The yearbook experience at many Long Island schools is starting to resemble Facebook browsing -- with online content that lets students like, tag and share photos -- as the century-old tradition turns to technology to keep the industry profitable.
New computer programs from startup companies allow students to create personal electronic versions using images from the hardcover editions and even ones that didn't make the cut, yearbook makers say.
As startups grow -- 3-year-old Tree Ring works with more than 1,000 schools, including ones in Uniondale and Lynbrook -- industry leaders Jostens and Herff Jones have launched their own digital enhancements in a bid to keep up.
"It's a competitive industry," said Drew Krejci, a communications manager at Jostens. "We're making sure that we leverage all the technology to create a stronger and better book."
Some of the startups let students create customized collage pages -- printed only in their yearbooks -- that are catching on with parents who might otherwise worry about their child's presence in the yearbook.
"The traditional yearbook is kind of a great memento for the school, but it's not always about each student," said Aaron Greco, Tree Ring's chief executive.
At Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset, which works with Jostens, the 2012 yearbook will come with a virtual time capsule. Over the school year, students have posted pictures, tagged their classmates and categorized images by time and place for the time capsule that will be "sealed" permanently on June 30. This fall, Herff Jones will offer a similar digital supplement for its clients. Earlier this week, the company closed down one of its four yearbook plants, laying off 130 workers.
"The entire publishing industry is in a state of transformation right now," said Len Vlahos, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, a nonprofit book trade association.
Among the most avid supporters of the changes are parents. Software programs, say some yearbook advisers, make adding photos easier and more collaborative. Students and parents can upload images from their iPod Touch devices, Facebook accounts and smartphones. Some moms even texted them in.
One benefit of the digital software, parent advisers found, is its ability to keep track of how many photos each student is tagged in. At West End Elementary School in Lynbrook, parents kept things fair by making sure that students appeared in at least two pictures for each grade's "memory page," but no more than five.
One parent editor stood outside of classrooms and snapped cellphone pictures of students who weren't in enough photos.
"There's a big deal if somebody's child is in the yearbook 20 times," Mary Calabro said.