Google Pushes Picasa Into Web Albums

Google on Tuesday launched a new feature in its Picasa photo management application, Picasa Web Albums. The tool is designed to help users post and share their photos on the Web.

The invitation-only service comes with the latest version of Picasa and features one-click Web upload using the tool’s new “Web Album” button. It also offers free storage space to post and share about 1,000 photos and end-to-end photo management that allows users to download uploaded photos back to their computer.

Google acquired the Picasa technology in 2004. The free, downloadable Web Album automatically resizes and optimizes photos to fill available screen space and touts pre-loaded images to enable scrolling using arrow keys. It’s designed to mimic a desktop experience of “flipping” through photos.

The Social Networking Component

Users can sign up for an invitation using their Gmail username. No invitation or sign-in is required to view a friend’s photos online. Each Picasa Web Albums account comes with 250 MB of free storage space and a “My Favorites” tab. In true online social networking style, users can also add captions, post and view comments, and organize photos online.

“There are social networking sites that offer photo sharing, which makes the market for online photo albums even more competitive,” Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Marketing Intelligence, told TechNewsWorld. Sterling pointed to Flickr and Yahoo Photos as fierce competitors in the race for users — and they aren’t the only ones.

The Fierce Competition

There are dozens of photo sharing services, like Photobucket, all of which are looking to make their mark in this niche. Photobucket, for instance, announced its Jwidget on Wednesday. The tool enables any Web site to provide free image and video hosting for its users. Photobucket has 18 million members and an innovative tool that could draw more.

“It is our goal to make it extremely easy for our members to express themselves visually on a variety of Web sites, and for our partners to enable their members to have the best image and video sharing experience possible,” said Photobucket CEO Alex Welch.

Google’s Play

Google’s goal appears to be to generate a new revenue stream with its online photo sharing service. For US$25 a year, Picasa Web Album users can get a subscription to an additional 6 GB of storage. That’s room enough to post about 25,000 photos.

“There are areas where Google is definitely looking to diversify its revenues, but not aggressively so,” Sterling said. “If Google doesn’t promote Picasa, then it won’t see much revenue because it’s a crowded space.”

There are currently no ads in Picasa or Picasa Web Albums, which is standard operating procedure for Google. It launched its Gmail, and other tools, without ads. Once a user base has been established, though, the search engine giant typically introduces its bread and butter: paid search.

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