AOL wants to become your digital warehouse.
Its BlueString service, announced Monday, is intended as a repository for all your media files. It'll even keep track of collections you have at competing sites like Yahoo Inc.'s Flickr, and it'll let you create and share slideshows combining photos, video and songs no matter where they are stored.
The free offering at bluestring.com represents yet another effort by AOL to break out of its historic "walled garden" of content as it seeks to expand advertising opportunities.
AOL wants to welcome users of Flickr, for instance, even though it runs its own photo-sharing site, AOL Pictures, a service BlueString is to replace entirely next year.
"The wall is a thing of ancient history for us," said David Liu, a senior vice president at AOL. "We realize people have established behaviors on the Net. We don't want them to kind of be disrupted from their routines."
Instead, AOL wants to fulfill what Liu considers unmet needs — in this case, gathering items people typically scatter a half-dozen places besides their own computers.
"It is about preserving your memories," Liu said. "We are really targeting the late 20s, 30s and early 40s segments, folks who have real jobs, families, babies and close networks of friends and family. There has been an explosion of photos on the Web and people wanting to store them, manage them and share them."
Rob Enderle, an industry analyst with the Enderle Group, said consolidation would be key as users log on less from desktop computers and more from handheld devices and television set-top boxes that lack keyboards for easily entering multiple passwords.
But he said AOL, which will run ads with BlueString, might face competition from online hangouts like Facebook, which has already become a repository for some users' digital identities.
"One place where you go that has all your stuff is going to be much more convenient, but why wouldn't that one place be a place like Facebook?" Enderle said. "Would you rather have stuff on a site already enabled for sharing?"
AOL has been increasingly offering free ad-supported services to offset declines in subscription revenues.
Separately, AOL announced Monday it would move its corporate offices to New York next spring to be at the heart of the media-advertising industry.
Users with an e-mail address can sign up for 5 gigabytes of storage through Xdrive, which AOL bought in 2005. Existing Xdrive users won't get additional storage, though, unless they sign up using a different address or pay $99 a year for 50 GB.
Flickr will be the only third-party site initially supported, though AOL plans to have other tools available when those sites offer the necessary programming.
BlueString will let users store photos, video and music on their computers and create slideshows combining those elements. Copy-protected music can't be shared but can be used in slideshow soundtracks, Liu said.
Users can incorporate elements from Flickr and other sites into slideshows without first transferring the files to BlueString, and users can have friends add their own material to the same slideshows — for a collective wedding presentation, for instance.