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March 8, 2007

Google and Social Networking

Keith B. sent his thoughts about the latest update of Picasa Web Albums, Google's photo sharing site:
I absolutely LOVE the Picasa software (I haven't opened Photoshop for personal photos in ages) and the Picasa Web Albums is a nice service.

But is it just me or is the one thing Google seems to have a hard time getting a good feel for is personalization and social networking? Sure they bought YouTube, but they didn't build it or its user-base; nor have they really had it long enough to leave their mark on it. Blogger is arguably the best product in their line-up where they finally appear to be getting a better feel for this aspect.

The interface and integration with Picasa (and now Blogger) is very nice. But IMO it just doesn't seem to encourage social interaction or browsing through networks of friends, groups, tags, etc. Like a lot of Google products, it just comes across as rather cold and clinical. Functional? Absolutely - just like most Google products. But fun or personable (which is more important for things like photos and video v/s maps and email)?? I guess that's a matter of opinion, but I just don't get that vibe from it yet.

Like in Google Video, Picasa Web Albums dedicates most of the space to the photo and very few pixels to the author. People might find this strange and intimidating. Both Google Video and Picasa Web Albums lack profiles, while in Picasa Web there's no open door that invites you to discover interesting content. Google doesn't integrate already existing communities from Blogger or orkut, and each new product has its own profile, its own contact lists and connections. So why should you invest time and energy into a "cold and clinical" site instead of going to a site that cares less about user interfaces and more about human interactions?


  1. I agree - I lost interest in Picassa because of the "cold feel" as you said.

  2. Totally in agreeance with this entry, and I'm glad that it's finally getting some visibility on this blog.

    They're moving towards it, definitely, with the improved image embedding in the latest update, but I completely agree that in almost every aspect, picasaweb is still far inferior to flickr and even photo bucket, and it's simply disappointing.

  3. Yeah, I agree. I think google bookmarks could use some social love as well.

  4. I agree, and actually was thinking the same thing when I visited the updated version of Picasa last night.

    However, it is integrated. Gmail, D&S, and Calendar are all integrated. Picasa now works with Gmail more easily... I think in the next few weeks you will see all of these services entwined completely, as per Sergey Brin's statement of "integration" saturation, not "feature" saturation.

    But, at the same time, it's not Flickr. Or even Webshots. The interface isn't as eye catching or innovative as Gmail, and it's not even "standard" like the rest of the photo sharing services.

    The interface needs to be improved, and a very key tool needs to be added: an account import.

    For people that use Google for their office uses, but Flickr for photos... If there was a tool to move your Flickr account over to Picasa seamlessly (including all your sets [become albums] and tags), I think the user base would greatly increase. Just look at the number of users for D&S on the most recent statistics. I think it was 160,000 unique users?

    Finally, the storage upgrade was a big step. If Gmail has massive storage, then why shouldn't everything else? Yes, there's a limit on your email account, and even on your D&S ("1000 docs, and 1000 spreadsheets"), but that's a huge number. The amount of space that Google is providing for photos destroys the free versions of every other photo service, as only they can do.

    Simply upgrade the interface, and make a conversion tool. After that, it's all marketing (but mostly viral?).

    --Kyle Brady

  5. Two things :

    1 - Google will sooner or later integrate everything, and give you the option to protect your privacy or simply not use a specific service, etc.

    2 - I love Google's chosen interfaces for all of its applications. What some people here are calling cold and clinical, I call sexy and clean. You may keep your emoticons and customizable skin whatever with your MSN / AOL applications. I prefer to keep my world-class Google apps clear and free from bullshit.

  6. SNS has become the rallying cry - agreed. Yahoo has its Y360 for blogging-cum-socializing (and support apps like their version of Picasa called flickr etc). Microsoft has ditto with its Windows Live Spaces for ditto (and support apps like ditto etc). And Google has the most diverse bunch of of methodologies of SNS from vlogging on YouTube and GoogleVideo to blogging on blogspot and orkut (and support apps like Picasa, GTalk, GMail, GReader, GBooks, etc). I sense the issue isn't so much clinical or stultifying non-encouragement of social interaction within the established system we've come to refer to as Social Networking Sites ("SNS") but the wild diversity of all the methods GOOG offers us to do this - chaos if we wish to name it negatively or freedom to create the connection system that puts it all together for those of us who enjoy the fun of figuring out how to do it rather than having it handed us on a silver platter like Microsoft and Yahoo do in their pre-fab SNS settings. Some folks thrive better within pre-fabricated settings, others thrive on the wildness of the freedom and challenge to try pulling it all together without Mommy Google doing it for us. This cyber SNS phenomenon is still in its infancy altho some folks like my wife and I along with our friends and family feel there are one or two SNS servers that are so far ahead of the others' curve that they leave them in the dust. erm... "Vista does not support SecondLife dot com at this time because SL is what WLS strives to be by 2017. We are working on this technical issue and thank you for your patience. Would you like to take this survey that will help us improve our Windows Live Spaces service for all people on earth bringing together diverse cultures of fascinating members from 4 years old all the way up to 14 years old? Thanks!"

  7. sexy and clean is exactly what I think of google's interfaces. Glad there are more people with the same view. I am so tired of interfaces abstracting the main goal of a service with emoticons, banners and animations. MSN per say seems to be focused on millions of things but message exchange, in contrast to gtalk. Same goes to Flickr though it does not exaggerate as much in obfuscation as MSN does.

  8. I am in the minority here. I love the Web Albums interface for the very reason you guys don't. I want something simple and clean, with the emphasis on the pictures. I only want to share pictures with family and friends. I don't want all the other distractions of sites like Flikr. I showed Flikr to my parents, and they were very intimidated by it. They love Web Albums.

  9. I love Picasaa and haven't used PhotoShop since the easy Web Albums integration. I use this and SmugMug all the time

    I upgraded my Picasa account to more space because I feel that G deserves something for what you can get for free - it'd be nice to get adSense in with my albums as I do a lot of work for local Realtors..

    Love it no complaints - just please no My Space kind of set up..


  10. GruvSyco: Regarding Google Bookmarks needing some social love -- I agree. Tried it, but it felt so isolated! I moved to Simpy and it's MUCH better! There is even a cool new Firefox extension [1] that keeps my bookmarks in Simpy synced on multiple browsers, so I can do the Social Bookmarky thing via or stick to my Firefox bookmarks, but backed by Simpy.

    [1] Sydebar (like GMarks for Google Bookmarks, but this flavor is for Simpy)

  11. I recently started using Picasa as a quick and dirty program for photo editing instead of using Paint Shop Pro.

    I did not get the feeling that Picasa was cold and impersonal. I am used to using software as a tool in addition to using it for fun and feeling good.

  12. We were talking about the web applications (Picasa Web Albums), not the desktop applications (Picasa). And I don't think Picasa has too much in common with Paint Shop Pro, the abilities to edit photos are pretty limited.

  13. I have to say as a long time user of Picasa AND Flickr ... google has never mastered the photo sharing side of things.

    I understand their position, but it would be nice if they supported outside photosites from within Picasa.

    I still prefer to use it for browsing and editing my pic's, but have never found the online site to be anywhere near as friendly or useful - let alone engaging as I find Flickr.

    Back to the labs for that one, they still haven't nailed it. Guess they should have beat yahoo to the punch in buying out flickr.