Too late to revive Flickr?

Yahoo has just given its Flickr photo sharing service a much needed facelift. I have a Flickr account and used to love the service, but switched to Google’s Picasaweb more than 2 years ago. I loved the Flickr user interface, in fact I much preferred it to Picasaweb, yet I moved on.

Admittedly, Flickr’s 100 MB/month traffic limit was inconvenient, but what really killed it for me was that they limited free accounts to a maximum of 200 uploaded pictures. Not per week or per month, but in total. Facebook has no picture limit at all and Picasaweb has none provided you use the default setting in which it resizes uploads such that the width and height does not exceed 2048 pixels, which is more than enough for anyone with a 1920×1280 or smaller monitor. The greatest user interface was worthless without the ability to upload more pictures. Over the past 12 months alone I uploaded 7.3 GB in 107 sets consisting of 3385 pictures and videos to Picasaweb.

It’s great that Flickr will now offer up to 1 TB of storage for full size images. But how many former users will be prepared to give them another try, now that they have become familiar with Facebook and Google’s competing services? On a positive note though, the new Flickr will force Google to be more careful where it moves with Picasaweb / Google Photo. The Flickr facelift may not make it a winner yet, but any misstep by Google could.

Android Gallery pictures are blank

I am not sure when this started to happen, but for some time I have been unable to use the Gallery app on my Google Nexus S (Android 4.0.4) phone to view my Picasa albums. It shows all the album names and how many pictures each album contains, but the pictures themselves are invisible. Each shows as a dark grey rectangle only. Only the “Camera” and “sdcard” albums (i.e. local pictures on the device) display correctly.

I tried all the fixes I could find, including these steps:
– Manage Apps, Gallery, Force Stop, Clear data
– Manage Apps, Google+, Force Stop, Clear data
– Manage Apps, Camera, Force Stop, Clear data

This didn’t do anything for me. It re-synced and showed the same blank images again.

So far the best solution has been to install the free app “Just Pictures!”. Upon connecting it to my Google identity, it initially showed only my public albums, but an article in their knowledge base explained how to add login credentials to enable it to manage private albums, too and after that I could view them all.

If anybody else figures out a way to fix the original Android Gallery problem, do let me know!

Google Picasa web prices

Yesterday I was going to upload a set of pictures to Google’s Picasa Web from my bicycle trip the day before, only to get a surprise.

Picasa 3 popped up this message and asked if I wanted to upgrade to more space:

You are currently using 21849 MB (100%) of your 1024 MB

Was I suddenly unable to add new pictures? Why just now? It all turned out to be rather benign, see below.

Almost two years ago I had purchased 80 GB of storage space for $20/year, but then found that even after I uploaded gigabytes of images and videos, it was still only showing as using a fraction of a GB. I then found a post that explained that only images bigger than 1600×1200 pixels (2 MPx) and videos longer than 10 minutes counted towards the purchased limit. That resolution is fine for online viewing: The biggest monitors in practical use are 1920×1200, which is only 2.4 Mpx. Uploading at 3 Mpx or more would have no practical benefit and any prints I’d do I’d do from the full size resolution files on the hard disk anyway.

So in March of this year I downgraded to the free plan, which has a 1 GB limit. Throughout the year I kept uploading pictures no larger than web resolution and videos shorter than 10 minutes. So I was really surprised when I got this message. First I was shocked a bit, because when I checked prizes for subscriptions, I found that while the pre-April 2012 plans like the one I let expire had charged $.25 per GB per year ($5 for 20 GB, $20 for 80 GB), the new plans were 2.4 to 4.8 times more expensive (see Google’s own comparison of the plans). Google now charges monthly and the 25 GB plan works out as $29.88 over 12 months, about $1.20 per GB. That means the new 25 GB plan is about 50% more than the old 80 GB plan I had before. Yikes! 100 GB costs $59.88 per year, or $0.60 per GB per year. The 200 GB, 400 GB and 1 TB plans are proportional in price to the 100 GB plan. While existing users of the old plan can keep renewing their plan, free users can only sign up for the more expensive new plans.

However, all turned out to be a storm in a tea cup, because nothing had really changed: When I finally clicked “OK” to continue, it uploaded my photographs as before and I could view them. All that had changed was that they tell you that you’re over the limit, but the limit only applies to images bigger than 2024×2048 pixels or videos longer than 15 minutes. If you’re above the 1 GB limit as a free user, you only lose the ability to uploaded images bigger than 2024×2048 pixels (they will automatically be scaled down) or videos longer than 15 minutes, which I don’t really need.

I guess they decided to switch to heavier sales tactics to better monetize their service, as after all Google is a commercial company serving their share holders and not just their customers.

Google privacy and account cancellations

After Google announced its new privacy policy to take in effect on March 1, 2012, some people announced their intention to cancel their Google accounts. In a Washington Post online poll almost 2/3 of readers said they would cancel their accounts due to privacy changes. My answer to that is: Oh, really?

Despite what the self-selecting samples of voters on that straw poll suggests, I doubt we’ll hardly see any significant response to the new policy. It won’t even be a blip on Google’s radar screen. I think it is safe to bet that most users of the Google+ service also have Facebook accounts, whether they use them much or not. Facebook and its history of data privacy (or lack thereof) is not exactly a benign alternative to anything Google offers. I can not see people stop using Youtube, cut themselves off from their Gmail accounts and switching to what, Yahoo or Bing for web searches? The fact remains, Google may not live up to its “do no evil” credo at all times or forever, but most of us have even less confidence in companies like Facebook or Microsoft.

Google’s move is all about more clicks, i.e. more advertising revenue, which is their life blood. If they can show better targeted ads on web searches based on what you write about in Gmail or watch on Youtube, that’s more clicks that their advertisers pay for.

What worries me is if their data gets opened to the NSA, police, etc especially under the loose rules of something like the Patriot’s Act. Inside the US the constitution has been eroded further and further over the years, while its protections have never applied to most fellow humans who do not happen to be US citizens, as far as the US government is concerned. That is not a problem specific to Google latest move though. It’s something that ultimately only US voters can solve.

Google Photos links to Google+ Photos instead of Picasa

I am a Google Picasa user who earlier this year also joined the Google+ social network. I use Google Picasa to share photographs and videos with friends and family. Google+ makes it easy to share pictures and albums with specific selected circles of friends.

Morning light on Mount Fuji

Until recently, I could conveniently launch the Picasa Web Albums site by clicking “Photos” in the Google navigation bar at the top of, for example, Gmail. A few days ago this changed and the link now takes me to the Google+ photo viewer. For me the new behaviour is inconvenient, because there are many things I can do with my albums in Picasa Web Albums that I can’t do from the Google+ photo viewer (which is really just meant for viewing and little else).

If you’re missing the Google link to Picasa, the simple workaround for now is to bookmark this URL:

and use it whenever you want to invoke Picasa Web Albums. Apparently, Google is working on integrating the oogle+ photo viewer with Picasa Web Albums more closely, so eventually the Picasa functionality will become available under “Google Photos” again.

On the positive side, it appears that the integration between Google+ and Picasa Web Albums has practically eliminated storage limitations for Picasa users. Facebook already offered unlimited picture uploads as long as each album set was limited to 200 pictures. With Picasa and Plus, only pictures above 4 Mpx or videos above 15 minutes count towards the limit. As Picasa by default resizes all uploaded pictures to 1600×1200 (which is 1.9 Mpx), this means de-facto unlimited storage for most users.