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Yesterday, Google launched its new photo storing service, appropriately called Google Photos. In the most basic sense, it’s a place to hold images and videos online. That of course makes them accessible from any device, at any time — which by itself is pretty fantastic.

However, there are other cloud storage services for photos and the idea itself isn’t particularly earth-shattering. Instead, after using Google Photos for about a day I think what makes it revolutionary is a combination of power, features, and storage capacity.

Google Photos offers unlimited storage:


The most obviously exciting thing about Google Photos is that you can use up as much storage space as you want. The downside is that Google will compress your images slightly. However, at my office Thursday my editor compared an original version of an image to one that had been compressed on Google Photos. The difference was virtually invisible, so unless you’re printing large versions of your images, the compression probably isn’t a big deal. The image above of Paris, for example, has gone through the Google Photos compression and still looks pretty good. (Click on it to see a larger version.)

The search and organization abilities are astonishing:

This is where Google Photos really excels. On Thursday, I uploaded thousands of photos from my phone and two computers. It’s a massive library of images, which makes for a huge pain while blogging; I might want to write about Venice, for example, but my Venice pictures are on another computer. And even when pictures are on the device I happen to be using, actually finding them has proven to be a major hassle.

Google Photos gives me hope that the days of endlessly scrolling through photo galleries are over. Not only are all my images now in one place, Google has figured out how to make them highly searchable. If I type in “Milan,” for example, my Milan pictures pop up — even if I never actually told Google those pictures were from Milan.

But it gets even wilder. You can basically type anything in, and Google will find it in your pictures. I tried searching for things like “food” and “bike lanes” and Google delivered. My editor at work searched for “farmer’s market” and “lemon” and sure enough Google found pictures showing those things.

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Keep in mind that none of the photos that turned up in these searches were tagged with corresponding terms. Instead, Google is apparently just figuring out what they show. Gizmodo wrote that “it’s crazy how well this works. Creepy even.” And I agree that it is a bit disconcerting to think about Google both looking at and understanding your pictures.

Still, for me Google Photos has already made it so much easier to find images that there’s no question that it’s worth it.

There are a bunch of quirky-but-sometimes-useful features:

The other so-incredible-it’s-creepy aspect of Google Photos is that it acts on its own to remix your photos for you (while leaving the originals intact). Sometimes the results are really impressive, as was the case in this panoramic view of Venice it stitched together from a bunch of images I took last fall:


Other times the results are a bit wonky. Google automatically created the image below, for example, by joining a series of photos I took while tracking the bicyclist in the center of the image. As a result, if you look closely you’ll see that he’s actually in the panorama three times:


Google Photos also will join similar photos and create animated gifs. Here’s a gif it made of Laura at the L.A. Library downtown:


And here’s the gif I made last year with the same images:


Google’s version is slower than mine, but it’s also higher resolution and, most amazingly, has lined up each picture to compensate for slight camera movements. Google Photos created more than a dozen gifs out of my images, and they were all similarly lined up and impressive.


Without some control over these gifs I’m not sure if I’d use them much, but it’s incredible to see the software just spontaneously create this stuff.

Other Google Photos features were interesting, but less exciting. It occasionally puts Instagram-esque filters on photos that I didn’t particularly care for, and sometimes it groups photos into collages that I also deleted (it gives you the option of saving or deleting all of its spontaneous creations).

Perhaps more bizarrely, it also spontaneously created videos by editing together raw footage and images — and then setting it to cheesy stock music. In a mildly nightmarish twist, it kept choosing the images I took while covering unrest in Ferguson, and I ended up with two videos of riot police and protesters marching through the streets to the sounds of generic funk and acoustic guitar. It was weird.

But that blip notwithstanding, Google photos appears to be simultaneously more powerful and more user-friendly than the alternatives I’ve used. The result is that for bloggers, journalists, and anyone else creating content from large photo libraries, it has the potential to be a game changer.

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.


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