New Google+ “Stories” – Photo “Scrapbooks”

June 13, 2014

in Travel Tech

  • SumoMe

Now and then, Google comes up with a really good idea.

Google Plus

You go on a trip, shoot a lot of photos with your smartphone or camera, but never get around to sharing more than the odd one or two with friends and family.

Google has invented a seemingly effortless way for it to assemble and share your trip photos for you. It’s called Google+ “Stories.”

Here’s how it works.

The Photo Gospel According to Google+

On its blog, Google describes how Google+ can turn your photos and videos into “Stories” :

A suitcase full of dirty clothes. A sad-looking house plant. And 437 photos and videos on your phone, tablet and camera. This is the typically messy scene after a vacation. And although we can’t do your laundry (thanks but no thanks), or run your errands (well, maybe a few), we’d still like to help. Enter Google+ Stories, which can automatically weave your photos, videos and the places you visited into a beautiful travelogue.

“No more sifting through photos for your best shots, racking your brain for the sights you saw, or letting your videos collect virtual dust. We’ll just gift you a story after you get home. This way you can relive your favorite moments, share them with others, and remember why you traveled in the first place.”

What Others are Saying about Google+ “Stories”

In its piece about “Stories,” CNET says that

“Google+ Stories will notify you within 24 hours of your return home from a vacation that a Stories package is ready. It will choose the “best” photos and video highlights, so that duplicates and blurry shots are limited, then pull in the names of cities and places visited. Stories will pull in travel maps and use the names of hotels, restaurants, and airports visited in the captions.”

Mashable called the new Google+ feature a “digital scrapbook of your vacation photos.”

TechCrunch’s review said that

“Stories are full-featured multimedia experiences that actually take over your browser, and can be viewed fullscreen for an even more immersive effect. This is no mere slideshow; there are transitions and animations as well as captions and interstitials, with a page-through navigation mechanism that, again, requires no input from a user themselves. It automatically weeds out duplicates, out-of-focus images and more, and also uses geo-tags and landmark detection to figure out where you are. It can pull in place and city names, build travel maps and more, too.”

Acknowledging that the Google+ hasn’t turned out to be as wildly popular as Facebook, Gizmodo’s review of “Stories” admits that

“…Google+ isn’t exactly everybody’s go-to social network, but one of the best things about it has always been its photographic prowess. Especially if you’re an Android user, it’s just the push of a button (one time) to have Google+ automatically back up all of your phone’s shots. Plus, its algorithms actually do a good job of making your photos look better (most of the time). “

But that online tech site is enthusiastic about Google+ “Stories,” which it finds

“… actually looks really, really good. They’re far more visually interesting than your typical online photo album you have to click through while fighting to keep your eyes open.

How Goggle Gets Your Photos

Your Photos on the Web

Picasa Web Albums was Google’s initial online photo storage service. It’s a bit like Yahoo’s Flickr. You can use the Picasa application on your computer to easily upload photos to an existing or new online album, and then share the album or individual photos.

If you have created a Google+ Profile, your Picasa Web Albums are “connected” to it.

And so when I learned about “Stories,” I went to my Google+ Profile and found that a “story” had automatically been created after I recently uploaded more photos to a Picasa Web album for my 2013 trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park.

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And Google+ had created three more “Stories” from photos I’d added to online albums, although unlike the Lassen “Story,” the “cover” photo for none of them featured the actual Picasa Web Album title.

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But for some reason, there were no “Stories” for any of my many other Picasa Web Albums.

Then I got a bright idea: Upload photos directly to my Google+ Profile, then create an album from them. Surely that would prompt Google+ to craft a “Story” from that new album.

Ah, nope. It didn’t. Not even after 24 hours.

First of all, I had to upload the photos in several batches, and I had trouble finding the album after the first upload.

Secondly, the next day, after I was able to locate the new album (which apparently wasn’t created immediately by Google) and upload the remaining photos, I repeatedly got an error message that said “Unable to upload the caption. Please try again.” And that error message stopped the uploading of additional photos to the album until I clicked “Ok” in the error message box.

A quick Google search produced a report yesterday that at least two Google+ users found that Google+ wasn’t creating new albums for them after they uploaded photos, either.

Photos on Your Smartphone

“Stories” first became available on Android mobile devices and the Web. Google promises then  updated to the Google+ app for Apple iOS devices to includes “Stories.”

Remember that unlike most kinds of online photo sharing, Google is going to do most of the “creative” work for you. But it does have to have access to your photos.

Apparently if you own an Android phone (which I don’t; I’ve got an iPhone 5), you simply have to let Google backup the photos on your phone to “The Cloud” and it will then sift through those photos and begin building your “Stories” based on the photos it selects for use.

