As has been previously reported, AOL is shutting down its photo-hosting services AOL Pictures and Bluestring, and its online file storage service Xdrive. Everything stored there goes away on December 31, 2008. Photos on AOL Pictures are getting an optional new home at American Greetings' PhotoWorks service, although users have to actively sign on to the new service before June 30, 2009, to rescue their images.
The best bet, for everyone, is to sign on to your AOL services before the end of the year and download your photos or files. All three services will have bulk downloading available until the end of the year; archival DVDs will also be available for a fee. Xdrive users will also find other online storage companies hustling for their business.
The selection of PhotoWorks as the sole online destination for users' files is limiting. When Yahoo shut down Yahoo Photos to favor its Flickr service, it offered users not just a sideload to Flickr but to Shutterfly or Kodak Gallery if they wished. PhotoWorks isn't a bad photo site, but it's not the most contemporary in terms of features, and as it is part of American Greetings, the service is definitely canted toward the creation of printed photo gift items. However, American Greetings' GM of Digital Photography, Sally Babcock, told me that to sweeten the deal, "we are offering customers 50 free prints to migrate and may have some other special offers closer to the holidays."
Users of Xdrive's paid services will get a pro-rated refund early in 2009; billing itself will stop as of November 5, 2008.
Regarding the shutdown, AOL said in a statement: "Although these services have been an important part of our product portfolio for many years, AOL's shift to a Web-based, advertising-focused company has caused us to take a close look at the products we offer and we determined that managing and maintaining these hosted and subscription-based services is not in the best long-term interest of our users or our business."