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

Storage

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.

Uploading

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.

Flickr

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.

Conclusion

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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Posted in Reviews/tests,Technology |

25 Comments

  • [...] contact, and write comments, Comments, COMMENTS on them!   Related reading Picasa Web Albums – A serious Flickr contender [...]

  • Deborah says:

    Is there a way to incorporate Picasa Web Albums, or a slideshow from photos in Picasa Web Albums, into an existing web page?

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Deborah,

    I don't know about a slideshow, but there's a way to get the HTML code to present one or several images in your own web page.

  • Do either of the services offer to burn any/all of your photos to DVD so you have a physical backup that can be posted to you?

    Personally I wouldn't trust my photos to any remote service without a physical and local backup.

  • Maaike says:

    I don't think many current Flickr users will switch. It would mean having to transfer all of your photo's and convincing your contacts as well. I won't switch for several reasons:

    – my friends and family are using Flickr already

    – I don't like how big and powerful Google is becoming. And I don't trust them with my data. Remember the Orkut controversy?

  • michael says:

    A big problem with PicasaWebAlbums is that your share name is tied to your gmail address. I’d like to share my albums, but I’m afraid that some email harvester will come by and grab my gmail address — which I have gone to great lengths to keep private — and start bombing me with spam.

    Then I’ll have to get a new email address, and what a pain that is.

    Come to my blog to see a quick survey of other photo sharing sites: http://allthingskyra.blogspot.com

  • I've fiddled around with Picasa and it never really did anything for me. I'm a big fan of Flickr though, and I've never once had a problem with Uploadr–I use it to upload entire sets all the time.

  • Gustaf says:

    I absolutely hate flickr's cluttered interface. I dislike it so much that it's actually holding me back in regards to uploading photos to the internet.

    I've been looking for a good replacement service but haven't found anything that i like yet. I did think that 23hq was ok, but they do not support one-size-thumbnails, which makes the albums quite .. well, it looks asymmetrical.. and the interface is quite ugly.

    Picasa looks really clean and neat.. i'm gonna give it a shot.

  • Gustaf says:

    ah, and they also have a plugi for iphoto.. interesting :)

  • [...] r everyday. source: Robert’s talk Previous Posts IE7 Automatic Up [...]

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Steve,

    As far as I know, neither of them offer it, but I'd like to be proved wrong here.

    Maaike,

    Yes, I agree. I think it will take a lot for people to switch from any account they already have. Regarding Google and trust: I know a lot of people mistrust them, but between Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo! and Google, I personally think the safest bet is Google.

    michael,

    I'm glad that you brought that up! That is indeed very annoying and that's definitely something that they need to change so someone's alias and e-mail address isn't the same.

    Douglas,

    Well, I like the little things with Picasa described in the post. The Uploadr problems with Flickr I refer to is on Intel Macs, to be more clear; not sure how it works on older Macs or a PC.

    Gustaf,

    It is quite neat and clean actually. I've also tried the iPhoto plugin as well, and it worked great! And, to point out, as opposed to Flickr, the Picasa iPhoto plugin is free!

  • Maaike says:

    Yeah, I felt sorry when Flickr was bought by Yahoo, but not sorry enough to leave. But I'm curious: what are your reasons for trusting Google more then Yahoo?

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Maaike,

    Ah, it's a very valid question, but it's too long to discuss here. But mainly, my gut instinct (which can be totally wrong :-)) makes me trust Google more than Yahoo!.

  • Wil says:

    Don't forget about the great tool Picasa itself! This is some piece of software which works quite well.

    I think the combination of photo management software and the webinterface will do it for new people in this market. People who allready have a Flickr account will stay with Flickr/Yahoo.

    What i'm looking for is a webinterface like Google/Flickr but then hosted on my own webspace. So I'm in control of what happens to my photos.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Wil,

    A web interface hosted on one's own web site does indeed sound interesting!

  • Kyrakyra says:

    Doesn't anyone care that your picasaweb address is your gmail address? It makes for a rich and easy harvest for your precious gmail addresses. Think of the spam!

    For me, that's reason enough not to use it right now.

  • phydeaux3 says:

    For those that think having their picasaweb address relate to their gmail account will cause problems, picasaweb allows you to create additional identities to use.

    Go to the Settings page>Add a google username and you can use that for your galleries. Your gmail account name with then remain your secret.

  • Ronnie says:

    I use the picassa plug in to upload images from iPhoto. You can find it

  • Ronnie says:

    My previous post didn't show the link.

    You can find the plug in here:

    picasa.google.com/web/mac_tools.html

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Ronnie,

    Absolutely, it's a good tool, and also mentioned in the post.

    (PS. I think your link text got stripped since there weren't any text or closing of the actual link, i.e. <code>a</code> element)

  • chris says:

    As usual many solutions have many cool features – I liked Riya.com because they did pretty good facial recognition, but it's not being supported anymore – now I am using SmugMug.com as I like the interface, integration and it's a smaller company solution (Does google need to own photo's too???).

    I do use Picasa for my photo management, but with 50k photos, nothing is going to be easy – I am looking for another solution now.

    my 2 centavos – happy click'n

    -Chris

  • Larry Wolf says:

    What I think is that all the photo sharing sites — everyone of them–including picasa, is lousy at PHOTO ACCESS for medium to very large albums. All photo sharing sites allow some organization, either the files within a gallery or album or rearrangement of albums within a gallery.

    But none work anything like what they should. Picasa2 DESKTOP application works fine for huge albums with it's scrollable Folder view combined with a scrollable thumbnail view so yo can quickly located with sliders any photo in the album and if not you can search for it.

    Photo sites like Phanfare try to give users a 3 level organization scheme–timelines/albums/sections. And this is generally enough with some inventiveness. However, there scheme falls flat with drop down lists that are cumbersome and slow. Your forced to scroll also thru the timeline to get to the next 5 years. So if you have pictures dating back a hundred years good luck. It just doesn't work.

    In contrast, Picasa2 desktop organizer is ideal in this regard as the user can select a 'tree' view or a 'flat' view. ALL WEB sites for sharing photos should incorporate this. Otherwise users will have a hard time finding the photos they want as the Gallery grows in size from thousands to hundreds of thousands of photos and it will in 20 years of uploading (or 20 years of backloading from decades of old photos such as family tree photos).

    Then too ALL of the sites try to keep users from having much control by generally refusing to allow members to embed their own paid for photo sharing site in their own web site where they may try to take advantage of a database to mimic Picasa2 and create a much more visually appealing and USEFUL interface in which to display & search possibly tens of thousands to even millions of uploaded pictures.

    Basically, every single photo sharing website depends on users being dunces who will only upload a few hundred or a thousand pictures and then get frustrated and quit because they can't organize as effectively as they can using desktop organizing software such as Adobe Elmements, ACDSee, Picasa2, etc, etc.

    It's far more effective just to invite your friends over and view your albums on picasa2 on a 52" LCD and forget the online sharing which it's basically worthless except for small galleries (a gallery by definition is a container for multiple albums but some sites think a gallery is an album. Not true).

  • Robert Nyman says:

    chris,

    I mostly use SmugMug too, nowadays.

    Larry,

    Thanks for the input. I definitely agree that most photo web sites have navigational problems.

  • Michael says:

    Can anyone let me know of any country that has banned the use of Picasa? I was almost certain that a European country banned outright the use of this service.

    Can someone please let me know if this is indeed true?

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Michael,

    Not anything I ever heard of, at least.

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