The new version of Picasa Web Albums, and Picasa 3 beta includes one feature we've all been waiting for: face recognition.
You'd think one big announcement out of Google for the day was enough, but, as well as launching a completely new browser, called Chrome
, Google today also announced major changes to its popular photo cataloguing app called Picasa, and to Picasa Web Albums, its web companion.
Picasa Web Albums introduces a feature that Facebook users will be familiar with called Name Tags - a feature that lets you quickly label all the people in your photos. According to Google, 'name tags uses advanced technology to automatically group similar faces together.' Translation: Picasa Web Albums only needs you to tag a person a few times before it will start automatically recognising their face via face recognition intelligence. Way to go Google!
The flip side of this feature, of course, is Google collecting 'faceprints' from people's photo collections worldwide -- which could have very worrying privacy implications. For example, if Google didn't play nice and made this data available to its regular image search engine, it could suddenly become very easy to find embarrassing photos of people, internet-wide. Likewise, the same info could be run across the Google Streetview data (just because the faces are blurred in the final output to the public doesn't mean law enforcement couldn't ask Google to scan its Street View pictures for a certain person's face, for example.)
But tinfoil hat privacy issues aside, using the name tags feature is really easy. First you'll need to turn it on in the Web Albums settings screen. Once it's turned on, Google automatically starts scanning all your photos to recognise faces. It took around 4 minutes to analyse the fifty photos I uploaded. When Google has finished analysing your photos it prompts you to go through them and name them. As you type in the name of the person in your photos it references your Gmail address book and applies all relevant information to the name tag (like email address).
After I tagged my photos I added some more photos of the same people but Google failed to correctly identify them, so either its face recognition technology still needs improvement, or the face scanning is done as a delayed process (possibly using unused computing capacity in Google data centres). Also, disappointingly, face tags on the web don't get synced back down to local photos. For those reasons, I'm calling the feature useful, but definitely beta -- hopefully Google will add this sync into the desktop version of Picasa.
While Google is making a big fuss over the Name Tag feature in Picasa Web Albums, it has also released a beta version of Picasa 3 - probably the best free photo management application for Windows. As a Mac user, it's one of those programs I wished they ported to OS X, because as good as iPhoto is, it can get slow with very large libraries of photos, and lacks some of the features that Picasa has, such as integration out of the box with free online photo albums (Apple charges an annual subscription fee for its MobileMe service, formerly called .Mac).
Picasa 3 has been improved on a number of fronts; sharing photos is easier via the 'sync to web' button that synchronises your local content with your Picasa Web Album. Add or delete a photo in your Picasa album, hit sync and changes are reflected on the web. New editing features, like the ability to automatically detect and fix red-eye in photos and create movies from your images are also available.
Like most other things Google, Picasa Web Albums and Picasa are free and worth trying, so go get'em