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Photo Sites Create New Web Real Estate

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NEW YORK The surge of consumer-generated Web content is opening up new real estate at photo sites.

Thanks to the flood of digital cameras and photo-capable phones, visits to photo-sharing and hosting sites have exploded, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. In August, the measurement firm recorded 14.7 million visitors to the top five photo-hosting sites, up from just 2.9 million in January. Visitors to all photo sites has risen 32 percent from the start of the year to 45 million. Page views on photo sites were up 42 percent during the same period to 2.4 billion.

Consumer Web empowerment is behind the growth, according to Nielsen//NetRatings analyst Jon Gibs, as more users graduate from text-only blogs to add photos to their Web sites.

PhotoBucket, a free online photo hosting service, saw the most explosive growth, as visitors to the site went from 1.5 million in January to 12.2 million in August. Page views at the site have increased from 44.6 million in January to nearly 250 million in August, per Nielsen//NetRatings.

Similarly, the measurement firm found photo-sharing services like WebShots have grown by leaps and bounds. WebShots, which CNET Networks bought in July 2004, has seen visitors grow 24 percent from the beginning of the year to 8.3 million in August, and page views increased 26 percent to 683.8 million. WebShots has attracted advertisers like New Line Cinema, and is currently running ads for Cingular's "Raising the Bar" campaign, which solicits user submissions of camera-phone shots of the Cingular brand icon in real life.

Still, most brand advertisers have mostly shied away from such photo-sharing sites, which Gibs attributes to their unpredictable nature.

"We're still sort of in a Wild West motif," he said. "You have such an array of good and bad content out there."