Editor’s note: RTP Beat is a regular feature on Thursdays.It all started as a seemingly harmless pet project.

Programmer and amateur photographer Chuck “Slug” Neal developed PBase.com in 1999 as a way to share his photos with friends, family…and strangers. But he wanted to create a community site so fellow photography enthusiasts could, at no cost, set up an account and post and share their work.

Lucky for Neal, 31, he wasn’t aware that much larger, established sites, backed by much deeper pockets, were already offering similar services. And so he forged ahead and built PBase.com (short for photo database).

Then they came…and kept coming.

In the first year, approximately 10 new accounts were created each month. Today, the site boasts more than 12,000 paying members and an average of 35,000 photo uploads each day. There are more than 16 million photos at the PBase.com Website.

Until 2001, the site was completely free. Individuals could come and post an unlimited number of photos. But as demand for space at Neal’s Website burgeoned, so did the cost of maintaining the site, forcing Neal to ask for donations to upgrade to better hardware and more bandwidth. To his surprise, donations poured in.

“It wasn’t enough to pay for the bandwidth, but almost,” says Neal, who today pays approximately $9,000 a month for bandwidth. “Hundreds of people sent in donations to keep the site alive. Eventually people emailed me, telling me to charge for posting on the site so the upload rate would slow and the site would be up more often.”

Keeping customers satisfied

In February, says, Neal, an average of 80,000 photos were being uploaded daily. A month later, he decided to charge users $23 a year for 100 MB of storage, $43 for 200 MB and $60 for 300 MB. The number of uploads dropped and the site became manageable.

Even so, an average of 600 accounts are created each day. Neal still offers users the option of setting up a trial account, but limits them to 10MB of space. Unlike other trial accounts, however, these don’t expire…ever.

“I don’t want to antagonize potential paying clients,” says Neal, whose primary expenses are hardware and bandwidth.

With so many uploads each day, it’s impossible for Neal, who runs a one-man shop with some customer support help from his girlfriend, to monitor all the photos for content. He says it’s not often that users post pornography or other inappropriate content. When it does happen, members are quick to point him to it so he can quickly delete it.

Users have the option of creating either public or private galleries. Although private galleries aren’t password protected, a feature Neal says he’s working on, visitors can’t navigate to private galleries via the site. They must be provided with a link to the page.

But there’s no rush to make private galleries more secure, says Neal, because that’s the key differentiator between PBase and sites such as Ofoto and Snapfish, which offer free storage and sharing of online photos but demand friends and family to create accounts to view the photos.

“The mission [of PBase] is to be the best place to display photos on the Web,” says Neal, who does not allow advertising at the site. “Our members want as many people to see their photos as possible.”

Other features on the way

Both Ofoto and Snapfish generate revenue from printing digital photos…yet another feature Neal hopes to add one day.

Although the 4-year-old site is rather crude and rudimentary when it comes to features, such as gallery categorization and site search, users don’t seem to mind. In October, 2.4 million unique visitors went to the PBase site to check out photos, which include travel, weddings, pets , editorial and other odds and ends.

Neal’s personal Website-turned-full-time-business has landed him in debt, but he says he’s confident PBase will survive and be profitable by the end of 2004.

Tangram launches new product

Cary-based Tangram Enterprise Solutions has unveiled new software that blocks any program, file or software from running on a company’s information technology network. Dubbed OverSight, the patent-pending software was released earlier this week at the 30th annual Computer Security Conference and Exhibition in Washington, D.C.

OverSight is the first security product to be added to Tangram’s portfolio of IT asset management software, which has focused primarily on helping businesses keep track of company laptops and PCs worldwide. The technology enables IT departments to know where individual computers, who’s tapped into the network, how much memory and disk space remains on each computer and what software is running on it. Now Tangram has extended that core technology to Oversight.

OverSight is particularly useful for virus protection and other internal and external attacks on enterprise networks, says Ron Nabors, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Tangram. “If we know the name of a virus, we can lock it down and put it in a cage. When a company such as Norton develops a patch for it, then we can release it from the cage.”

From a remote location, OverSight can deny access and permanently disarm execution of any type of software file or application, regardless of the source, including viruses and worms, file sharing programs and spyware, unapproved instant message applications, illegal music and movie players, offensive materials, as well as any unapproved, illegal software that violate corporate desktop or network standards. OverSight will not allow users to copy, rename or alter a targeted file.

Having 100 percent control over these problems will reduce a company’s downtime, security risks and legal exposure, says Nabors.

The software received excellent response at the CSI conference in D.C., adds Nabors. “Some companies can do some pieces of what we do, but no other company offers the depth and breadth of our technology.

Twenty-five of the Fortune 100 companies run Tangram’s IT asset management software.

Got leads? Email Cal at: cal@localtechwire.com.