The Washington Post

Forget the photo storage race. Google now wants to make your scrapbooks for you.

Google has a new photo-organizing tool called Stories. (Courtesy of Google)

We've all been there: You've just taken an amazing trip, and now you want to share it with everyone. But when you sit down to do some light editing on the snapshots you've taken, you realize you're facing a digital tidal wave of pictures -- some slightly blurred, some in duplicate or triplicate, and all in need of much more time than you have.

At this point, human nature steers us to either upload all bajillion pictures and let our loved ones deal with it or just keep the photos to ourselves.

Now Google is taking a crack at tackling that problem with Stories, a new feature rolling out to all users on Tuesday. The tool in the Google+ social network will identify photos with big landscapes, a larger number of faces, or with easily recognizable world landmarks in frame to automatically assemble a short narrative -- without any editorial input from you.

The feature amps up the company's efforts to become a better photo-managing tool and compete with Flickr and other photo-storage sites by doing the heavy lifting. Photos are a major focus for any company looking to improve its social efforts -- Facebook bought Instagram for that reason.

Google has taken pains to integrate photos and photo-sharing into many of its services, making convenience a selling point for getting users to put their photos in Google's cloud rather than housing them elsewhere. In a demonstration ahead of the Stories launch, Google+'s VP of Project Management Bradley Horowitz explained that the new feature allows users to get past that initial, daunting task of sifting through the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of photos they snapped while on vacation to find the handful that are actually worth keeping.

"This lets people share right away, when they're most likely to want to relive that trip," he said. Stories looks for certain cues to assemble a book for individual users, which they can then edit, annotate and clean up on their own if they want. The scrapbook can display photos and videos, and also includes some "Indiana Jones"-style  illustrated maps to show your journey -- though it won't display the exact route.

Stories, as one might imagine, works best when you are using a lot of Google services. To turn on the feature, Google users have to opt in to sharing their location history with the company. Location data is one of the main ways that Google can identity when, exactly, you're having a moment.

The thought of having Google go through your photos may not be a particularly comfortable one, especially if the service actively matches your location to your photos -- a clear illustration of just how much information the company is collecting from you.  But Horowitz said that while Stories can automatically sift through your pictures, the photos are visible by default only to the individual user. Plus, they're being sorted by algorithms, meaning no Google engineers are spending their days looking at other people's pictures. The feature relies on information that users actively choose to provide to the company, Horowitz noted (Google won't be able to look at any photos you don't upload to its services, for example).

The get the most out of Stories, Horowitz recommended using the "Auto-Backup" feature in Google+, which automatically uploads your device photos to a private album, as well as automatic editing options. But those who don't feel comfortable with having a pipeline that goes straight from their phone or tablet to even a private album, don't have to turn it on -- meaning Google will have no material from which to construct stories.

If you're interested in getting started with Stories, download Google+ app for iOS and Android, and opt in to location sharing.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.



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