Further proof Google plans world domination …

JISHOU, HUNAN — I have a lot of photos: old photos, new photos, photos I want to share, photos I want to preserve. So, I took advantage of my Google account and starting using Picasaweb soon after I arrived in China.

Part of my grand plan was to show my family and friends my life here, so they can feel more a part of it. Picasaweb was the easiest way to do it. Facebook, my favorite social networking site, has painfully slow uploads sometimes, making it a photo-sharing option for masochists. Qzone, since I am in China, is lightning fast, but its menus are in Chinese, which frustrates my peeps in the USA.

So, I downloaded the desktop Picasa application (which has a quirky interface), and started organizing and uploading my photos to Picasaweb.google.com/john.wheaton. One nice feature (which Flickr also provides) is to tag the location of the photos or albums, so visitors have an immediate idea where I was at the time.

Last night, I discovered a new Picasaweb feature, that’s as helpful as it is eerie: automated people tagging. Facebook users know you can tag people in photos, but if you have a lot of photos, the process is tedious. (And for me, frustratingly slow. Sometimes the tagging fails.) Google, on the other hand, has adapted facial recognition software to search through your albums and locate faces it thinks belong to the same individuals. You then do some quality control, eliminate the false positives, enter one tag per person, and bingo! all your photos containing a specific person are tagged at once.

In addition, you can associate each face with an email address, so your Google contact list doubles as a mini-facebook (using the original definition of the word).

Well, I’m impressed. It almost makes up for the desktop application’s annoying tendency to crash my feeble computer as I try to sort and eliminate unwanted images from the Picasa catalog.

Word of advice: don’t let Picasa search your entire drive(s) for images to index. It will mindlessly catalog every png, gif, jpg or what have you, even if they have no real importance. Case in point: I used to set up php-nuke sites for clients, and habitually would back up their sites onto my hard drive before mucking around with code. Picasa indexed all those image files, too. Bleah. So, if you have lots of images you don’t want Picasa to find, either archive them (zip, rar, tar or gz) or tell the app to index only specific folders.

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