A couple of weeks ago I started to organize my photo collection on the PC and decided to give Picasa another try. One of the best features is the automatic recognition of faces and it helped a lot to speed up the work. It still has some small problems; for example it doesn’t seem to recognize faces in photos rotated to match the original orientation of the scene. Another ‘bug’ is that it sometimes suggests a contact for a face when that contact was already tagged in the same photos; I think it’s unlikely a person could appear twice in a single image – excluding photo manipulation or the presence of a mirror. I would also be nice to see an option to help the algorithm make suggestions: if you have an album with photos from a trip you took with a group of friends, you should be able to inform the software about that - something like “only suggest people from this list or group” – and not receive suggestion for people you only knew years later.
After I finished organizing, I wanted to upload a small sample to Facebook. I don’t usually do that, because of the much-discussed privacy concerns, so I was not very familiar with the options I had. Evidently, I didn’t expect a direct option to connect to Facebook in Google software. But I remembered Facebook offers a way to upload multiple photos by email; that would be the simplest way to send photos from Picasa. The software would also take care of the resizing, as Facebook doesn’t allow images larger than 720 pixels. After looking around several menus I found it: on the Facebook homepage, visit ‘Photos’ in the left sidebar, click ‘Upload Photos’ and then ‘Mobile Photos’. Your personal upload address appears in a pop-up; it is also here where it can be reset. Any images sent to Facebook this way will land in the ‘Mobile Uploads’ album; they can be moved to a more convenient location afterwards, but this could become tedious if you upload a large number of images.
This it actually a very versatile tool: it can also upload video attached to the email body, or, if you don’t attach a viable file, the subject will update your Facebook status. Not to mention it isn’t tied with Picasa: other photo management tools have similar features for email upload. You could even use a regular email client, without any additional software: simply create a message, choose the photos and write a good, clear subject, because it will be added to all of the uploaded pictures as caption. And naturally this secret address can be used from any device, even a mobile phone, as it was intended in the first place.
As an alternative, there is also a third-party Facebook app - Picasa Uploader - that has a tighter integration with Picasa and provides a little more control: you can select existing Facebook albums or create a new one. This is probably a better solution for larger photo collections, because it cuts the time needed to organize the photos later on Facebook.
But, regardless of the method used, uploading to another service leads to inevitable data loss. And I’m not talking here about the pixels lost when Facebook resizes the images. If you add tags, geo-tags or people-tags, all this metadata about the photo is lost if you store it somewhere else than the original software. I don’t know any initiatives to make the photo sharing space more interoperable. There is always EXIF information that hard-codes some of this data in the image file, but average users probably don’t know much about it; that is assuming that their software or service of choice even support writing EXIF data to the file or retrieving it.
The situation is even more complicated when it comes to defining the persons appearing in the photos. Here each major player (Google, Microsoft, Flickr and Facebook) has it’s own method and “walled garden” and it’s very unlikely they will start working on some sort of standard markup. Given the competition between them in social networking, envisioning that someday one could tag people in Picasa photos, upload them to Facebook and have friends automatically tagged based on the information from Picasa looks like a distant utopia.
Maybe we will see Google Buzz add some social features around the people tags: Buzz can already notify other people when they are mentioned in a status message or comment; maybe it could do the same when someone uploads people-tagged photos in Picasa. Of course, there are some issues that need to be solved first, like what happens with people with no Buzz account: should they be ignored or receive a standard email linking to the online album? And there is always the privacy matter to consider: in my opinion people-tags in Buzz should be only visible by default to the owner and the person who was tagged. This person could be asked if he/she wants to make the tag visible to other people – maybe to the others tagged in that particular album - so that it doesn’t become public without their consent.