Does Google’s Acquisition of Picnik Suggest That Google’s Picasa is Getting Ready to Seriously Challenge Yahoo’s Flickr Photo Sharing Site?

Does Google's Acquisition of Picnik Suggest That Google's Picasa is Getting Ready to Seriously Challenge Yahoo's Flickr Photo Sharing Site

Google acquired image editing site Picnik today. Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but you can read the announcements by Picnik and Google on their respective blogs.

This is interesting to me for a few reasons.

First, Picnik is the default image editing software built into Yahoo’s photosharing site Flickr. While nobody has yet suggested that Picnik will be getting the boot from Flickr, it would seem to me an awkward relationship at best for a Yahoo property to be using a Google owned service for part of their offering. I suspect that Picnik gets dropped by Flickr and replaced with some sort of new offering.

But second, you have to ask yourself why Google would buy Picnik and why now.

The most logical application for Picnik at Google, would be for Google to integrate the software into their photo sharing property Picasa which competes with Flickr. The fact that Google would allocate $$$ towards Picasa right now may signal that they are getting serious about finally mounting some reasonable effort at trying to displace Flickr as the photo social sharing King of the internet.

What else makes me think this? Google Buzz. While I consider Flickr superior in a lot of ways to Picasa today, the biggest advantage that Flickr has always held over their competitors is how strong a grip they’ve had on the social aspect of photo sharing. But now that Buzz has arrived on the scene (and your Buzz photos go into Picasa albums by default by the way), it would appear that Google finally has a viable social network to compete with Flickr’s own internal social network inside of Flickr. By combining the social power of buzz, with an enhanced version of Picasa, Google could mount a formidable competing offering to Yahoo’s Flickr.

Personally I hope this is the case. Why? Because Flickr needs competition. Not only have they grown lazy in terms of innovation (because they can), they treat their users and their users’ data disrespectfully (because they can) censoring users and nuking whole communities on their site. With a stronger competitor out there it may force Yahoo to finally begin beefing up Flickr as well as treating their users better than they have been.

I’ve been actively using Picasa for the past few weeks after not really using them for years, mostly because of their integration with Buzz. They are still a long ways away from Flickr. Flickr today is a much more elegant offering with far better organizational capabilities and a huge body of work already on the site which carries weight. But with the right engineers hacking on Picasa and the right $$$ being allocated from Google, I’m pretty sure Picasa could in fact build a better Flickr. Combining the social sharing aspects of Buzz with a beefed up Picasa from Google, would be a formidable offering on the social photo sharing space.

Certainly integrating Picnik into Picasa (weird how their names are so similar) will enhance Picasa a bit. But here are the things I think Picasa should also be working on if they want to offer viable competition to Flickr.

1. Picasa should redesign the service around the concept of the photostream. By default Picasa only has album views. But people think in terms of streams much of the time. Flickr has a stream AND albums (sets). Picasa just has albums (and sort of clunky albums at that). By retooling the site with a photostream as a primary view, Picasa would feel more comfortable for people who wanted to migrate away from Flickr and towards Picasa. Picasa could still have albums (just like Flickr has sets), but a photostream should be the primary main view.

2. Picasa needs better organizational tools. Flickr’s organizer is *amazing*. In fact, it’s probably what I’m impressed with more than anything that they’ve ever done. The ability to batch organize photos is powerful. Picasa’s not as much. One very easy thing Picasa could do right away to improve their organizational capabilities would be to introduce SmartSets. SmartSets allow you to build albums/sets around the concept of tags. I can say, for instance, put all of my photos that are tagged/keyworded “neon” into my neon album/set. There could be better support this way for overlapping albums as well. I might have a Golden Gate Bridge album (for instance) that had all my Golden Gate Bridge photos. But those photos could also be in a SmartSet for my San Francisco photos too.

