According to a report on CNet, the next version of Google's Picasa Web Albums will go live at noon PST today. The central new feature of this version will be automated face recognition and tagging. In tandem with this update, Google will also launch a new version of Picasa, its desktop photo management software, which will also get a number of new features, including a movie maker mode, a retouch brush, and online synchronization with Picasa Web Albums.

Remember Riya?

Google is not the first company to add face recognition to online photo albums. Riya, when it first launched, made face recognition its central feature, but Riya's implementation, while interesting, made too many mistakes in the face recognition to be successful. Most users quickly abandoned the site after the early hype and Riya was forced to change its business model. To be successful, Google's face recognition will have to be a lot more precise than Riya's algorithms.

Picasa Update

The updates to the Picasa desktop software are interesting, but not revolutionary. Two features stand out, though. The movie maker mode will allow users to create videos of their slide shows and upload them to YouTube. The online synchronization feature will keep galleries in the desktop client in synch with the web albums. Sadly, though, this synchronization only seems to work from PC to web and not vice versa, making this potentially great feature just a bit less useful.

Competition

It's good to see that Google is showing some drive to innovate in the online photo album market. Flickr, as Stephen Shankland points out, has been slow to add new features, and Picasa itself has not exactly been the most exciting place to store pictures. If Google can make the face recognition work, it will have at least one great feature that will set it apart from its competition.