iPhone App Releases Family Photos From Shoebox Purgatory

New iPhone application enables individuals to quickly digitize and archive photographs.

It’s time to find the shoebox of photos in your closet. A new iPhone application from a San Francisco-based start-up takes photo scanning mobile. 1000memories released Shoebox on October 27 with the promise of helping users tackle the often-massive task of scanning family photographs.

“Large photo collections from our past have never been digitized or shared because it’s been too difficult and time-consuming,” said 1000memories co-founder Rudy Adler. “With the introduction of the Shoebox app, we’re putting multiple hand-held scanners in households and organizations, for free.”

Abby, a 1000memories user from Raleigh who wished to keep her full name private, confirmed that scanning her photos is indeed a significant task. She has a banker’s box of photographs gathered one weekend in 2005 when her parents moved out of their longtime home.

“I really didn’t have any time to look at the photos that weekend. After that, the box ended up lost in a storage facility for another few years. I only got it back a few months ago. Since I got it back, it has been too much work to fathom.”

As an avid photographer, Abby knows all too well how much time scanning can consume. She’s hoping that Shoebox will speed up the process.

“I have the app downloaded, but I haven’t used it yet. That box is still sitting there in the living room ready and waiting for scanning,” said Abby. “I am excited to try the new iPhone app and see if it speeds up the process of scanning. That can definitely take some time to do.”

In an interview via Skype, 1000memories co-founder Jonathan Good discussed the technology that straightens photographs after they’re captured. By recognizing the corners of the photograph Shoebox applies a mathematical algorithm that returns the photo to normal orientation even if it’s captured at an angle.

Perhaps more important than technology, revisiting and sharing family memories is the hallmark of this app.

I am definitely more connected to the memories after seeing the photos. Many were new to me,” reflected Abby. “While I had seen them just enough to sort them into that box in the past, taking the time to scan and tag them provided me with more time to consider my relationship to the people in the photos and their relationship to me and my older relatives.”

Nate Lustig, co-founder of Entrustet, a service that helps individuals create estate plans for their digital assets, believes that family photos are an important part of one’s legacy.

“They represent the connection between the past and the present,” said Lustig. “Protecting and transitioning family photos is an important part of a digital legacy.”

Combining the emotion of that legacy, with time saving technology may be the key to success for Shoebox: “The app has been downloaded over 100,000 times” said co-founder Jonathan Good. “Some people have scanned over 1,000 photos already.”

While Shoebox is a quick and easy way to digitize and share photos, it isn’t a perfect replacement for flatbed scanners. The Smithsonian Institution Archives recommends that scanned images have at least 6,000 pixels on the longest edge of the image. The 5-megapixel camera on the iPhone 4 provides images at less than half that resolution with 2,584 pixels on the longest edge. The newly released iPhone 4S features an 8-megapixel camera, which still falls short at 3,264 pixels on the longest edge.

While the app might fall short of Smithsonian standards, Good believes the quality is comparable to many professional services: “It’s really as good as the kind of quality you would get if you sent it off to a professional service. We’re talking about almost 600 dpi—that’s the kind of quality that you pay a lot of money and put it in the post for.”

As with many things, it seems that something is probably better than nothing. And when it comes to photos, even just a glance at one can bring back precious memories.

“My favorite find was the photos of my parents traveling in Greece in 1972. I was three years old during that year. The other benefit of tagging these photos and having them online is that other relatives have a chance to see the photos, too,” Abby shared. “My mother says she hadn’t thought of that trip to Greece in years.”

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