According to TechCrunch, the updated Google+ app for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch

“works alongside Google+’s auto-upload feature, which automatically uploads the photos and videos from your iPhone’s Camera Roll to Google’s social network.”

To turn the “Auto Backup” on in the Google+ App on your Apple mobile device, tap on the menu list in the upper left-hand corner of the app, then tap on “Photos,” and finally hit “Turn On” on the right-hand side of the Auto Backup bar that will appear near the top of the app’s “Highlights” screen.

After you turn on “Auto Backup” you’ll have a choice of “Full Size Backups”, and whether to backup photos and videos to Google’s “Cloud” only over Wi-Fi or over both Wi-Fi and mobile networks. (If you’ve got a capped data plan with your cellular carrier, you probably should to opt to backup only over Wi-Fi to prevent too much of your monthly data allotment being consumed by uploading images to your Google+ Profile.)

When I turned on “Auto Backup” on my iPad, the app said my backups were “up to date,” which I assumed meant that all of the photos and videos on my iPad had been uploaded to my Google+ Profile. And indeed, it did appear that all photos in my Picasa Web Albums ) were, in fact, uploaded.

I figured that Google would extract and upload everything in my iPad Camera Roll or Photo Albums to Google+, and at first, when I was simply looking at “Highlights” in the Google+ app, I though that hadn’t happened.

Then I looked under “Photos” in the app on my iPad found my iPad’s “Camera Roll” and discovered the photos and videos located there. But the “Albums” on my iPad’s Camera Roll where more photos were stashed didn’t appear to have been added to my Google+ Profile. (“Albums” in the Google+ App were those in my Picasa Web Albums.)

Very puzzling.

Do “Stories” Really Work?

The first problem with Google+ “Stories” is there doesn’t seem to be any way for the user to trigger their creation. Either Google+ makes them, or it doesn’t. That’s why I’ve only got four “Stories” based on Picasa Web Albums, not one for each album.

The second problem is that Google+, not you, initially decides the content. At first blush, that sounds good, since it supposedly will omit photos that are duplicates or out-of-focus, leaving only the “good stuff” visible to you and whoever you decide to share a “Story” with.

But this sample page from my Lassen “Story” looks quite nice.

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And the full-screen view available in a “Story” makes the photos even larger.

But unlike a printed photo book, the photos in a “Story” are cut-off when they overlap from one “page” to another.

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Supposedly you can always delete photos the Google+ selected, and add more photos from the source that Google+ used (e.g., your Picasa Web Album).

However, as I learned when I edited my Lassen trip “Story,” Google+ didn’t always seem to accept my choices for what photos to include. My guess is that fails to happen if one’s “edits” don’t sync to the version of the “Story” that’s up in Google’s “Cloud.”

And there’s no way to move photos around within a “Story” or resize them, as one can do with a “Story” created using the iPad Storehouse app. Google+ arranges them by date and time taken.

Initially, Google+ seemed to have created a perfect “Story” based on my Lassen photos.  Photos for each of the five days of my trip were grouped together, with the day number and date (e.g., “Day 1 July 28”) as a title page.

I discovered that I had put an incorrect place name in the caption for one of those photos, so I edited the photo caption in the Picasa Web Album and corrected my goof. Unfortunately, that caused an error message to appear in the Google+ “Story,” probably because the change didn’t properly sync between the online album and the “Story.”

Unfortunately, there is no detailed “Help” for Google+ “Stories.” But I surmised that if I chose the “rebuild story” option from a drop down menu, the erroneous caption would be fixed in the “Story.”

No so.

Instead, Google+ mangled the date titles in the “Story.”

While the thumbnail for the “Story” in the list of “Stories” showed the correct starting date for the trip, the photo cover that appeared when the “Story” is selected did not.

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Instead of “July 28, 2013” the words “NAN, NAN” (presumably “placeholders” for text) appeared. And the same was true of the day number/date titles between each day’s photos.

In an attempt to solve that problem, I tried “rebuilding” the “Story” several times, but the same errors recurred repeatedly. (Inexplicitly, a final “rebuild” done the next day did the trick.)

And even worse, some of the photo captions which would automatically pop up when the “Story” was viewed, disappeared entirely, took a long time to appear, or “flashed” repeatedly.

image

The photos in my Picasa Web Album weren’t geo-tagged by my camera at the time they were taken. So I added manually added a locations for a each photo in the online album, figuring that Google+ would use that to show the photo locations.