3. Picasa should make blogging photos easier. Flickr has super easy html code that you can easily cut and paste and then use to blog. Picasa allows this too but with more complicated tables that are difficult to custom size and are harder work to use. Picasa could easily copy flickr’s approach and get more traction from bloggers wanting to use Picasa to host their photos.

4. Picasa needs a better “Recent Activity” view. “Recent Activity” may be the most viewed page on Flickr for active users. Picasa needs a better way for you to easily and quickly view what’s going on with your photos. Likes/comments/tags/etc. in a central page view on Picasa.

5. Picasa needs a super easy to use Flickr-Picasa importer. Our photos belong to us. Not Flickr. So does the metadata (tags, geotags, etc.) associated with our photos. Much of this data today is trapped in the silo that is Flickr. Picasa should build an application that makes it super simple to (with the press of a button) transfer all of your Flickr photos (and metadata) easily over to Picasa. If Flickr won’t grant Picasa a commercial API key for this, then Google/Picasa should make a point of publicizing that Yahoo/Flickr is not serious about user data portability and a more open and relevant web.

There is a ton more that Picasa could do to compete with Flickr. Hopefully today’s announcement of Picnik is but a first step in a serious attempt by Google to build a viable competitor to Flickr.

Congratulations, by the way, to the Picnik team on today’s exciting announcement.

How to Turn Microsoft Around

Time, Walk, Step, TurnTime, Walk, Step, Turn Hosted on Zooomr

[Disclaimer: Arm chair quarterbacking is easy, execution is a heck of a lot harder]

John Furrier, CEO of Podtech, is out with a post saying that Microsoft needs new blood. He says that Bill Gates is off saving the world and that Steve Ballmer doesn’t seem hungry enough. He says that although he’s been a Windows user for many years that a Mac may be in his future very shortly. His post is in response to widely reported news yesterday that Microsoft’s top search executive, Christopher Payne, is leaving Microsoft.

I guess Payne leaving Microsoft doesn’t really surprise me. Microsoft continues to lose market share in search to Google. What is more surprising to me though is what seems like an almost daily slate of negative news on Microsoft. Yesterday I noted that influential analyst Michael Gartenberg was leaving Microsoft as an “enthusiastic evangelist” after less than a month (he says there is no story here but it’s still surprising to see this), also this week you had another “enthusiastic analyst” Stephanie Quilao leaving her post after 9 1/2 weeks. Stephanie was a bit more candid than Gartenberg blogging that there was no Microsoft product beyond a wireless mouse that she felt she could blog about.

Add to these recent defections Chris Pirillo’s post last week that he was going to “upgrade” back from Windows Vista to XP (not good when you are spending over $600 million to try and promote your new operating system).

More than all of this though is the informal anecdotal evidence I’ve been seeing of a shift from the Windows operating system to the Mac. I wrote about my own conversion last year. In the past few months I’ve been completely surprised at some of the names of people that have privately emailed me saying that they were switching as well. And then earlier this week over coffee with one of the top technology journalists in the world (no, not Walt Mossberg, but close up there) what did he pull out of his bag? A brand spanking new sleek black MacBook Pro less than a week old.

Now the numbers are not necessarily going to reflect this yet, but when your key influencers, bloggers, journalists, etc. begin abandoning Windows and moving to the Mac it’s like a wave and over time this wave can actually threaten Microsoft’s monopoly on the operating system. Look for Apple’s numbers to continue advancing here in the months ahead.

So the question becomes how should Microsoft turn this around?

1. The problem with the PC is the user experience. It’s not good. Especially when compared to a Mac the PC does not provide a good enough quality of experience. The main reason for this is the whole nature of how Macs vs. PCs are built and sold. The Windows operating system is an open system vs. Apple’s closed system on the Macintosh. What this means is that there is a near infinite number of hardware / software configurations for the PC.

Microsoft took a little heat earlier this year when they gave a bunch of bloggers free high end Ferrari PCs with Vista on them. Why did Microsoft give these bloggers these PCs instead of just mailing them free Vista upgrade discs? To ensure the quality of their experience. If they didn’t these same bloggers might have ended up having experiences like Chris Pirillo did and writing that Vista was crap.

