Top 10 Ways to Improve Google Photos

Top 10 Ways to Improve Google Photos

My friend Trey Ratcliff has an excellent post and poll going on over at Google+ right now asking photographers what their number one ideas are to improve Google Photos. Trey is meeting with the Google Photos team today and wanted to use his post to get ideas to share with the photos team as well as a rank how people feel about them.

What a great idea.

If you haven’t voted yet, hop on over to Trey’s post and check out some of the ideas and vote.

I’m amazed at how open to feedback the Google Photos team has been. It’s nice to see an active team engaged with the community that actually gets it.

Inspired by Trey’s post I thought I’d take a minute myself to put down what I feel are the top 10 ways to improve Google Photos. Some of these ideas are fanciful and would take a tremendous amount of work and some might be easier to implement.

I consider Google Photos largely a work in progress, but a work in progress with a very talented and dedicated team committed to innovation and I’m sure there will be great advancements by the team in the weeks, months, years ahead.

1. Stock Photography. Trey stayed at my place last week and we stayed up late one night doing a hangout and talked alot about the potential for stock photography with Google Photos. If the interent (and Google) are good at anything it’s disrupting inefficient businesses. This currently is the number one idea on Trey’s poll.

I’m currently enrolled in the Flickr/Getty stock photography deal (along with almost 30,000 other photographers if the number of members in the invite only Getty Contributors group are a measure). Here Getty keeps 80% of my photo sales and pays me 20%. That feels like too low of a payout to me. I’m not sure what the right payout should be, but I have a feeling that Google could do better.

The stock photography business is a big complicated complex business though. There are legal and licensing considerations that would scare off many who might like to get involved. I don’t have insight into the Flickr/Getty deal, but I’d guess that the reason why Flickr went with Getty rather than building something out themselves was because Getty has a good history of clearing images and also I’m guessing that Getty indemnified Yahoo over any liability associated with unauthorized image sales.

Google could acquire a smaller stock agency though with experience in clearing images and begin doing what Flickr is doing but with better payouts to photographers. The profit from this business itself wouldn’t be as important as the fact that having this opportunity to sell images would attract even more high quality Pros and advanced amateurs to Google Photos.

Stock photography is not a slam dunk though and Google would have many considerations. Could they protect themselves (and their deep pockets) legally from potential claims? How much money does Getty spend on advertising each year on Google? Certainly competing with them could threaten this advertising revenue. Google has been criticized already for being as fragmented as they are. Would stock photography be yet another distraction and yet another place to create competitors?

On the other hand, giving us a way to monetize our photos on Google Photos would be huge and certainly something that many high quality photographers would love to take advantage of. If anyone has the clout to compete in this world it would be Google.

2. Better album management including SmartSets. At present I’m dumping all of my photos into Google photos one at a time. I’m only using a single album, “Photos from Posts.” It looks really slick (with infinite scrolling!). I haven’t made any other albums because when I do it creates too much noise in my Google+ stream by dropping in tons of smaller sized duplicate photos anytime anyone makes a comment on a photo of mine that I put into an album.

The noise problem is one that Google should solve hopefully over time — but still, making albums is a manually intensive task at Google Photos today. You have to go to each photo one by one and literally copy it into a new album to create albums that overlap each other. This is very inefficient. First of all, actually copying new files when moving a photo to a new album is unnecessary. It’s duplicate storage and you don’t need to do this to better organize albums. And secondly it’s way too time consuming.

Instead Google should let us build albums by tags or keywords. I’d like to create an album of all of my San Francisco photos. Sets of sets or collections would be cool as well.

3. Interestingness by Circles. I know that technically Yahoo/Flickr have patented “interestingness,” but it seems absurd to me that this should prevent another company from sharing popular items.

What would be cool would be if I could view each of my circles by most popular items by day, week, month. I can’t always stay on top of everything and being able to go back and see the highest rated content from various circles would be slick.

4. Google Galleries. No, not online. I mean real, actual, physical Google Galleries. I think that there is a great opportunity for Google to sell fine art prints in a gallery setting. While a physical store is a big expense, I believe that merging digital art with physical art/prints in the physical world is ripe with opportunity. Initially Google would open a couple of smaller galleries in influential places, say San Francisco and New York. They would hire a curator to run the store. The stores would primarily be composed of plasmas rotating art for sale. Visually they would be stunning, clean, light, like an Apple store, with great big plasmas everywhere rotating the latest photos uploaded and cleared for sale by Google Photos. Every day the art would change.

