Google+, the social network that won’t stop trying to lure you in, has a new pitch: We’ll make your photos more awesome! Awesomer! Awesomerer!
On Tuesday, the company announced Google+ Stories, a feature that automatically generates an online photo book by selecting the best shots from your collection, while tagging them with date, location and landmark information.
It’s the latest update to Google’s fantastic photo product—arguably the best part of Google+.
It’s not clear how this will get people to actually use Google+ photos in favor of Facebook or Instagram, though.
The announcement comes just weeks after the departure of Google+ head Vic Gundotra. Gundotra’s abrupt exit led to speculation that Google might disband Google+ as a product group within the company, with parts of what Gundotra oversaw falling under different groups within Google like Maps and Android.
One source told ReadWrite that photos, in particular, could move to the Android group, to be better integrated with the team that builds camera software. (Google declined to comment.)
Is Google The Best Place For Photos?
New features and new organizations won’t solve Google+’s essential conundrum: People share photos as a way to stay in touch with family, and give friends and relatives a glimpse into their lives. When someone wants to share a photo, generally it’s a snapshot of a moment.
People use Facebook to share photos with friends and family, and Instagram to share photos with the world. It’s where their audience expects to find them.
Google hasn’t addressed how different audiences find and share your photos. Instead, it boasts about how pretty it makes images and videos. But it doesn’t matter how beautiful your photos are if no one is seeing them.
Google has been reluctant to call Google+ a social network, a move which would inevitably draw awkward comparisons to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other successful social products. Instead, they’ve pitched it as a way to manage your identity across various Google services.
That positioning makes it difficult to understand the point of putting your photos on Google+. It’s clear how Google+ makes it easier for Google’s servers to collect data on you. It’s harder to see how it makes things easy for the human beings in your life to find you. So why would you put your photos there instead of Facebook or Instagram, which are geared around sharing photos with actual people?
It’s true that Android users might prefer Google+, thanks to the increasing integration with Android 4.4. You can manage your Google+ Highlights folder directly from the Photos application, and Google+ photos are integrated with the Camera app. How you share photos to other social networks that have been saved on Google+, however, is a little bit more complicated.
While Google’s photo product blows Facebook’s out of the water, and gives users a better way to save and edit captured moments, there’s no guarantee your friends will see them. Even if they do, they’ll need a Google+ account to see the photos (if they’re not public) or share them.
In classic Google fashion, the company created a product that goes above and beyond what people want, and ended up creating something technically great, but logically flawed.
In order for Stories to work, or any other Auto Awesome features for that matter, you must back up all your photos to Google+. The company suggests turning on Auto Upload so any photos you take will end up in a private album in your Google+ account. Google can then scan your photos and eliminate blurry shots in order to find your best photos, which you can then edit and share in an album stream.
The new Stories feature is available now on Android and the Web, with iOS support coming soon.
Why Google+ Needs Saving
It’s almost impossible to avoid Google+. If you have a Gmail account, comment on YouTube, or chat with Hangouts, you have a Google+ account. As a result, the number of people who actually use the service as a social network is likely much lower than the number of people that have an account. And some people who do find themselves using it do so because they’re essentially forced to through Google’s product design. That’s hardly awesome.
It appears Google is finally acknowledging this: The company is not playing up Google+ at its upcoming Google I/O developer conference.
There are a number of issues that prevent Google+ from becoming a popular social network—mainly the fact that each Gmail account you have comes with a separate Google+ account. There’s no way to tie them together. So even for its core function—managing your identity across Google services—Google+ is a failure. (Imagine explaining to your friends and family that they need to add multiple versions of you in order to see all your photos.)
In order to achieve mainstream popularity, Google needs to better define what Google+ is. Is it a social network where your friends and family should visit to see your beautiful photo galleries. Is it a place to network and grow your online presence? Or is it just an overgrown account switcher with too many features attached?
Especially with Gundotra gone, the future of Google+ is a big unknown. And until the company can tell users why and how they should use the not-so-social social network, people will continue to see it as an unwanted nuisance, instead of a necessary tool in their digital arsenal.
That’s not a pretty picture.
Images courtesy of Google