Forgive me if this sounds especially arrogant or offends anyone, but I think I should be asked to join Google as the project lead for Picasa Web Albums, because I am really let down by what exists today and I think that I might be able to write something better myself with a week’s worth of programming and a server running PHP5.
Google has always been a “release now, update frequently later” kind of company, and I respect that. It’s cooler, as a user, to get something today and slowly and unexpectedly watch features trickle in, but Picasa Web Albums is a disaster right now. Read more for the details.
Okay, maybe “a disaster” is a little extreme. But it has lots of major problems, and they are all over the place. The problems pervade the entire app, and make it really hard to use effectively. But mostly, you can boil it down to this: it doesn’t scale, period.
Let’s examine. I currently have 52 albums in my collection, and the front page now takes about 2 second to load just the front page, which would be a bear over dial up (which my father still uses). On top of that, it has to load at least 52 thumbnails just to go from album to album. That’s a pretty slow experience.
The second problem is organization, and a simple feature could fix the first problem as well – galleries. Or subfolders. Or albums within albums, whatever you want to call it. This simple, logical ability would make Picasaweb incredibly more usable because not only could I group the front page, but it would make much more sense! This has to happen soon! Really, it has to. Not ONE other major photo app displays a thumbnails from every album, gallery, set, etc on the user’s front page. Know why? Because it’s a bad, ineffcient idea, the page loads incredibly slowly, and it makes navigating your photostream clunky.
I get the “simple user interface reaches the largest crowd” thing. But a photo collection of any size becomes a pain in the neck with Picasaweb. Quickly.
Next is the incredibly weak let-down that is tagging. I love the concept. And Google did one thing right: tagging is non-obtrusive but searchable. Unfortunately, not only is the implemention [[http://firsttube.com/read/I-Found-a-Google-Bug|bug-ridden]], but it’s impossible and impractical to tag all of your photos, because they must be done one by one. Hey Googlers, if you’re going to give us a feature, at least make it worthwhile. Do yourselves a favor, go sign up for a Flickr account, upload 1000 photos, and check out the Organizr. You already have a nice little Ajax interface for adding comments to all the photos in an album. You’ve got the Gmail apply tags to multiple conversations thing down. You’ve gotta iron this out. Seriously. Tagging is both painful and useless as is.
After all the work Google has done in all of their apps to rid us of the concept of folders and favorites in favor of “starring,” how is it that we cannot “star” a photo yet to indicate its one of our favorites? Seriously, where is the consistency? I almost wonder if any of the dev team has ever used another Google app. Google makes their online apps incredibly consistent – from Docs and Spreadsheets to Gmail to Maps to Checkout to Groups it all feels the same. Picasaweb is mostly there, but lacks so much of what could be.
I haven’t even touched on so much of what else should be there: password-protected albums, allowing others to “star” your photos and you to “star” others’ photos, a view count, a way to make some photos in an album private, and many more.
I have spent a lot of time moving from Flickr to Picasaweb, but these guys are going to have to kick it into high gear if they want to retain me as a customer in the future. Otherwise, I’m going back to Flickr or over to smugmug.