There would be a cafe in the back that sold coffee drinks. This would invite the public in to browse the store and look at the art. There would be special terminals set up where you could search and browse for art by subject. You could, for instance, look specifically for a print to buy of a cable car in San Francisco, or of a cafe in Spain, or of an Amazon Rainforest, or of the Empire State Building — anything. You could search by artist, or subject, or whatever. Some prints could be done on demand – other prints could be done as limited editions being signed by an artist and shipped to you later.

Google Photographers could also hold shows and meetups at these galleries. Rather than me printing up a ton of my work, if I wanted to do a Thomas Hawk show, the plasmas could just rotate to all of my photos for a weekend. I could do an opening and have a show and sell prints much more economically. Google Photos could do meetups at the galleries and photowalks afterwards. How cool would it be if 100 photographers RSVPd for a Google Photos Meet Up where an hour before a photowalk the best photos from those exact 100 RSVPed rotated randomly on giant plasmas throughout the store.

Jen Bekman’s got a lot of great press with 20×200. Could this be a model? Maybe Google could consider her gallery as a jumping off point to partner with or help launch this?

Gallery photos could also be ordered online and shipped as real physical prints as well.

5. Photo Search. Right now one of the downsides of Google+ is that while your photos get a lot of attention when you first post them, they quickly fall off the radar and are buried for good. Google Photos needs a way to reignite long-term activity on these old photos. Search is where this starts. I need to be able to search for photos and then sort by interestingness or most recent. Photo search would drive activity to photos that are past their initial flurry in Google+.

Google should also consider giving great photos from Google Photos preferential placement in Google Image Search where appropriate. The social meta data around photos should give some insight into how strong a photo is. When someone is searching for images of the Golden Gate Bridge, why not send them to Google Photos Photographers with super strong images of the Golden Gate Bridge?

6. Recent Activity Page. Google’s notifications page is good, but it is not as good as Flickr’s Recent Activity page. This page really is the number one page on Flickr and should be the number one page on G+. There is no page there that is more important.

Google should study Flickr’s page and tear it apart every which way from Sunday. It’s quite literally the best and most addictive thing that Flickr does. We should have a customizable (we choose what to hide and see) recent activity page on Google+ that lets us know when people add us, when they make comments on our photos, when they mention us, when they +1 our photos, when they make a comment after a comment we’ve made (it’s very important to be able to hide this specific activity item especially on a one off basis).

Items should be bumped to the top as a new activity occurs on a post. This will make sure that we see a comment someone makes on a 2 week old photo of ours. The current Google+ notifications page feels too cluttered and noisy. Google’s got to get this page right. It’s important.

7. Photo Stats. Photographers love keeping track of the stats on their photos. This gets a little harder with Google+’s streams (what exactly is a photo view for instance?), but something here would be interesting.

8. Google Groups. I know groups are coming. Google bought Fridge afterall. But Groups are important to photographers. Groups have been very popular at flickr. Some thought should be given to how photo games can be created with groups. There are several flickr groups utilizing different voting games. DeleteMe style critique groups/games have been popular on flickr.

Groups on Google+ should have photo tools and even perhaps some built in voting interfaces. Mike Wiacek, a photographer who works for Google, has in fact built the voting interface for some of the voting groups on flickr on his own time. Mike would be a great guy to talk to about how some of these tools might be integrated by default into Google Photos voting games/groups.

9. Google Photo Books. Here Google could buy Blurb or another publisher, or they could try to build it themselves. Letting us create and sell photo books would be amazing. Print on demand is getting cheaper and cheaper and better and better. They could do magazines like HP’s MagCloud as well, but I think books are a better market.

10. Rebrand Picasa to Google Photos. Goole Photos is a much stronger name. This is already rumored in the works. Identity is important and Picasa has a bit of a reputation for being a sort of clunky 2nd best to Flickr.

Google Photos should recognize the goodwill associated with their name and rebrand everything photo related simply Google Photos. This should coincide with a clean up of Picasa’s interface (see smart sets above) and even more integration with Google+. There should be a link to photos in G+ for example that take you to a more traditional photo landing page for that photo simliar to a flickr photo landing page. This page should not be the same as the lightbox. The lighbox view is pretty perfect as is right now (although keywords should be included in the photo details section) and you should be able to +1 photos from this view and even with a simple keyboard command.

Bonus Improvement: Create a tie in between Google’s Reverse Image Search and our Google Photos accounts.

