Microsoft Photosynth
Microsoft via AP
Photosynth, Microsoft's new online tool for presenting a collection of related digital photos, lets users upload their pictures and sit back while the software matches pixels and arranges the image.Viewers can "walk" around the collection in an experience that melds online photo gallery and video player.
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updated 8/21/2008 12:31:22 PM ET 2008-08-21T16:31:22

Microsoft Corp.'s new digital photo sharing site spent most of its first day offline as its servers strained to handle a flood of traffic.

The site, called Photosynth, stitches together a set of related digital photos into a presentation that allows viewers to zoom and pan across the scene.

(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Microsoft employees and partners including National Geographic had been tinkering with a private beta version of the technology. Microsoft was set to open Photosynth to the public late Wednesday, but on Thursday morning the working site had already been replaced by a page that displayed an apology.

On the Photosynth blog, a team member wrote that engineers were "hard at work adding capacity and getting the full site back online." At 1:50 p.m. Pacific, the blogger added that the site would be back up "shortly."

Most digital photo-sharing sites require viewers to click from an album to a bite-sized thumbnail of a picture, and then again to a large image, then sit through a slideshow of snapshots one by one.  Photosynth is designed to give viewers a much zippier way to take in the sights of Paris or an act of the high school play.

Here's how it works: After a quick software download, the photographer selects a collection of related images from a computer's hard drive. The software crunches the files using the local computer's processing power, looking for pixels that are the same in each photo. Then, Photosynth stitches together the images into a panoramic scene.

There is an old-school analog to this: taped-together photo prints. But online the result is part photo gallery, part movie. One photo is shown clearly at a time; adjacent images appear faded, and others less closely related to the photo in focus are indicated with a ghostly scatter of pixels. Viewers can zoom in and out, and pan left and right, through the scene created by overlapping many different views of the same place or object.

The software, which works only on Windows PCs, latches on to similarities and ignores differences, so photos taken in the same room but at different times of day with different inhabitants can still match up.

Microsoft first opened Photosynth to employees and partners, so the site already has many "synths" on file. (Those "synths" are all given numeric "synthy" scores, indicating how many of the photos overlapped in a way the program could detect.)

One synth, from a National Geographic photographer, combines hundreds of images of Stonehenge; another, submitted by a Microsoft employee, lets the viewer follow a climber on a harrowing ascent of a rock face.

Synths can be embedded like videos into other sites, including blogs and eBay auction listings.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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