lurch.

Although the company's status is still unknown, PhotoPoint's silence has only added to the worry.

"I'm appalled that a service of the size and caliber (of) PhotoPoint would go offline with no notification so that we could recover our work," Madison said. "I just want my captions back."

 

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