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Hey, friend, would you sign my CD-ROM?

Published Sep. 10, 2005

When graduates of the Palm Harbor University High School class of 2001 want to recapture their high school days, they'll be able to hear the screams of their victorious powder puff football team, see the goofy antics of their drama club classmates and feel the groove of a funky music mix at a volleyball fundraiser.

For the first time, Palm Harbor University High created a CD-ROM yearbook supplement, complete with audio and video clips. The school's initial effort was so good it won a national contest sponsored by Yearbook Interactive, which offers software and duplication services for multimedia yearbooks.

John Lund, chief executive officer of the Salt Lake City-based company, said that of 150 schools across the country that made the mid-June contest deadline, Palm Harbor was No. 1.

"For their first year, the quality and creativity that went into it was just fantastic," said Paul Wride, Yearbook Interactive account manager and contest judge. The quality of video editing, range of coverage and the sense of fun captured by the yearbook staff set it apart from the others, he said.

Producing a multimedia supplement had certain advantages, according to the high school's yearbook adviser Judy Cannaday. It captured the sights and sounds of school in a way the print yearbook couldn't and provided coverage of events that took place after the print deadline, she said.

Yearbook staffers began working on the CD-ROM version in March after completing the print version. Most staffers were learning the scanning process and Photoshop software from scratch, said Mrs. Cannaday's daughter Erin, 16, a yearbook staffer.

After the staffers sent the finished product to Yearbook Interactive the first week of April via the Internet, they met with a nightmare, according to editor Ian Peterson, 18. The company's programmers noticed that the school's disc had picked up the Melissa computer virus. Yearbook staffers had to clean up the disc on Cannaday's home computer and send a fresh version back in time to make the contest deadline.

The school received replicated copies by the second week of May. Despite production adventures, yearbook staffers kept the multimedia project a secret.

"Everybody was amazed. Nobody knew what it was at first," Erin Cannaday said. "As soon as they would get it they'd say, "This is really cool, we'd never seen anything like it.' "

Peterson spearheaded the project by creating a manual for the yearbook staff, describing procedures for scanning and cropping photos.

"I didn't intend to teach them anything, but they all know Photoshop. At the end, they were playing with the filters and cropping things," said Peterson.

Cannaday said her students had expressed interest in a multimedia yearbook for two years but didn't have the finances or know-how to pull it off.

"The kids were intrigued, but we couldn't figure out how we could afford it and how we could do it," she said.

Yearbook Interactive and its roster of sponsors helped. The company provides free software with user-friendly design templates and charges $1 for each copy replicated by the company. In exchange for the low price, the finished CD-ROMs carry advertising from several companies, including Coca-Cola, Kodak and EarthLink.

For the most part, the CD-ROM advertisements are unobtrusive icons on the bottom of the screen. But if students click on the images, a short commercial pops on the screen and they are catapulted to the sponsor's Web site.

In addition to Yearbook Interactive, other companies have jumped on the CD-ROM yearbook bandwagon, but procedures and costs vary.

For example, with iConcepts in Birmingham, Ala., students do not work with the software themselves. Instead, iConcepts creates the final CD-ROM for schools after they send pictures, video and audio to the company. The cost varies but is about $40 to $50 per CD, comparable to print yearbooks, said founder Chip Schwartz.

Another company, YearDisc, gives staffers creative control because schools get hardware and software to design yearbooks themselves, said Eileen Moore, vice president of communications. The company, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., charges $4,000 to $8,500 a year for a package that includes online help and replication.

Few area schools, aside from Palm Harbor University High, took advantage of the new technology this year. St. Petersburg High School created a multimedia yearbook, as well. Clearwater, Dunedin, Boca Ciega, Northeast, Lakewood and East Lake high schools have all received literature from Yearbook Interactive, according to the company's records.

Are these yearbooks the wave of the future?

Judy Ambler, district supervisor of instructional technology, thinks so. She said financial and environmental issues make the CD-ROM versions appealing.

"More and more (students) have computers. I certainly think that that's the way a lot schools are going to move in the future," she said.

But some school staffers pointed out that many students wouldn't be able to take advantage of the technology because they don't have computers at home.

Wride of Yearbook Interactive said the technological training that comes with producing CD-ROM yearbooks will make them even more popular, but he doesn't think they'll ever replace print yearbook traditions.

"We present our product as a supplement, not to take the place of a print yearbook. You can't sign a CD," he said.