For some unknown reason, only two those locations ended up being shown in the “Story” and Google+ did not create a “map” for the “Story” as it was supposed to have done.

Finding Your “Stories”

Presumably you need to have a Google+ Profile in order to have “Stories.” (Click here if you don’t have one, or need to change yours.)

Then click on “Photos” in the drop-down box on the left side of your Profile Page, and then on “More” in the center top of the page, and finally on “Stories” under that.

If Google+ has created “Stories” for you, you’ll find them there.

If you don’t have any photos associated with your Profile, you’ll have to upload them.

Editing “Stories”

To edit a “Stories” that Google+ has created, select the one you want to edit, then click on the blue “Edit” button in the top right-hand side of the “Story.”

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The first thing you can do is change the cover photo and “Story” title.

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You can then add photos to or delete them from your “Story.”

Start “paging” through your “Story” and click on any photo to edit it. (You may need to use Google’s Chrome Web browser for some editing functions.)

If you don’t like the photo caption (which in my case here added in the Picasa Web Album), click on the caption (not the photo) and change it.

Viewing on Apple Mobile Devices

Prior to the update to the Google+ iOS app, if you tried to view “Stories” on Apple mobile devices they would load very slowly and photos would overlap each other rather than being displayed across a page.

iPad Stories Screenshot

Fortunately, the update has fixed that problem and “Stories” display properly on Apple mobile devices, as you’ll see from this photo.

Drakesbad Shots

Nick Summers, writing for TheNextWeb.com, said

“In fact, I think Google+ Stories look better on mobile than they do on the Web; the layout and transitions better suit touch-input and smaller displays.”

I don’t agree. “Stories” display much better on my iMac desktop’s “letterbox” 21” screen than on my iPad with Retina Display, let alone on my iPhone, which only lets me view them while holding the phone vertically, rather than horizontally (which would provide more “screen real estate”).

Curiously, not all of the photo captions appear when I view a “Story” on either the iPad or iPhone. An “Add a narrative” box appears even if a caption displays when the box is tapped on or if a caption appears with the photo when the “Story” is viewed on a computer. Ands even if I did enter a caption in the “Add narrative box,” it wouldn’t be saved to the “Story.”

Narrative Box

 

Also, I found that photos and captions would sometimes “flash” repeatedly when viewed on my iPad or iPhone, suggesting that  the Google+ server where the “Story” is loading the photos slower than normal.

Sharing Options

Google+ “Stories” are “private” by default.

You can share a Google+ “Story” on your Google+ Profile or send it via e-mail to those in your Google+ “Circles.”

But if you click on “Sharing Options,” you’ll just get an empty box with no instructions as to what to put in it, nor any ability to type anything in the box.

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I tried copying the “Story” URL and e-mailing it to my wife. But that didn’t let her access the “Story,” it simply displayed the Google account sign-in screen.

So how do you make a “Story” available to the “public”? Apparently the only way to do so is by leaving the green “Public” “button” in place when you “Share” the “Story” to your Google+ Profile.

Then if you click on the image for the “Story” and select “Sharing Options” you can edit a list of those with whom it will be shared.

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But the only way anyone can find the “Story” is by going to your Google+ Profile page, which is what you’ll have to do if you want to get a link to that “Story” so you can send it by e-mail or post it on Facebook or Twitter. (Click on down arrow above the GP post, then pick “Link to post” and paste it into an e-mail.

Here’s the link to my Lassen “Story”.

Posting the link on Facebook will produce a thumbnail image from the cover of your “Story,” but Facebook users won’t see the title of the “Story” and when you hit the “Post” button the “Story” title will appear below the photo.

If you’ve got a Website or blog, you can also embed the “Story” into it, such as I’ve done below.

And The Oscar Goes To…

If I were handing out awards for great visual storytelling apps, I’d give the Oscar for Best Performance to Storehouse, which is simple to use, allows you to create whatever “Story” you’d like from photos and videos you choose, and present them in an elegant fashion.

It seems to me that every new Google product (and some that have been around awhile) seems to be based on a clever idea which is never fully thought out nor rigorously tested before release. Alas, Google+ Stories is just another example of Google turning users into unwitting Beta testers, without the ability to easily provide feedback on a product or get help from Google using it.

Interestingly enough, none of the other major online tech Websites that reviewed Google+ “Stories” seem to have done any follow-up testing to see if the product was actually continuing to work. I’d have to say, it looks like “Stories” is a bust, at least for now.

The Photocritic Website suggested a couple other options (which I haven’t tried as yet): Flavr and and Keepsake.

Hopefully, Google will fix the myriad of problems that beset “Stories” and provide online “Help” for those who want to use the product.

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