Monday, February 14, 2011

Online Photo-Books: Mixbook

I remember an advert from Kodak from a few years back, which highlighted the importance of taking photos of special occasions and events in our lives, as to cherish and treasure the moment forever. Nowadays of course, getting hold of a camera and taking photos is a tad easier than it was in those days; and the emphasis has shifted from actual photo-taking to photo presentations. How are we going to store and share the photographs that we have so lovingly taken? How can we embed them in an innovative and interesting way on our websites or blogs for others to see? On this blog I have often dealt with online applications whose purpose varies from sharing photos (Slide, Animoto, Flickr...) to applications which help us edit pictures online (Picnik, Picasa...). The application which we are going to view today, Mixbook, allows users to create interesting online scrap-books with their favourite photographs, essentially creating embeddable online books for sharing or printing.

Getting Started

As with other Web 2.0 applications, the first thing to do is sign up: go to, and click on Sign Up at the top right hand side of the screen. Take note of your username and password, click on Sign Up and the system will automatically log you onto your welcome screen and dashboard. You will immediately be able to (if you wish) upload a profile picture and get started on your work. You will immediately be able to see a menu on the left hand side of the screen, plus a number of icons on top.

From the left-hand side menu, you will be able to access your works in progress by clicking on My Projects. Your Mixbook friends, with whom you can interact can be found by clicking on My Friends. All the photos uploaded on your various Mixbook projects can be accessed by clicking on My Photos. Finally, by clicking on My Inbox, you will be able to access, reply to and send messages to your Mixbook friends.

Creating your first Mixbook

To start your first Mixbook, click on the Create icon on the top of the screen. You will be able to set up your project by giving a name, description, category and tags. In the creation stage, you will also be able to make your project private, viewable only to your friends or public (that is entirely up to you) and also invite contributors who can edit the Mixbook together with you. Inviting contributors is especially useful if you are engaging in project work and you have more than one person working on the same project at the same time. When you are satisfied with your settings, click on Create Mixbook. You will then be able to choose from a variety of different size-templates with which to create your project. (Do not worry that these appear with price-tags attached: there is no charge for simply creating online, the charge only applies for when one needs to order the actual printed books).

Choosing Themes, Styles & Layouts

After choosing a the size of the album, you can then select themes according to the photographs you are going to use: choose between general themes and themes linked to special occasions such as birthdays, holidays, seasons, educational and kid's themes. Browse through the themes by scrolling down the Themes Menu on the left; you will get a preview of each theme in the central canvas, to give you feel of what that theme looks like. When you choose a Theme, you will notice that at the bottom of the screen, there is a tick next to Give me a book that is almost done option at the bottom of the screen. This option will enable you to work with a pre-prepared book of 20 pages, and you can keep, edit and delete the pages to suit your requirements. This is especially recommended for beginners who might be unsure of the options on offer from Mixbook and especially so if you are using the application for the first time. To start on your first Mixbook, select a theme, make sure that there is a tick next to Give me a book that is almost done option at the bottom of the screen, and click on Choose Theme. This will give you some time to familiarise yourself with the application gradually.
(N.B. Some people however like experimenting and are keen to to start projects from scratch. In that case, untick the box next to Give me a book that is almost done and click on I don't want to choose a theme in order to create your blank project. You will then be presented with a blank, 6 pages long book, and you will be able to add photos, stickers, captions, and choose themes and colours as the project progresses).

Adding Photos to your Mixbook

There are various ways in which to upload pictures onto your Mixbook: you can either grab them automatically from another social networking site, such as Facebook, Flickr, Picasa and PhotoBucket. Or you can upload them the old-fashioned way: by browsing your hard disk or removable media (pen drive, flash card) and upload them directly to Mixbook. To grab photos from an online repository, click on the appropriate icon (the blue "F" for Facebook, the blue and pink coloured bubbles for Flickr, etc); or click on Upload to access photos which are stored on your computer. The wait time will depend on the size of the photos being uploaded and the speed of your connection. As soon as your photos have been uploaded, you will be able to drag the photos into your Mixbook. (You will notice that if you have used a pre-loaded theme, there are already boxes where you can drag and drop your pictures. If on the other hand you opted out of having a theme, you will be able to drop your pictures practically anywhere).

Editing your Mixbook

After filling in your Mixbook with photos, you might also want to edit it in other ways, such as adding captions, stickers, changing colour schemes and adding and removing pages. Each photo in your project can be resized, sent to front/back flipped, rotated and edited (basic editing such as B/W and Sepia effects are available). This is achieved by clicking on the photo, whereby a small editing menu will appear underneath it. You can also edit the pre-loaded captions by clicking on them and a similar editing menu, this time for text and sporting various font settings, will appear. Adding extra captions/text is possible by clicking the Add Text tab at the top right hand side of the screen.

From the menu on the top left hand side of the screen, you will also be able to change the page layout, theme and colour scheme of pages. So even if you had chosen a particular theme/colour at the beginning of your project, if the effect is not as desired, you will be able to edit accordingly. Another feature is that of adding Stickers to your photos or page to create some interesting designs. Once again, the stickers can be accessed from the menu on the top left hand side of your screen.

Finally, you can also change the number of pages/location of particular spreads etc. This is achieved through the Timeline underneath each project canvas. You are able to Add a blank page, Duplicate or Remove a page from the timeline by clicking on the appropriate Page Tools at the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

NB Remember that, at any time during the building of your Mixbook, you will be able to add contributors to your project. Simply click on the icon Add Contributors on the top menu to add more people to your project.

