Myron Kassaraba's weblog about digital photography on the web

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Picasa 2.5 Beta supports geotagging with Google Earth

I installed the new Picasa 2.5 Beta a few days ago to check out the new PicasaWeb online photo sharing capabilities called Picasa Web Albums that Google released as a beta last week (announcement from GoogleBlog). Picasa Web is a very clean and fast (if a bit basic) photo sharing site that when using Picasa 2.5 is effortless to upload to.

Here's my first album from a recent Red Sox game. As quite a few people have already pointed out, the biggest weakness is lack of control over access. Anyone who finds the album can help themselves to the high resolution versions of the photos single click (this is just like public photos uploaded to Flickr but there you have access control and permissions options). It also seems that even albums you choose to make "unlisted" are still being indexed (ZD Net Article). Until they come out with a new version with better access control, I would not post any photos that you consider too personal (or valuable) for anyone with a browser to view and download.

The thing that has me rather excited is hidden under the Tools Menu of the Picasa 2.5 client application and is called GeoTag with Google Earth. Google Earth is one of the most amazing pieces of software I've ever used. With Picasa 2.5 running, you select a folder of images you want to geotag (locate on a map), you select GeoTag with Google Earth. The Google Earth application is launched and you have a Picasa "tray" overlaying the map window. You use Google Earth's search and navigation to find the place you are looking for, put the geotagging cross-hairs on the spot you want and select geotag. This then communicates the x,y coordinates back to Picasa. From here, you can also add the pictures to your MyPlaces in Google Earth.

I've already been playing with Google Earth Plus which allows you to upload waypoints and track data from your GPS. When we go on an outing or hike I turn on my Garmin ForeTrex 201 and hook it to the backpack. At the end of the hike or outing you save the track data. The track can then be loaded into Google Earth (using a PC and a cable). In Google Earth I was able to geotag photos from a Pink Jeep Tour we went on in Sedona, AZ and link them right to the GPS track (there's also a very cool software application called GPS PhotoLink that actually does the linking automatically based on time stamp).

Joe Hughes on his incrementalist blog has done a great job of reviewing the new geotagging features of Picasa and Google Earth as well.

It would be nice to do this right from Picasa Web since it would allow a hot link back to the original photo stored online. Even though Picasa has stored the geocoding information in the files EXIF info, when you upload to Flickr - the geotags are not recognized since Flickr deals with x,y as just another tag (seems like this is not the best way to deal with explicit geotags). But, all in all, if this is a small glimpse of the synergies that we might see in the future from Google's various acquisitions and services then it is very encouraging!

Geotagging and "place coding" of images may be something that today is fun for a few thousand photogeeks but in the future this becomes one of the pillars of how digital photos are made more findable and usable. Photo search by location (plus time) of either your personal collection of photos or public photo collections opens up some very interesting possibilities.

Bravo Google for pushing this forward!


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