Google’s Picasa Software and Gmail: Not Quite Great, But So Sticky

I started using Google’s Picasa 2 software because 1) I was looking for a way to do easy batch-viewing and -editing of photo image files, 2) it was recommended and 3) it’s free.

Results are mixed, though on balance I find Picasa useful as a supplement to Photoshop Elements 2 (which has limited batch-viewing and no batch-editing capabilities). Picasa makes it easy to select a group of images and apply simple corrections en masse, e.g., to create a virtual contact-sheet for film scans — very helpful. Picasa also makes it simple to categorize and search images, and to export or email them (resized appropriately, and automatically, according to easy-to-set user preferences). Its image-adjustment controls are rudimentary but well designed and effective. There is no way to remove dust spots, but Picasa is clearly intended for the casual digital photographer rather than the hobbyist film aficionado (who can always use Photoshop for specialized editing).

Picasa’s big flaw is that it has no provision for displaying the directory hierarchies on the user’s hard drive. Picasa’s file-library window shows only directories that contain images. The apparent idea is that the user will search for images by date, tag or label, so who needs hierarchy. Or maybe Google expects everyone to keep his images in the Windows-default “My Photos” or “My Pictures” directory. Or perhaps it’s a carryover from some Mac-centric view of things that has contempt for Windows-style directories (Picasa seems designed to compete with Apple’s iPhoto).

The problem is that I already have my own date-based categorization system, in which the images from each roll of film or digital photo session are stored in subdirectories under a higher-level directory that’s named according to the date the photos were made. For example, photos made April 12 are stored in subdirectories named “hi-res scans” and “edited versions”, in the directory “20050412”, which is itself located in the higher-level directory “2005”. I think my categorization system makes a lot of sense, since it’s much easier to manage than if I had to label every photo (there are thousands) or manually import it into an album (as in iPhoto). Dates correspond to events in my life and are usually the easiest points of reference when it comes to finding a particular image. Labeling is a nuisance, and would force me not only to create numerous categories but also to go back and add category labels to older photos every time I added a new category. Too much trouble. Only the lowest common denominator of labeling is going to work for me, and that means dates. But Picasa recognizes only the lowest-level directories in my hierarchy, so instead of displaying a simple hierarchy of directories in the form “\YYYY\YYYYMMDD-X”, which I can very quickly navigate and drill down into, I see a jumble of the identically named low-level subdirectories (“hi-res scans” and “edited versions”) that contain the actual image files. This is silly. There ought to be an option to view image files in conventional, Windows-style directory hierarchies. It’s an easy fix if Google decides to do it, and I hope that they will.

Other than these quibbles, Picasa is really quite good, and that’s partly due to its stickiness. What makes it sticky is its seamless integration with email, particularly Google’s Gmail service, and here Google was extremely clever. It understood how much utility could be gained by making it easier to email photos. Before Picasa, when I wanted to send a photo, I had to first open the photo in Photoshop, then edit it to reduce its size, then I had to save the edited file and remember where on my HD I saved it, then I had to create, address and title a new message using my email program, then I had to find the photo file on my HD and attach it to my email message before I could send it. With Picasa, I select a photo, click “Email”, click “Sign in” (for the first photo sent), specify an address and click “Send” — that’s it. This process works particularly well with Gmail because Gmail gives you a lot of storage space; you don’t have to worry about your email server filling up with bulky jpegs. My threshold for emailing photos is now much lower than it was previously.

When I started using Picasa it seemed like OK software, but then Incognito sent me a Gmail invite. Soon we were exchanging photos (and sending Gmail invitations to third parties), and I was using both Picasa and Gmail a lot more than I had initially intended. This is a winning system. Google stands to make a lot of money from it because of the context-sensitive ads it embeds in the emails, so I suspect they will continue to improve it.

8 thoughts on “Google’s Picasa Software and Gmail: Not Quite Great, But So Sticky”

  1. Yes, a big thank you Jonathan for putting me on Picasa. Fantastic little program because as you say, it makes emailing pictures a 1 click process as opposed to a multi step process.

  2. I use ACDSee Classic for my purposes, and Photo Shop 7 for touch-ups as well as more sophisticated image manipulation. The way I store my files is:


    That way, all my files are clearly marked.

  3. Bruce, thanks. I considered and rejected ACDSee, Irfanview and maybe one or two other image-mgmt programs, but I no longer remember why I didn’t like them. Picasa is the best SW that I have found for my purposes so far. If I rename my lowest-level subdirectories with dates, the way you do it, I think I would have an easier time. But that would be a lot of work, so I’m probably going to live with imperfection and hope that future Picasa versions will recognize all directories.

  4. Among the reasons I like ACDSee is its ability to do batch renames and captions that are stored via a simple database and presented in the ACDSee browser as a separate column.

    Speaking of things, though, my hard drive crashed today. More specifically, the secondary partition of my desktop now has several bad sectors, which in effect bars me from accessing my own photos. I’ve got a chkdsk running now and scheduled to go overnight, and I hope to be able to cover the 60GB in that partition by the time I wake up tomorrow morning.

  5. Hi Bruce, I used ACDSee as well up until recently. I liked that it was no frills, and loaded pictures the fastest of any program for browsing. The main drawback is that ACD doesn’t have editing capabilities, and to send via email was still a tedious process. Picasa seems to have picked up on what makes good photo browsing as well (speed) and built Picasa as a useful no frills package. The key is integration, ACD doesn’t integrate with anything. Picasa integrates with everything: email, screen saver, etc. Sorry to hear about your HD. I’ve never had a crash, hopefully never.

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