Review: Picasaweb vs. Flickr

Now that I’ve successfully used most of the features on both and Picasaweb, I decided I would write a short review of the two services. The need for online photo storage is certainly a very real one, and different services have different objectives. Here’s a short breakdown.

Read more for the review.

Flickr (hereafter, flickr) is owned by Yahoo! and has been online for about 3 years now. Flickr is heavily AJAX based, and is very dynamic. Due to a very robust web API, there are many third party tools available to a user. Flickr gives each free user account an allotment of 200 public photos and 20MB of upload bandwidth per month. While you can upload more, only the most recent 200 photos will be visible to visitors. Both of these limits are extremely reachable.

Flickr offers “Pro” accounts, and these accounts have substantially more space. Uploads are increased to 2GB per month with unlimited storage. “Unlimited” is a tricky term, although I’ve never heard of a Pro user getting turned away for using too much disk space.

Flickr’s organization system is tag-based, akin to Gmail’s labeling system. Photos can be tagged an arbitrary number of times with aribtrary tags. In addition, they can belong to a “set.” A free account is given three sets and a pro account unlimited. Sets are a bit like the traditional “album.” While browsing by a user’s tags is fairly easy, it’s not easy to cycle through those photos.

In its lifespan, the flickr system has also matured and introduced some nice collaborative features. Users can create groups and these groups can host discussion and a photo pool. Users can be granted access to these groups – and the permissions are fairly granular, where an administrator can limit the people in the group, the number of photos in the pool, even the privacy of the content. All group photos come from an individual’s photostream.

As I mentioned before, there are many third party tools available to interact with Flickr. I have had luck with several tools thus far, although some have been hit-or-miss. While this is not flickr’s fault, I find that there are times it’s hard to upload large numbers of files. What I’ve really been missing is a free-as-in-beer iPhoto integration tool. There appears to be one, but it’s commercial. Yahoo has not thus far released their own official flickr tool, although I understand they do recommend Flickr Uploadr. Personally, I’ve had problems with the Windows version (it tells me that the images aren’t JPGs when, in fact, they are).

Security wise, each app using the API must be authorized by you before it can upload, which is a great feature.

Another fantastic feature of flickr is the the built-in feeds. Flickr offers an astounding number of feeds, including RSS, Atom, SQL, and many more. A cursory web search will reveal other dynamic feeds available. Using these feeds, it’s relatively easy to syndicate a photocast or even sync a remote site.

Flickr’s strength lies in its management tools. The fantastic “organizr” allows a user to perform amazing batch edits and manipulate their photos in virtually any way imaginable, complete with editing metadata and EXIF data. In addition, when logged in, you can often change titles, tags, descriptions, etc. inline, AJAX style, without reloading the page.

While flickr is a mature site, it has a serious drawback – it’s not familiar feeling to less technical people. My parents struggle to understand the tagging concept and don’t immediately understand how to locate certain pictures or types of pictures when I have nearly 1000 photos in my photostream.

Overall, flickr is a great service, and I am a Pro member.

Picasaweb may be one of the very few non-search Google applications not in a “beta test” phase. However, that’s because it’s in a “test” phase, which I have to assume is pre-beta test. That said, it should be remembered that Picasaweb, Google’s foray into online photo storage, is a newcomer to the field.

Picasaweb’s initial offering is 250MB, which Google claims will hold about 1000 photos at 1600 pixels. This would seem to indicate that Google may be degrading the JPGs or applying some sort of compression algorithm to your photos upon upload. Either way, You can certainly store more than Flickr’s 200 photos. By upgrading storage (a feature only available to US users, by the way!), your limit is raised to 6GB (actually 6394 MB). After uploading about 1000 photos so far, I’m still at 475 MB. Many have been compressed, since the default is compressed to 1600px.

Google has approached photo management differently and it shows. They have opted for a much simpler, albeit less powerful, interface. Instead of tags, which they’ve implemented in their own apps like Gmail, they’ve gone with albums. A photo belongs to one and only one album (though it can be copied to other albums). While this means I can’t send someone a single link to look at “Friends in DC” and “Friends in FL” in one link, it does mean my mother can figure it out, and so can everyone else.

Google has released a new version of their image management software [[|Picasa]] which integrates “web albums” and makes it drop dead easy to create or add to albums on Picasaweb. The tool is extremely simple and very quickly formats/resizes/uploads images. Google has also released a Mac bundle with two great tools. First, the Picasa Web Uploader. It’s a very simple drag-and-drop upload tool. The second part is an iPhoto add-on, a great one, which makes integration with your web albums as simple as a photo export.

One amazing feature of Picasaweb is the fact that, should an author make an album fully public, you can click “Download to Picasa” and download the entire album in ONE CLICK. This is a great feature I’d like to see in other online tools. This only works in Windows, and it sems that Picasa registers a new VFS so your browser understands the picasa:// directive.

Picasaweb has far fewer features than flickr. There are no groups, there’s no sharing or discussion beyond photo commenting, and there are no EXIF manipulation tools. Beyond some simple rearragement tools, all the work needs to be done on the client, and changes must be re-uploaded.

In the end, flickr and Picasaweb provide different things and a comparison isn’t as apropos as you’d think. Picasa integrates with your current tools (Picasa on Win and Linux, iPhoto on Mac) and creates a simple interface to share and organize your photos. Flickr’s strength comes from its thriving Web 2.0 community and collaboration and search. If you are seeking a place to store your online photos, either service will likely serve you perfectly well.

Ultimately, I have chosen Picasa because Flickr’s interface is just too clunky for quickly accessing specific photos when you have a large number of photos in your photostream. However, I still use flickr, and fairly avidly, because the communities are great and the number of photos is simply astounding. It comes down to the fact that Picasaweb is a personal experience and flickr is a group one, and what I’m looking for for my photos is a simple way to show them to my family.

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