Google and Yahoo embrace photo sharing

The easiest way to share photos is to publish them online, and the new Picasa Web Albums (from Google) and Yahoo Photos make that easier than ever. I liked aspects of both beta services, but I give Yahoo's service the early edge for its solid search features.

In what Google describes as "pre-beta" form, Picasa Web Albums feels as polished as some of its longer-running rivals. Google ties the site to beta version 2.5 of its Picasa software. You edit and organize your photos in Picasa, and then click the Web Album button to post them online. Picasa's defaults make albums public--so anyone with an invitation can browse them--but switching albums to private viewing is easy. You can upload photos at their original resolution or let the service downsize them to save storage space. Google offers 250MB of space free; you can pay US$25 per year for 6GB.

Google's site layout is attractive and functional. You can switch freely among your entire collection, your public albums, and other people's bookmarked albums. You can also see photo metadata like the camera model and exposure information for a selected image, view slide shows, and download photos (yours or others') to your PC.

Strangely, Picasa Web Albums forgoes Google's search prowess, and the company will not say whether such a function is coming later. Currently you have no way to tag photos or search for images.

In contrast, the single best feature of Yahoo Photos is its search function. You can easily add Flickr-like tags to your images so that you can find specific photos via a search box at the top of the page. And whereas Google's photo editing tools are all in the Picasa software, Yahoo's site includes exposure adjustments, cropping tools, red-eye reduction, and even fancy border effects.

Yahoo Photos' biggest weakness is its design. The interface is cluttered with ads and tiered menus that I had to experiment with--even then, I never really felt at home.

The upload system lacks an organizer application. And Yahoo sets images to private by default--odd, since the Web is all about sharing. Also, it's easy to miss the fact that you can upload images at their full size, because that feature is hidden behind a check box that describes the settings in terms of upload speed. At least for now, Yahoo supplies free, unlimited storage.

What Picasa Web Albums lacks in features it makes up for in polish and charm. On the other hand, Yahoo Photos will appeal to folks who like the idea of sharing and editing their photos, all online.

Google Picasa Web Albums

Beta Product, not rated

Desktop photo organizer combined with Web sharing is elegant, but why is there no search or tagging?

Price when reviewed: Free (250MB storage), US$25 per year (6GB storage)

Available at picasaweb.google.com

Yahoo Photos

Beta product, not rated

This powerful but cluttered photo organizer is a virtual replacement for your desktop photo apps--and it has a strong search function.

Price when reviewed: Free

Available at photos.yahoo.com

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