Google updates Picasa Web Albums site

Google on Tuesday launched a revamped version of its Picasa Web Albums photo sharing site, adding a face-recognition feature called “name tags” to help users automatically tag and group photos together based on the people in them. The free Web service also features a streamlined interface and a location utility that uses Google Maps to let you pinpoint the location where your photos were taken. The updated site is Safari- and Firefox-friendly. (At the same time, Google is also releasing an update to its Windows photo-editing, cataloging, and uploading client.)

An Add Name Tags button on the right side of the screen walks you through the process of identifying the people in your shots and helps you sort, search, and create slide shows of shots containing particular people. New clustering technology groups similar faces together so you can label multiple shots quickly.

“This upgraded Picasa site is designed to expand people’s digital photo experience and to make it easy and safe to share your photos with the world,” said Mike Horowitz, Google’s product manager for Picasa and Picasa Web Albums. “Our face-recognition technology automatically groups pictures containing similar faces so users can quickly label a number of pictures at once. Our software determines which faces are roughly similar by looking at a few basic measurements, like the relative distance between a person’s eyes and nose, and nose and ears,” Horowitz explained.

Picasa Face Recognition
New face-recognition technology helps you tag and organize your photos.

Sharing photos

The upgrade makes sharing easier too. Clicking on the Share button lets you send an e-mail link to those you want to view your album, something they can do without having a Picasa or Google account themselves. You can also share an album with all the people tagged in it with a single click. Privacy features assure that only people who are uploading photos can name the people in them, and can also control who sees the name tags. You can also choose not to name certain people in photos so that you can focus on a set of photos with certain people to share for a specific purpose.

The interface design now lets you upload photos to the Picasa site via e-mail, convenient for iPhone and other smart phone users.

People can view your photos individually, in albums, or as slideshows. Viewers can download your high-resolution photos for printing or order prints online via Google’s links to print services from SnapFish, Walgreens, PhotoWorks, and Shutterfly.

Searching public albums

With the new Picasa site, you can also choose to make your public albums searchable. This lets people locate your public photos by searching Picasa Web Albums or other Google services such as Image Search. Or you can keep you albums private by clicking on the Unlisted radio button.

Picasa Mapping
In conjunction with Google Maps, you can now set the location where your photos were taken.

A new Explore page lets you find and view featured photos, popular tags, and recent photos derived from members’ public albums. A new game called Where In The World encourages you to guess where photos were taken. You can comment on photos you like or add a gallery as a favorite so you can receive e-mail updates on new photos added to that gallery.

The site now also lets you map your photos to a location by entering an address or dragging and dropping your pictures on to a Google Map.

Windows-only client

The launch of the upgraded Web site is paired with the release of a Windows-only upgrade to Google’s Picasa photo management software, which offers photo-editing capabilities.

While the Mac version of Google’s Picasa Web Albums Uploader remains available, and lets you export images directly from iPhoto or upload them from your desktop to Picasa, Horowitz said that no further development is specifically planned for the Mac uploader. That’s not too suprising, considering that iPhoto offers the editing and organizing parts for Mac users already. “Mac users are very important to us and we’ll be looking at additional ways to make their photo experiences better. But we don’t have anything to announce at this time,” Horowitz said.

However, at Macworld Expo back in January, a Google employee said that a Mac version “is under development and will be launched later this year”, so we may yet see an update.

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