Although it’s not my bag, some photographers get really, really, really, really, really worked up when people use their photos online without their permission. Google’s new reverse image search shows you where your photos are appearing online. It would be cool if with a simple link next to one of your Google Photos you could conduct an image search showing where it shows up. Alot of people concerned about image theft would like this feature.

Photographers (maybe a Pro or Premium feature?) could also sign up for alerts to let them know when new instances of their photos were showing up online. These alerts could be dismissed one by one as much of the use might not concern people. But other unathorized use would concern people and Google’s already built a great reverse image search tool.

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9 Comments

  1. Beatrice M says:

    These are fantastic ideas! Google has offices all over the world and they could have galleries in each major city where they are located – even if it was tastefully done in the lobbies, I could see that working.

    I am eagerly looking forward to the rollout of changes to Google Photos / Picassa. There are so many things I still love and use with Flickr, but the exchanging of ideas with Google+ for photographers is phenomenal. I wonder if similar revolutions are taking place in other fields as a result.

  2. Dietrich says:

    Hmmm. As for uploading batches of photos, use the picasa application from google. Picasa and G+ Photos are integrated, so upload to one, it goes to both.

  3. Thanks for the great tips Thomas. This may be a shameless attempt on my behalf, but could you possibly send me an invite for google+. Thank you so much.

  4. Don says:

    How about have Google buy Zooomr, and incorporate its features — photostream, smartsets, portals, groups, unlimited storage — into Google+/Picasa. The 1 gig limit and lack of photostream make Picasa harder to work with.

  5. Mark J P says:

    Some great ideas.

  6. Regarding Google’s Reverse Image Search, the feature I’d like is to be able to decisively “opt out” of that service for my photos. As a landscape photographer, photography guide book author and workshop leader, part of my value is in my unique geographical knowledge, which I’ve invested years of my life and literally tens of thousands of dollars to acquire (in direct cots, not even considering the opportunity cost of not having a much higher-paying job). To the extent that Google facilitates the exposing of locations which I don’t voluntarily choose to disclose by name or on a map, Google greatly erodes my value, my livelihood, violating their stated intent to “not do evil”.

  7. Eric in SF says:

    Jeff – your business model is being undone by information technology. If Google doesnt do it, someone else is going to. We’re not too far away from being able to instantly tell where any photo was taken just from contextual clues. I just read some tech news about a project that aims to do just that. Computing power is growing exponentially and brilliant programmers are hard at work on all aspects of machine vision and the ability to do high speed searches on datasets bigger than yours or my brain can comprehend.

    Now depending upon how old you are, these changes may not be finished before you retire, but they are coming, no doubt about it.

  8. kizi says:

    Thank you for this post, It was a great read which was extremely helpful.

  9. Eric, Thanks for taking the time to communicate your concerns. My 20 year high tech career started in computer graphics and went through marketing, sales and business development. Technology does not magically trump sound business judgement. Businesses don’t thrive when they screw their customers/users. Just because a technology exists doesn’t mean that it belongs in a product or that your customers and community members should be exposed to it. Just look at the mistakes Facebook has made (which could prove to be their undoing). ‘Nuf said?

    I think you’ve actually illustrated my point to some degree. There’s a tendency for tech companies to assume that they should throw everything in that they can. I’m simply suggesting that Google exercise a little more adult supervision than Facebook did, and think a little more closely before they screw valued members of their community.

    As a user with over 6.5 million image views on Google, I’d like them to ensure that I can opt out of a range of emerging technologies, including most involving recognition, auto-tagging or mapping. I would like them to exercise the business sense to extend that simple courtesy. In the grand scheme of things it essentially won’t matter to them, but it will help ensure the continued participation of major contributors of the highest quality content.

    I have to say though that so far they’re leaving a lot of opportunity for revenue untapped, and your characterization of what’s coming definitely kills some potential Google revenue unnecessarily (and no, a startup would be unlikely to be able to capitalize on what I have in mind without the user base of Google+/Picasa/Blogger/Droid). This isn’t really the time or place to go into that in more detail, but I’ll be looking forward to discussing that with Google in the near future.

    If Google ignores their own “do no evil” policy, Apple or someone else will simply step in to meet the unfulfilled need for social media services which stick more strictly to a course of benign and beneficial functionality. Google has a tremendous opportunity, but it’s biggest threat may ultimately turn out to be itself if they make unwise business decisions.