Save and Share Your Mixbook

When you are done editing your Mixbook, you will be able to save it online, share it with your friends and even embed it in your favourite website or blog. Click on the Save button on the top menu, and exit your Mixbook by clicking on the window's red close button. You should be re-directed back to (or if you don't, simply type in the address bar on your browser). Make sure you are still logged onto Mixbook and click on My Projects tab on the left hand side of the screen. Locate your project and click on its thumbnail (do not click on edit). Drag the sidebar to the bottom of the screen, find the About this Mixbook box, and copy and paste the embed code onto your favourite website or blog. Alternatively, you can just share your project's URL by either copying and pasting the project's Internet address onto an email, or else by clicking on the email to a friend button on the left hand side of the screen. From the About this Mixbook box, you will also be able to add additional contributors, should you wish to do so at this stage as well.

This is an example of how an embedded Mixbook looks like in a blog...I have kept this very short of course, but you can add as many pages as you like to your project:

Mixbook - Create Beautiful Photo Books and Scrapbooks! | View Sample Photo Books | Create your own Photo Book

Sites to remember:

Smile: It's a Smilebox Creation!

I remember a time when I was pretty young, when taking a photo was a rather stately affair. We only had a small camera which produced tiny squarish photos, you had to change the flash light often and developing photos was rather costly in itself. A far cry from today: you can say that nearly everyone owns a camera or at least they are able to take pictures and videos using their phones. Traditional photo developing is a thing of the past: photos can be easily printed off at home, and of course, one may also choose not to actually make a hard copy of one's photos, but use them creatively to create an interesting slide-show or collages to be shown on a computer. The Internet is rife with free programs that enable one to make impressive photo presentations with the mere click of a button. Today we will explore Smilebox, an animated PhotoAlbum, Scrapbook and Slideshow creator, which allows very creative use of media by allowing users to browse through different designs and create some impressive digital presentations.

Getting Started

To start using Smilebox, go to and click on the Get Started Icon on the bottom right hand side of the screen. You will be able to download a small programme (under 7MB) that installs itself on your computer and and which will allow you to use Smilebox on your computer. You must also provide a valid email and create a user name and a password so that your work will be stored under your profile online. There is no confirmation email to check and click; once you submit your details you will be able to use the application. Thereafter, when you wish to use Smilebox, you do not have to open your Internet browser (although you must be connected to the Internet); simply click on the Smilebox icon that will appear on your desktop after installation.

Browsing Designs

Smilebox offers literally hundreds of design combinations to choose from and work with your photos. You can choose designs by either Theme (bottom of the screen: choose from themes such as Holidays, Special Occasions, Birthdays, etc) or by Format (Collages, Slideshows, Photo Albums, Invitations, etc.) You can take your time to browse through the different themes and formats which best suits the work at hand. Below is a table of all the possibilities:

As you can see from this table, the possibilities are, quite literally, endless.

Examples of Smilebox Creations

Although there are so many different things to do on Smilebox, all tasks across the different themes follow a certain pattern: that is, uploading a photo or video on to form an Online Album is no different from uploading media to create a Greeting Card. What changes is not the method, but rather, how your audience will view the final product.

Let's assume you have a set of photos that you want to group together and share with your friends or colleagues. First, you may click on Browse by Format on the bottom right hand side of the screen, and choose the format which mostly suits your needs (for example, Collages). You will then immediately be prompted to choose a Design for your collage - some more suitable to certain events than others, for example, you can find designs suitable for holiday pictures or for more formal presentations. You can also sift through the designs by sorting them by name, format, number of photos, style or newest first. Once you choose and settle on a design, click on Personalise to download and be able to edit it.

Once the design has finished downloading, a template will open up for you to edit. If there is any text, you will be able to click on the textbox and delete or edit the text as you wish. You can add your own pictures or videos by clicking on the Get Photos or Get Videos at the bottom left hand side of the screen to browse through your hardisk or removable media and upload resources onto your Smilebox project. The pictures or videos can be then dragged directly onto the design template to create your collage. From the menu on the right hand side of the screen, you will be able to make changes to your design, such as increasing/decreasing the number of photos used, your layout, font styles and colour schemes. You can also choose to add some music to your creation to make it more lively.

When you are finished editing, click on the Save button at the top right hand side of the screen; Smilebox will automatically save your creation in the My Smilebox Creations folder which the is automatically installed in the My Documents folder. Then click on the Preview button on the top menu to be able to look at your creation before finalising it; if you wish to make any changes hit the escape key, but if you think your creation is ready for sharing, click on Share, Print or DVD button. You can share it for free online by sending the link as an email (Email your creation) or posting onto your favourite blog or social networking site (Post it on Facebook, Blog or Web). Printing or saving your creation to DVD will require additional subscription to Smilebox Club (no fee is incurred for online sharing though).

To embed it online for free, click on Post, choose a name for your creation, choose a repository (Blogger, Wordpress, Facebook, etc) and click on Continue. Remember to also choose the Basic Design if prompted, which allows for free sharing of your creation. Wait for the code to be generated, then copy and paste the code onto your favourite Blog, or, in the case of Facebook and Twitter, log onto your respective account and your Smilebox will be uploaded automatically. For example, to upload my collage on this blog post, I have asked the programme to generate the Blogger code by clicking on the orange blogger logo on the top left hand side of the screen, and copied and pasted the code in HTML mode.

Click to play this Smilebox collage
Create your own collage - Powered by Smilebox
Customize a picture collage

As I said before, the process to create an animated collage can be applied to all the other types of creations and designs: be it a Photo Album, a Scrap-book or a Calendar....The system is the same throughout: chose your design, upload the photos, drag them to the template and change the template accordingly. And that is the beauty of Web 2.0 applications: once you find your way around one, with a bit of thought, you will be able to navigate your way through the others...
Happy creations!

Sites to Remember: