Monthly Archives: June 2006

I Love Picasa, When It’s Not Driving Me Nuts

Picasa is awesome, it’s free, it does many things Adobe’s trial version of Photoshop Album does not do. The occasion for me to talk about it is that they’ve just released a new beta of it to roll out their connection between Picasa and Picasa Web Albums, an online web gallery of your photos (an obvious attempt to compete with Yahoo’s Flickr service). While this beta does add some new features, I had hoped that the next update was going to be far more than what I see here. In fact, almost none of the complaints I’ve had about Picasa have been addressed.

  • No hierarchy of tags, no tags on the Picasa Web Album. Given that Flickr showed the way to do this more than a year ago, this is inexcusable and Google is a company that pioneered the use of tags in their own mail system. Yet they don’t use tags in Notebook, Calendar, or Picasa Web Albums! Instead you get strict hierarchies that don’t really help you organize things. In Adobe’s Photoshop Album I can have a group of tags associated with “Family” and in it I’ve got separate tags for “Alan”, “John”, “Rockelle”, etc. I can quickly grab several of those at the same time and apply all of them that are appropriate to one or more photos at the same time. Obscure tags which I use less frequently than people or pets can go into groupings within their tag hierarchy so I don’t have to see ones I seldom use. Not so the flat list of labels in Picasa.
  • Picasa does let you assign “labels” to pictures and you can even search across them. So, for example, I can label a picture of me and my son with the label “John” and the label “Alan”. I can then do a search for “alan john” and out pops the picture. Three times! Once each for the john folder (which it creates automatically from all the pictures with the label john), once for the alan folder, and once again for the folder where the picture was initially imported into Picasa. Overall, not a good implementation. I just don’t need the john folder or the alan folder. The tags are there for categorization and searching. If you want to let me make a folder out of them, that’s cool, make it like the smart folders in iTunes and let me specify the search criteria that fills a given folder. Then I could have a folder filled with only pictures that include me and some other family member and which had a date within the last year.
  • Photoshop Album lets me view a date range of pictures and apply tag searches on top of that (e.g. only pictures of Wellington the cat from when he was a kitten). Picasa allows you to set a start date only. No end date for your search. Even better is it’s horrific interface for selecting pictures uploaded at different times.. Oh, you _can_ do it, just select a few photos from one folder, click the hold button so it won’t forget them, then click some more in the next folder, hold, etc. ad nauseum. Grabbing a bunch of photos from one folder and then clicking on a picture in another folder without clicking hold equals “forget all the stuff you’ve already clicked and then scream”. In what way does this arbitrary restriction benefit me? I’ve yet to find one thing it made easier, nor has anyone else in the family.
  • I can select alternate photo sizes for printing, but the list is fixed, I can’t pick my own sizes. I can’t crop to any sizes other than 4×6, 5×7, 8×10 though. Oh there’s an manual crop as well, but you can’t force it to any particular ratio. Why do I care, well, I’ve got one of those desktop digital picture frames and like so many other ones it is using the same LCD panel as they use in DVD players (it makes them cheaper). Unfortunately, that also means it has the normal for video but odd for photos aspect ratio of 16×9. I’d like to recrop the photos I export to it to use the entire frame, I can’t do it with Picasa though.
  • I can have pictures on my folders, sort of like you can have on your tags in Photoshop Album. It automatically uses the first picture from the label folder (like the “john” folder I mentioned above) and then it just cuts a square section out of the middle of that first photo and that’s the picture for the folder. It doesn’t use it anywhere else other than in the list of folders nor does it let you pick the right section out of a photo for the picture to go with the label. Hope you’ve got a nicely centered photo of the person, place, or thing for the label.
  • No plug-ins. This would really fix a lot of problems I have with Picasa. If I had some way of building a plug-in somebody long ago would have made it easy to upload a set of pictures to Flickr from Picasa to Flickr. Yes, that’s an unholy cross of Google and Yahoo!, but frankly I don’t care. I just want what works best for me and that’s pretty close.
  • Everything is either a favorite or it’s not. There’s no mulitple star system or numeric rating to let me say a little more about the quality of the photos than that. Heck, even iTunes recognizes that a song can have no rating or from one to five stars.
  • It sort of handles movies I took with my camera. It will download them, let me dump them in folders, even let me play and pause them. There’s no progress bar where I can jump partway into them though or even see the duration of one. Just hit play and watch, maybe you can count “one Mississippi two Mississippi” to figure out how long it is.
  • Don’t even get me started on the “Collage” in Picasa. The random pile of pictures you can’t rearrange. What a wreck. Click on it a few million times to try out other random arrangements and good luck. This is another place that a plug-in would have offered better functionality by now.
  • Oh wait, maybe there are tags? Or not? Who can tell. If you pick a picture and click “Add Tags” on the View menu (or Ctrl + T) then you get a dialog that lets you add “tags” to the photo. OK, this might be like tags in Photoshop Album or GMail, but who can tell. It doesn’t pull in labels you already have on the photo and use them as tags, it doesn’t display anything on the photos or below them to show tags you’ve applied (like Adobe does). Nor does anything show up in the Web Album related to tagged photos that I’ve found yet.

Should anybody from Google who works on Picasa ever take any of this to heart, here’s your checklist:

  1. Fix tagging. Use Adobe Photoshop Album and your own GMail as the models for the Picasa and Web Album tagging.
  2. Add a way for other people to create plug-ins. There will be more cool stuff for Picasa than you can shake a stick at.
  3. Get rid of folders and the way they interfere with selection. In fact, drop your current bizarre selection model altogether. Instead of using folders, give me an opportunity to apply some tags to all the photos at the time I import them. If all of them are from a birthday or they are of one person I can apply the appropriate tags at the time. I realize that folders are sometimes being used because you are importing users’ existing photos from their hard drives and the folder names are all you have as guidance for grouping. Offer the chance to turn folder names into tags in those cases. Trust me, folders are still not working, even in that case.
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