Picasa Web Albums: First Impressions

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Picasa Web Albums is supposed to be invite-only. However, if you enter your Google Account email address in the box on the picasaweb.google.com homepage, you may get in immediately. I did.

Google Blows Up Earth
Picasa Wants You To Post Your Album

(Looks like Jason beat me to the announcement, but here are the details of Picasa Web Albums.)

When you sign up for Web Albums, you are prompted to download the new version of Picasa. The download is 4.56 megabytes. This new version contains a button for uploading to the web. The new version works on Windows (although the previous version is still available for Linux). You can also avoid downloading the software by uploading direct from the website. Just click “New Album” and then “Upload Photos”. Once your photos are online, you can arrange them into albums, add captions, or do other things.

You can mark your photos as public or private. Be aware that if you share your Web Albums public gallery, the URL contains your Gmail email address. However, unlike other, more poorly thought out URL schemes, Picasa lets you change the public gallery address if you’d like to protect your Gmail. Thank you! How about teaching the other Google teams how to do that?!

You can zoom, rotate, move or copy photos in your album. you can even download other people’s albums if you install the Picasa software, just by clicking a link in the album web page. You can leave comments on photos, a necessary part of social websites that Googel Video will hopefully reproduce one of these days. You can save favorites.

Web Albums comes with 250 megabytes of free storage. $25 per year gives you 6 gigabytes.

There are some new features in Picasa. Namely, you can now view photos either in the regular Picasa view, by labels, or by the folder hierarchy on your hard disk. Album collections can now by created, matching the online functionality. This version is only available to Web Albums users.

So, the big question: Picasa Web Albums or Flickr?

Flickr’s free accounts have a 20 MB per month upload limit and only three photosets. Google’s free accounts have a 250 MB total limit and unlimited photo albums. The pay accounts ae mostly more than anyone needs, with oodles of storage and unlimited photosets on both sides. I think Flickr’s approach is better, because whatever you can get in the system, it stays there, while if you stop paying for Google’s, anything over 250 could get deleted (read the FAQ). Also, I’d rather have limits on what I can add per month than total account size, since at least I’m not forced to delete individual photos to add new ones.

In the end, we’ve got two powerful services with great online interfaces and lots of options for users. Flickr’s got a base that won’t likely switch with too similar a service, unless Google develops a migration tool. However, Google’s desktop software, which is often compared to iPhoto, is too much of an excellent product not to woo new users, and it will back up Web Albums and cause a lot of users to use Picasa and the web service. That one-two-punch is a lot for Flickr to compete with, and may be the winning formula. Unless Flickr can replicate Picasa online, and I don’t think it can, perhaps Yahoo should start working on a software product?


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Nathan Weinberg writes the popular InsideGoogle blog, offering the latest news and insights about Google and search engines.

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Picasa Web Albums: First Impressions
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