Monday, May 05, 2014

Off-site but not really backup

I have been using Google+ AutoBackup for a while now on two separate laptops, and it does work. It voraciously whips away any new images loaded onto those computers into the cloud somewhere. This is perfect when you have good net access but can be a real pain when travelling and only having intermittent access to the net (or worse still using roaming data on a mobile device, could be very expensive if you want to try it, I haven’t). So here are my luke-warm impressions of it’s Pros & Cons.


Private unless Shared Thumbs up

The uploaded photos are definitely private unless you chose to share them. This is a really important feature. Thus a lot of hysteria, conspiracy theories and suspicion about Google’s motives in providing this service (and there must already be a lot of server space crammed with photos, so it is a serious commitment) are not well founded. In theory Google do make it “easy” for you to share within a controlled manner, but that really only applies to the Google+ environment and sharing with those who have Google accounts. I’m not yet convinced by the discussions that this a secret plan to get Picasa users off their PC and onto the net. But it is definitely a way to move photographic traffic into Google (and away from Instagram & flickr).


Photo Organization Thumbs down

This was mentioned a lot last year but I cannot actually see any reference to improved photo management in the meagre on-line documentation of Google+ Photo now. The uploaded photos are organized by date, and that’s about it. Worse you have to scroll down to see the older ones. I haven’t been able to find a filter or search mechanism that uses embedded metadata for example. You can move the individual photos into albums, which are easier to search & manage and there is a limited list of other ways (see panel on right) to view your growing clump of photos, which is accessed
This is brings me to the idea of Highlights. I was actually looking forward to this feeling it might have become a lot like Everpix’s idea of Highlights, selecting only a few of the better images, but to me Google+ highlights tends to show almost every photo and not be very selective. Checking the very terse document I found
Find your best photos & videos using the highlights tab of your Google+ photos. Your Highlights will leave out duplicates, blurry images, or photos with poor exposures, making it easier to find the photos that are most meaningful to you.
Ok does that mean the google+ algorithm thinks I’m a near perfect photographer? Nothing blurry or poorly exposed (I take plenty of those, often deliberately) many of them are highlighted! I guess what I was hoping for was something a fraction more atheistic but I should have known better.


The Auto Everything Effect Thumbs down

One aspect of Google+ photos that has puzzles me is the obsession with auto-everything and corresponding lack of controls to do those things smack of the “trust us we know what we are doing” you don’t! Yes there are some basic editing features and they are good and the so-called creative filters (as in the one-click variety) with some limited controls. However these leave me feeling unsatisfied, without encouraging me to fiddle on-line I prefer to return to Lightroom, After Shot Pro. or Picasa. Yes I have AutoAwesome’s turned on and occasionally look at them but other than the few better HDR efforts I’m kind of mostly underwhelmed, but not enough to turn AutoAwesome off.


Timing Thumbs down

What gets uploaded is everything (photos and videos) from the directories you nominate Including and media devices. They get uploaded immediately if the Google+ Autobackup is running as a background process. This means you will not get a chance to add keywords into the metadata before they are uploaded. Not that Google+ Photos displays or even make use of this extra user metadata at the moments. It probably won’t even give you time to cull the duds. You can pause the backup process and restart it at will but when you start up the computer if seems to always start up hungry to upload. I would have preferred a sticky toggle here.


Size matters Thumbs upThumbs down

Google  Auto Backup settingsWhilst you can upload full size jpegs and RAW files to Google photos easily and Google+ Autobackup does handle them I suspect this would quickly become expensive in terms of both storage and bandwidth to access that storage.
Any image who’s longest dimension is less than 2048 pixels is stored free (ie it doesn’t come off your 5GB space allowance) and this is a big deal for anyone who takes a lot of DSLR photos. In the Autobackup setting you can select standard size to do this. I haven’t been able to work out if the autobackup process only uploads a resized image but I assume it does. So there are possibly second reason to just select standard size it will save you bandwidth, If your photos are just intended for display on the web this 2048 file size is plenty big enough, but it isn’t a true backup anymore.

My conclusion is that this service is really designed like mobile apps on phones and tablets (they have the Google+ app and instant upload) as a way to bring activities from your PC onto Google web services and specifically into the Google+ photo world. Whilst I see some benefits in using it, I’m not excited by its implementation. I would rather better documentation, more “real” sharing options and more control of what is and isn’t uploaded. Picasa on the PC already offers much better photo management, decent basic editing functionality and can share into the Google+ photo world anyway. So Google+ Autobackup is not going to get me to stop using Picasa locally. Does it replace my backup, definitely not! Will I keep Google+ Autobackup running in background? At least in the short term yes, hey it’s free, but not when I’m travelling.
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