magic-bookHewlett-Packard has a vested interest in making sure your digital photos don’t go to waste. After all, the world’s biggest printer company wants you to organize your photos and print them out.

So the MagicBook research project makes perfect sense for the company, and it could be very useful for those of us who don’t know what to do with our digital photos. Created by HP Labs researchers, the web site helps you automatically generate a photo book around your digital photo collection. For instance, you can upload an entire collection of vacation photos and the web site can automatically handle the photo layout, putting similar photos together and getting rid of redundant scenes. It can show you exactly how the photos would look in a photo book.

Qian Lin, director of the multimedia interaction and understanding lab at HP Labs in Palo Alto, Calif., showed off the MagicBook (not its final name). Parts of the software are already live with HP’s Snapfish web site, but others will be available as part of a public beta coming later this year.

She noted how everyone has thousands of digital camera photos that are sitting unorganized on hard drives. HP’s surveys show that people don’t organize them because it takes too long, they get bored, the process of putting them into a book is difficult, or it costs too much. Lin’s team is attacking those hurdles.

magic-21“It’s targeted at soccer moms and others who don’t do this now,” said Lin (right). “It’s not focused on professionals.”

The interface shows you available photos at the bottom and a page layout above it. You can drag photos into the layout and the software automatically organizes them into a presentable page. As you add each photo, the suggested layout changes. You can type captions as you go and the layout changes to accommodate them. And you can override the suggestions if you like.

The web-based automatic book layout program has some intelligence. It selects the highest quality photos, gets rid of lousy ones, groups similar photos together. Lin’s own collection of photos of a vacation with her daughter included a bunch of photos of her daughter walking among some rocks on the shoreline. The layout program put those photos on the same page or a series of adjacent pages. It works within seconds.

The program also grouped photos taken among a bunch of flowers together. Once you get the suggested layout, you can make your own changes, add backgrounds and other things.

You can output the book layout as an Adobe PDF file, which you can then take to a number of different book-printing sites to order your book.