By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
The centerpiece of the Common Picture eXchange Environment (CPXe) initiative, the online service/retail directory, took a step forward recently with the announcement of the CPXe Directory Service Consortium, a conglomerate of manufacturers charged with creating and operating an online directory of digital photography services.
The consortium will be lead by Agfa, Kodak, FotoWire and Hewlett-Packard. Fujifilm, a charter member of the CPXe initiative, is currently evaluating membership in the Consortium.
Under the auspices of the International Imaging Industry Association (I3A), CPXe is a non-profit industrywide effort to "tear down that wall" that keeps digital camera owners from making prints of their digital images, initially by linking consumers to print fulfillers via the Web.
The initiative involves not only the creation of a retail directory but a series of open technical specifications that manufacturers can integrate into their new and existing equipment (like minilabs and digital cameras) that will allow it to interface with the directory and with other compliant equipment.
The CPXe Directory Service is expected to be operational by the end of the first quarter of 2003, with the initial group of compliant service listings added during the second quarter.
The operational capabilities of the directory will be funded and maintained by the Consortium, which will also define and maintain the infrastructure necessary to allow various digital imaging applications to dynamically discover and use any listed service.
Member companies will have access to it to create applications that tie the digital camera owner in with vendors and retailers. For instance, a digital camera manufacturer can create an interface on its bundled camera software that will let the consumer search local retail outlets to find one that can make prints from digital files. The directory will be refined so that customers will be able to search by a variety of parameters, such as price or zip code.
An early example of this capability can currently be found on Kodak's second generation EasyShare software, which features a print tab that directs customers to several retail partners. Kodak announced in June that it would migrate this retail database into the larger CPXe directory.
According to I3A co-executive director Lisa Walker, retailers large and small can be listed on the directory in two ways: via a member company that supplies their equipment or they can sign up directly for a "modest" fee, which is as yet undetermined.
Since consortium members are charged with creating directory applications, some suppliers could choose to restrict the search function to partner retail locations only. That possibility is remote, Walker said, as it would be in "everyone's interest to keep this as expansive as possible."
"Consumers will be able to tell if they're being given fewer options," Walker said.
According to I3A, companies poised to benefit from the directory include photo-enabled device manufacturers, photo-enabled Web sites and portals, independent software vendors, traditional and non-traditional photo retailers, online photofinishers, and photofinishing system integrators.
The CPXe initiative ultimately aims, in the words of an I3A statement, "to provide a reliable and secure business-to-business environment that will enable participants to conduct business transactions with confidence."
"The Directory Service Consortium encourages participants to think in a collaborative way, creating new and expanded business opportunities for everyone in the imaging industry," said Walker.
"This open environment will let all industry players list their services under fair terms, while expanding their access to consumers around the world. As a result of this effort, the Directory Service will be an open, interoperable environment that may be safely adopted without fear of proprietary influences or operational liabilities," Walker continued.
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