As Google+ Pushes Hard Into Photos, the Race Is On to Own Your Memories

Published on May 16, 2013
by Mike Isaac

AutoEnhanceOur memories are important. We take millions of photos every single day. We post to our Facebook Timeline, pin to Pinterest boards. Clearly, we care about the past. And our friends in Silicon Valley would love to take care of all of it for us.

Thanks to app tweaks and software updates, it’s easier than ever for you to hand your photographic history over to the company of your choice.

Consider this: Take a photo using your iPhone, and Apple can instantly upload your snapshot to your iCloud account, where it’s accessible via any of your connected Apple devices. Google can do that, too, with Android phones and your Google+ account. There’s Microsoft and SkyDrive integration, Facebook and album image uploading. Not to mention others like Amazon Cloud Drive and Dropbox.

Google doesn’t want to be left behind, as evidenced by the company’s latest robust photo offering. The Google+ team dropped a massive update to its photo-editing capabilities at its I/O developer conference on Wednesday, bringing a series of professional-grade photo-editing tools to anyone who uses Google+.

The advantage here, Google would say, is that while everyone may offer free online photo storage in some capacity, Google is the one with the consumer editing suite. But you don’t have to be an expert-level Photoshop user to work with Google’s new tools. Auto-enhance, auto-highlight and even “auto-awesome” leverage the power of Google’s algorithms to choose the best pictures out of the many you’ve uploaded, and automatically make them look better than they did before.

The point is simple: The more you’ve invested yourself in a service — be it by filling out and continuously updating your profile, or through uploading photo after photo to its cloud-based storage — the less likely you are to fall away from using it. If all of your memories are stuck inside of, say, Facebook, you’ve got an online repository, an album to point others to in the future or to re-download as you see necessary. And, perhaps because of the emotional nature of the material, you’re less likely to even want to move it in the first place.

It’s also the type of media where platforms see some of their highest engagement from users. Facebook, I’ve been told, sees far and away more activity and engagement from users focused on photos in the stream than they do from text-based status updates. Google+, too, sees high engagement from in-stream pictures.

Users aside, big data companies like Google and Facebook gain reams of information from the photos you’ve sent in. Each file is another piece of location metadata to be registered, another image to identify and tag using facial-recognition tech, another way of recognizing the people and places you interact with most in your daily life.

So now, when all companies are offering similar uploading options and essentially unlimited free online storage, it’s up to competitors to differentiate to try and stand out.

That’s easier said than done. Facebook obviously has its billion-strong network (not to mention the rapidly growing Instagram), where many of your friends already likely have a presence. Apple touts accessibility and safety via only a certain set of devices. And Google+, while its usage and engagement stats are constantly a point of contention, will at least offer a simple, powerful photo tool set that gives any amateur photographer the ability to make their vacation pictures look a whole lot better.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what winds up luring you to one service over another. What matters is how they keep you coming back to upload more of your photos, more of your memories. Perhaps Google’s new editing-feature suite will give it the edge it needs to stay in the game.


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