TL;DR I’m tired of the service not working in small but super-annoying ways that make me do a bunch of additional work. Narrative and more details below.
I’ve been using Google+ Photos since 2008 — back when it was “Picasa,” after Google had acquired the service but before it had been wrapped into Google’s social layer, Google+. I initially went with it because of recommendations from various image-creation professionals I know who said it had the best balance of services offered and problematic restrictions against content types. But that was in 2008, and perhaps it’s time for me to re-evaluate that. At this point, the only things that are genuinely keeping me tied to Google+ photos are:
- Posting my photos to Google+ means I’m posting at least something to Google+, at least occasionally; and, since Google
- It would be kind of a pain to move everything somewhere else.
Neither is insoluble, and it’s occurred to me over and over lately that perhaps some initial pain when I’ve got some free time would be worthwhile in saving frustration later on. Too, other services are offering more these days than they used to, and though I like the format of G+’s photo-collection web layouts (the lightboxing is quite nice, and the galleries are well-constructed), this is a minor concern compared to some of the problems I’ve had with it.
One thing I can say about Google+ / Picasa photos is that, for as long as I’ve been using it, it has always been annoyingly buggy in little yet extra-work-for-me-producing ways. My initial experience of this fact came when I was using the Picasa desktop client for Linux, which was (annoyingly) just the Windows build bundled with a tweaked version of Wine, the Windows compatibility layer for Linux. Google officially insisted at the time that I started using the client that it was a bad idea to try to just install the current Windows build of Picasa under the current Wine layer that was installed in Linux distributions (this turned out, if I recall correctly, to just be Google washing their hands of the possibility that problems might crop up, not a claim that there were actual problems with this approach). This meant, effectively, taking up a chunk of hard drive space just to install a second copy of Wine just to run the Picasa client, and was plagued with problems that occurred when, for instance, the Google-tweaked version of Wine lost track of how Linux file system folders were supposed to be mapped onto virtual drive letters, and these problems were exacerbated by the fact that there was no easy way to configure the Google-tweaked secondary Wine installation. It was also a serious problem that the Picasa client was extremely aggressive about trying to keep things in sync without asking the user for input: I was keeping my photos on a separate hard drive at the time and once started Picasa without noticing that that external hard drive was unplugged, so Picasa silently deleted all of my albums off of my Picasa web profile. Plugging the drive back in and restarting Picasa didn’t result in them being restored, either: Picasa noticed on that first program launch that they were gone and decided without asking that that was a permanent change. All those hours I’d spent picking which particular photos would be uploaded to different albums? Totally fucking wasted. Thanks, Picasa. Similarly, it was constantly uploading second copies of albums that had already been uploaded. There were enough stupid problems that by 2009, after using it for half a year or so, I was asking for advice on drop-kicking the Linux Picasa client … and there were no Linux replacements that made me happy, so I finally went back to sorting my images by hand in GQView, copying the ones I thought I might want to a separate folder, going through them again to cull effective duplicates, and then uploading them through the web interface.
Needless to say, this is a lot of work, but it’s still better than using the Picasa desktop client.
What makes it unbearable is that the web client doesn’t work reliably. There have been problems in the past where, instead of properly capturing and displaying the photo, what I got was just a black box; for a while, this was nearly one in every twenty photos. This is annoying because (especially if the missing photo was part of a large batch) there’s no easy way to tell which photo didn’t get uploaded (G+ Photos doesn’t, for instance, show you the file name of each photo that’s been uploaded, which would have made things far easier); I had to go through the whole batch, comparing photo by photo, until I figured out what wasn’t included. If I was trying to upload three hundred photos at once, I had to identify the fifteen photos that turned into black boxes, then I had to upload them again, and then I had to manually drag them, one by one, into the locations where they should have been in the first place. Identifying exactly where the photo was supposed to go often involved a substantial amount of additional digging through the original “upload these photos to Google” folder, then dragging them, one by one, through the slow-ass Google+ photo-album interface. This is a substantial amount of additional work.
That problem seems to have been fixed … or, to be more specific, I should say that that symptom seems to have been ameliorated, because there’s a similar problem happening now that’s even more annoying: the “some photos just don’t upload” problem.
I noticed this Monday morning after getting back Sunday night from a weekend in the desert with my girlfriend. I came home with nearly nine hundred photos shot during the weekend, and spent four hours going through my shots, trying on this first pass to accomplish two tasks:
- Entirely deleting any photos that are unequivocally and entirely without merit (e.g., shots that were taken from the passenger seat of a moving car that have a large speed-blurred tree as the primary foreground image) — shots that I will definitely not ever miss if I delete them.
- Copying photos that I might want to put in my Google+ album for the weekend into a new folder, then going through those shots again and culling out the ones that I didn’t want to include. This was the primary task that took up time, and when I was done with it, I wound up with 263 photos that I wanted to upload, totaling about 1.8 GB of data.
So the short version is that I spent four hours of my evening constructing a visual narrative of my weekend, thinking carefully about how I wanted to represent it to my friends, to my family, to fans of my photography who want to see the raw shots and not just the final products that will pop up on my DeviantArt gallery over the next few months, to the public — to anyone who might get at my Google+ profile and want to see how my trip to Joshua Tree National Park was. This is not a random collection of photos: it’s a carefully crafted visual story about what I did and who I am, as a person and as a photographer. Moving elements around or dropping them destroys the carefully designed narrative that I’d been constructing in my head all weekend and had spent much of my evening fine-tuning. Having something just not transfer across is completely unacceptable.
What did I do after sorting? Log into Google+, go to the photos tab, and upload a new album. I select all 263 photos in the folder I’m using as my sorting folder, then wait to see that the photo upload process is actually beginning. Then I went to bed. Because, you know, I get it: nearly two gigabytes of data takes a long time to transmit and process. Once I started seeing the progress bars moving on the first few photos, my expectation is that the whole upload process is (a) going to work, and (b) not require any more intervention from me.
