Google Photos

Google just announced a new photo service – now independent of Google+. The service is called Google Photos (confusing since Apple also calls their service Photos).

The service might be understood as consisting of three elements:

  • software (iOS, android and desktop) to upload photos
  • cloud image processing that attempts to identify what is in a photo
  • storage capacity – unlimited as long as the images and video are converted to Photo’s constraints (16 megapixel and 1080p)

The clincher for many users will be that the service costs you nothing.

Google does not require that you do all of the work in categorizing your photos and it is the machine learning capabilities of Google that generates some of the most intriguing results. The system will attempt to determine who is in a photo, where the photo was taken, when it was taken, and the category to which a photo should be assigned (video, panorama, etc.). The system is not perfect but good enough to amaze.

Some examples:

1) Photos attempts to identify the individuals in photos. One capability I found amazing was the ability to track individuals as they age.

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2) Google creates interesting photo stories from your images. This capability is not dependent on tags or annotations you have added.

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3) One categorization method is based on location. Images do not have to be geotagged to be located (note most camera phones do not include GPS data in the exif).

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4) Photos makes it easy to share groupings of photos as a URL – example.

It is worth exploring Google Photos from your desktop and your mobile device. The perspective is not exactly the same. For example, the zoom in and out methods of exploring your collection are not available on the desktop.

I was originally interested in Google Photos as a way to duplicate my Flickr account. When I have some time I may attempt to compare the features of these two services. I do see some differences but with Google Photos available at no cost, I see nothing wrong with using Photos as a backup. I see Apple as the loser in this situation.

Google+ Photos

As far as the big technology companies go, I am probably more a fan of Google than any other company. This admiration reflects how I value their products, but also how I value their way of going about doing business. Just for the record, I do not consider myself a freeloader. I pay for Google services (Google Music and general storage space) and I have purchased severely overpriced products (Chromebook Pixel) just because I wanted a particular development effort to move forward. My point – I do not expect technology companies to provide me services for free and this not the reason I support this company.

Google is obviously changing, some would say maturing, and a possible interpretation might be that they have become more focused. One tactic in implementing a more focused approach has been to cut several services. At least some number of individuals will have been users of these services and this will cause frustration.

Recently, I encountered a campaign to reconsider changes made to PicasaWeb. This service allows Google users to store photos online (a reasonable number at no cost and more storage for a small fee). I had noticed this change in that my efforts to access images I had stored as Picasa folders resulted in redirection to Google+. In my opinion, Google wants to build up Google+ as an alternative to Facebook and is making efforts to position Google+ as a kind of hub for multiple services.

By the way, you can avoid the Google+ redirect, but the work around is not intuitive – https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/myphotos?noredirect=1

The post (ironically on Google+) was brief, but it seemed to urge those who use PicasaWeb to encourage Google to maintain this service and to maintain it separate from Google+. Those who agreed were urged to + the post. Given the history of Reader, I would not be optimistic. Felix Binsack, the originator of the campaign, does have a point in indicating that he paid for PicasaWeb and I suppose while the time period covered by the payment was limited, you put work into a paid service assuming it will be continued.

I write mostly to inform those interested in the educational uses of technology and I think PicasaWeb has a number of important and useful features.

  1. I like the connection between software on the desktop and storage in the cloud. Google provides free software you can download (Picasa) and this software can be used to take photos off your camera, organize photos, and upload those you want to store in the cloud and possibly offer to others. You can work entirely in the cloud, but if you work with hundreds of photos at a time, I think this local software is helpful.
  2. Picasa is cross platform. I like iPhoto as well, but  when you write for a broad audience (teachers) it is important to offer tactics they might apply no matter what the hardware provided for their use.
  3. The desktop software allows flexibility in location of images on the computer. Picasa takes an approach different from iPhoto. You can store your photos where you want on your computer and still work with them using Picasa.

My experience with Google+ had not included a lot of activity using the built in photo tools. I admit after a little exploring I was more impressed. Google+ does allow the organization of photos in folders and allows the sharing of photos with a designated circle (or the general public). The organization, annotation, and sharing of photos are major issues for me when it comes for the educational potential of digital photography.

Here is a brief explanation of how to organize Google+ photos into folders. On the iPad, the process of organization would work something like this. While viewing a photo, select the “gear” icon and then select the “copy to folder” option from the options you are presented.

 

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You will then select an existing folder or be allowed to create a new folder.

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The process from a computer works a little differently. With a photo selected, you should have access to a “More” menu and you select “add to a folder”.

 

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Clearly, creating folders and adding images to folders can be accomplished within Google+. I will also accept that the batch processes available from Picasa would make the process of organization more efficient.