They say a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link and the same is true of computers. Apple has the luxury of being able to test limited and known configurations on their products. Combine this with an almost manic commitment to user experience and you get a better product.

Microsoft of course can’t just reverse course and piss off all of their OEMs and start building their own PC, but what they can do is create a Microsoft certification whereby thoroughly tested systems receive a special Microsoft seal of approval. This would be reserved only for PCs that met the most rigorous testing requirements. Microsoft should even offer to provide the actual customer service and support for these PCs (if they are built perfectly enough there won’t be many calls, eh?). These certified PCs *can* cost more money. People will pay a bit more for a better experience.

2. The problem with is that it lacks compelling content. Robert Scoble says that he told Microsoft to buy Flickr three weeks before Yahoo actually did. Flickr is compelling content. Flickr was one of the best buys of the decade. For $35 million Yahoo got something that now has over 7 million registered users, over 20 million monthly uniques, over 400 million photos (and the best organized photo library in the world), and something that is going to actually (eventually) provide Yahoo a big leg up in image search.

But there are so many other great companies out there still to buy (hint Yahoo, Google and IAC have been buying a lot of them). I don’t use because I don’t give a crap about having a homepage that shows me the news and weather and stock quotes. *had* a lot of potential. Now it is pretty much dead.

Given the choice between building or buying Microsoft almost always chooses to build. And yet where is the Flickr of Microsoft? Where is the digg of Microsoft? Where is the Pandora or Last FM of Microsoft? Where is the or Involver of Microsoft? Where is the Podtech of Microsoft? Where is the Twitter of Microsoft? Where is the TechMeme of Microsoft? I don’t know if it is just too bureaucratic a place to build cool things that I want to use but they are not being built. These social networks have particular application in search that has not even been realized yet today.

Microsoft is sitting on $29 *billion* in cash and short-term investments. Rather than buying sleepy little companies, Microsoft needs to begin beefing up it’s arsenal with properties that people will actually use and love.

In the next year Microsoft should spend $3 billion buying everything cool that it can get it’s hands on irrespective of the busness outlooks of the individual internet properties. By combining these properties into something cool they *can* build a presence yet on the net.

3. Open an incubator in San Francisco. As part of spending $3 billion to buy a host of great internet properties the key thing is to let them run independently. What Microsoft should do is just create this kick ass campus in San Francisco. They should have a cafeteria like Google does and feed these people and encourage them to spe
nd 24 hours a day there. It could become a think tank of sorts producing some of the best stuff on the internet. Why San Francisco? Because this is where these things are being built these days.

4. Get their evangelism back on track. Scoble was a big loss for Microsoft. Gartenberg would have been an interesting choice to try and fill his shoes but now he’s gone as well. Microsoft needs to, in conjunction with the above efforts, get the right evangelists in place to then promote their new initiatives. Top bloggers, journalists, analysts, etc. should all be considered. Rather than one or two top evangelists though they should hire about 30 of these connectors and also give them direct access to the executives making the business decisions at Microsoft.

Fundamental to the four changes above is a realignment of how Microsoft views businesses. It means going from a structured corporate environment where each purchased company must have a compelling profit/loss case made to an environment where the vision of the future takes as compelling a seat as short term profitability. It also means adopting a new spirit that not only accepts but encourages and rewards self criticism. Less the company line and corporate mantra and more innovation. Roadblocks to innovation (including short term profitibilty) need to be removed. Processes need to be streamlined and Microsoft needs to redefine itself as a place where talent comes, not where talent leaves.

Honestly I’m not sure that any corporation can turn itself around the way that Microsoft needs to. Even Yahoo while acquiring the right internet properties still can’t seem to integrate them in the ways that they should. Like I said before arm chair quarterbacking is frequently a lot easier than executing.

You can digg this story here.