Picasa Web Albums – A serious Flickr contender

When I wrote my post about the Flickr photo service, I promised that I’d review another one within the next week or so. Well, as we all know, time flies but now I’m ready to tell you about a service that I believe have a serious potential to become a Flickr contender.

This is Google’s picture service: Picasa Web Albums

Back in 2004, Google bought Picasa Inc, a digital photo company, and it become known as one of the numerous items in Google’s product flora: Picasa. Picasa is a software for organizing, editing and sorting your pictures, aimed at PC users, but there’s also a Linux version available in Google Labs. Personally, I think it’s a shame that it isn’t available for Mac OS X as well, since iPhoto is sub-par (more about that and Mac in general in My MacBook Pro – first-time Mac owner).

During June this year they took the natural next step and released Picasa Web Albums: online photo sharing. While it isn’t as sophisticated as Flickr, its simplicity and some of the features are definitely better than Flickr’s. All you need to start is a Google Account, and you here’s my albums if you want to test drive the service.

A picture of my start page in Picasa Web Albums

What’s good?

Gallery view

One of the things I really like is the possibility as an end user to, in the gallery overview, choose in what size you want to view the thumbnail images. You can make them small to get a good overview, medium, or large if you want to look at all the pictures in the same page, hence eliminating the need to go into each photo’s page to be able to view it. Naturally, the preference you choose in one gallery is then kept in the other galleries as well. Another upside of this is that you directly in the overview can see any eventual caption for the images.

Small thumbnail view

A picture of the small thumbnail gallery view

Medium thumbnail view

A picture of the medium thumbnail gallery view

Large thumbnail view

A picture of the large thumbnail gallery view

Single photo view

One more great, and given, feature is that in a photos separate page, you can navigate to the previous or next picture with your left and right arrow keys on your keyboard. This is also accompanied by arrows pointing left and right. Way more user-friendly than Flickr’s small thumbnails where the current one also mysteriously disappears. Another thing I like, compared to Flickr, is that if you don’t give an image a caption, no text is shown. Compare that to Flickr who defaults to showing the image file name as the title; not nice.

A picture of the single photo page

Slideshow view

A nice addition is the slideshow view. You get to see large versions of every image, and again, it is up to the end user to choose whether to display each image’s caption or not. Superb!

A picture of the slideshow view


The free account includes 250 MB of storage, and you can upload as many photos you want, an when you want, within that range; compare that to the Flickr monthly 20 MB bandwidth upload limit. Extra storage is only available to people in the US at the time of writing this, and they will get a fixed 6 GB limit for $25 a year.


For PC and Linux users, the Picasa software is the given way to go. For Mac users, there’s a Mac OS X uploading tool that, as opposed to the Flickr Uploadr, actually works and doesn’t crash every second time.

Also, according to the What’s New page, people with 6 GB storage can now also upload videos.

What’s bad?

The first basic things that are missing:

  • No way to have (totally) private photos.
  • No way to share specific albums/photos with certain other users.
  • No groups.
  • A fixed 6 GB storage; it’s actually not that much. For the Flickr Pro account, one has a 2 GB monthly upload limit, but no storage limit whatsoever.

The biggest fear for me, though, is to lose all the images I’ve uploaded to a service; either if my paid account expires or if anything else happens. Here’s what Picasa Web Albums respectively Flickr has to say about that:

Picasa Web Albums

If I cancel my subscription for additional storage, what will happen to my photos?

Picasa Web Albums comes with 250MB of free storage, and the option to get a 6GB subscription for $25.00 per year. If you cancel your subscription at any time, your Picasa Web Albums account will revert to 250MB of free storage space, and any photos beyond the 250MB limit may be deleted.


What happens to my photos if my Pro Account expires?

If your Pro account expires, don’t panic! None of your photos have been deleted!

This means instead of enjoying the super-duper capacity of your Pro account, you are now subject to the limits of a free account. When you upgrade again, all of your photos will be waiting for you.

Any sets you’ve created that disappear when your Pro account expires will also return when you renew or upgrade.

Picasa Web Albums’ stance doesn’t sound too comforting, does it? I wouldn’t dare to put any important pictures there, while I love Flickr’s actions about it coupled with their humble attitude. Flickr definitely wins my trust, and that’s the key to getting customers.


Picasa Web Albums has some nice and simple features that Flickr lack (something they should add as soon as possible), and they’re far better in the uploading tools field. They still miss some major features, but they definitely have the ground to build them on. In the end, though, they lose my trust with their policy about deleting images and I sincerely think they should rethink the 6 GB storage limit, especially if they will start to add video to the service as well.

At the same time, I think Flickr needs to get their act together, especially when it comes to small features and usability enhancements. There’s competition out there, and it’s getting better everyday.


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