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You must rmbr this

Rmbr_logo The camera's rapid shift from film to microchips has revolutionized the way people take, store and share photographs, making these tasks far easier in digital than they were in analog. One bit of drudgery that hasn't been eliminated, though, is the time-consuming task of labeling photos. Although your computer can automatically sort photos by date and even by common faces or imagery, it can't tell where the photo was taken, who's in it or what it represents. Providing that data makes the photos more valuable and interesting, yet it can be a lot of work. That's where rmbr.com hopes its funware will make a difference.

Rmbr is a yet-to-be released application being developed by ChroniQL Inc. in New York City. CEO Gabe Zichermann, whom I knew from his days at Trymedia Systems, dropped by today to share his theory about funware -- applications that accomplish tasks within a game environment. Rmbr is one example; others include luupo, a German site that disguises shopping as gambling, and Conduit Labs, a hybrid of MMO and social network. "This new generation prefers everything to be a game," Zichermann said, referring to those younger than himself. "All things being equal, fun always wins."

It might be amusing to share your pictures online, but it's just work to name, label and upload them. Perhaps that's why, according to Zichermann, less than one-third of the people who load digital photos onto their computers bother to use an online photo sharing site such as Flickr. And even those who do use them don't go all in; the average Flickr account, Zichermann said, has only 80 pictures in it.

Rmbr tackles these problems by automating photo uploads and creating games that encourage your friends to tag your photos for you. It also throws your photos and your friends' together in a shared mix, inviting everyone in the group to create captions, leave comments or doodle on the snapshots. In addition to providing a selection of games (which can be used as widgets on Facebook and other websites), rmbr will let users send pictures to or receive them from cell phones through a multimedia version of text messaging. The goal, Zichermann said, is to provide a single platform for all interactions with your photos. "Anytime you want to use your photos for fun, we've got the application we want you to use," he said.

As Zichermann noted, we've already seen video games expand from arcades to personal computers, game consoles, TV set-top boxes, cell phones and MP3 players. There's hardly a platform left that won't support some kind of game. So the next logical step is for games and game design to infiltrate other types of software. Just imagine what financial record keeping might be like if the interface were more like Sudoku and less like an accountant's ledger. Given the popularity of casual online gaming, it seems inevitable that developers will find ways to let people have that kind of experience while accomplishing something useful instead of just killing time.

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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