What did I expect to happen? In more detail, I expect that all of the photos, without fail, will upload, and will upload in the same order that I’d named them in the folder. I expect that I will not need to intervene at all in the uploading process, and that, if more information is required from me, it will not be needed until all of the photos have been transferred to Google’s servers. Don’t stop the upload to ask me to tag things, for instance: this is the default behavior that users expect, and Google understands this and tries to make it happen, as far as I can tell.
I got up nearly eight hours later, expecting that all 263 photos had been uploaded and were waiting to be captioned and/or tagged. Was this the case? Fuck no. 17 photos were still stuck with more or less complete progress bars that weren’t moving. After eight hours, the photos should have transferred across, because I’m not using dial-up here. The problem was that the transfers on those 17 photos had timed out.
What can I do about this? Not much, actually. If the transfer of an individual photo has timed out, and the web client has detected this, then I can retry each photo individually … which is annoying, because I have to scroll through 88 lines of three thumbnails each searching for each of the 17 photos and retrying each of them individually, which is irritating but not catastrophic. (However, a “retry all” button would be a great idea, Google. Hint, hint.) Of course, the fact that some had timed out and nothing fucking happened at all when I retried the transfer is a separate problem that tends to strengthen my belief that Google’s been having weird back-end server problems on multiple services over the last few days. (I note this because I know several people who have been more or less unable to log into GMail and the Picasa web interface over the last few days, and my chat client, Pidgin, has been having real trouble connecting to whatever XMPP server is associated with my GMail account.)
However, if the transfer of a photo has timed out and the web page has not figured out that out, it’s catastrophic, because … I can’t save the album while the web client thinks that transfers are still happening. If the progress bar is just sitting there, not moving, and the web client can’t figure out that it’s timed out, then most or all of the work that I’ve done has been wasted. Out of 263 photos, 246 uploaded successfully. Yes, having to find and re-upload and re-organize the remaining 17 photos would have been a pain, but I figured that was what I was going to have to do. So this is, apparently, a variation of the black-box-photo problem, but with one substantial difference that makes the problem much, much worse:
Since I couldn’t save the album, I just hit the back button in my browser, hoping that the 246 photos that had uploaded successfully would be saved and I could just find and upload the remaining 17, then sort them.
Nope. I looked at the album that had been automatically created, and it only contained sixteen photos.
I tried to upload 263 photos.
247 made it across.
16 were saved.
What’s my best option here? If I decide I want to try host this weekend’s pictures on Google+ photos again — which, let’s face it, is the most likely course of action: not because I’m heavily invested in representing my identity to the public at large through Google+ (I’m not; I also have many other social networking accounts, and, let’s face it, Facebook is a platform where the majority of social-networking interactions take place; it’s where “conversations really happen” for most of us, not Google+); nor am I so bedazzled by the beauty of their photo-presentation systems that I’m unwilling to go elsewhere. The single thing most tying me into Google+ as a way of presenting my photos at this point is that that’s where my unedited photos currently reside, and I’m invested in keeping my unedited photos and the narrative sequences that they create in a single place.
I’m invested in not presenting my photos on Facebook because (a) I don’t want Facebook to have any more information than it already has about me, because I’m ambivalent about Facebook in general, and (b) I hate Facebook’s clunky privacy controls. But I’m increasingly not impressed with Google’s ability to provide a working fucking piece of photo-presentation software through its web interface.
Because let’s face it: it’s 2014. One of the real things that Facebook has going for it over Google as a photo-presentation service is that if I select 263 photos for uploading to a new album and then go to bed, when I wake up in the morning, definitely, without fail, unless my network connection actually goes down, all 263 photos will absolutely for sure have been transferred.
This is what Google needs to ensure. For me, it’s priority one. I don’t give a shit if I have individual progress bars for each photo as it’s uploaded. I don’t care if thumbnails for each photo display as soon as that photo is uploaded. I don’t even care much if I have to wait for all photos to upload before I can tag and describe them. Priority one is that I don’t have to sit there holding its hand and doing extra work to compensate for its errors. I don’t want to be told that I should be watching the computer and uploading ten photos at a time so I can more easily identify which ones are failing (just make it fucking work; don’t make me babysit). I don’t want to hear that it’s because I’m using Firefox 26 with X and Y extensions under Linux (just fucking develop to open standards so it works for everyone with a standards-compliant browser instead of only testing it on a bunch of proprietary crap).
Priority one is that it just fucking works for everyone with no problems all the time. A distant priority two is that you have all sort of fancy doodads like individual progress bars, thumbnails, and the ability to caption each file as after it uploads.
This is 2014. Web sites that millions of people use shouldn’t function as if they were developed by two high-school hackers in a garage. Google is (according to Wikipedia’s current article on the topic) the world’s twelfth largest technology company. Intermittent, sporadic service that’s nearly guaranteed to fail in at least small ways nearly every time I use it is unacceptable. I don’t want to use a service whose quality-control maps Herp derp, it serta werks onto “acceptable.”
Because, see, I’m a busy guy. I may be using a free service, but this means that I’m paying in other ways: by viewing ads, occasionally clicking on them, and by contributing content that draws in other people to their website and increases their ad revenue, by providing a marginal increase to the value of their ecosystem as a whole. If the service doesn’t meet my needs, there’s no reason for me to keep using it, and being invested in the ecosystem doesn’t really change that, although it does provide a big exit-friction buffer that will keep me from doing it immediately.
Still. What I think I’m going to do is try again to upload my 263 photos right before bed tonight. If it doesn’t work … I suspect I’m moving to Flickr.