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Originally published May 12, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 12, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Picasa, Google Maps enrich photos with tales of your travels

Pictures should speak for themselves, but my lackluster photos rarely say much. Viewers get the full story only when I hover nearby, describing...

The Dallas Morning News

Picasa and My Maps


Pros

• A free and easy way to share not only photos, but descriptions and other context with friends and family anywhere.

Cons

• Both programs limit how users can size and present information.

• Both have a few annoying glitches that hinder editing.

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Pictures should speak for themselves, but my lackluster photos rarely say much. Viewers get the full story only when I hover nearby, describing the amazing sights that are just out of frame, lamenting the gorgeous details that are somewhat out of focus, retelling the exploits that make a plain building famous.

I never even bothered to send photos to distant friends and family — until I discovered high-tech tools that let me add much-needed context. I won't say the features of Picasa and Google Maps can enhance my Berlin pictures quite as much as my impersonation of our crazy tour guide, Preston, but they help.

PC users can download a very handy program from Picasa that automatically collects and stores every photo saved inside a computer and then lets users describe, organize and find those photos in nearly every conceivable way.

Say you had a panoramic shot of the Brooklyn Bridge that you took during a trip last year. The title might be "Brooklyn Bridge at Sunset" and the description might contain information you learned about the bridge or it might describe what you were doing the day you took the shot.

You could then create a folder called "New York 2006" and put that one picture with all your other photos from that vacation, but the tags and other descriptions would let you find the shot again without searching through all the shots you took on the trip.

You'd only have to type "Brooklyn" into the search engine to have it appear.

Picasa also lets users import pictures from and export pictures to e-mails, blogs and anywhere else on the Web.

Picasa and My Maps


Pros

• A free and easy way to share not only photos, but descriptions and other context with friends and family anywhere.

Cons

• Both programs limit how users can size and present information.

• Both have a few annoying glitches that hinder editing.

Most important, at least for those who want to share photo albums, Picasa lets users who sign up for free accounts post Web albums online.

A single click of the mouse sends an entire album — including all the titles and descriptions and tags — to a user's online account. Users can then choose to make those albums public or private.

If, say, you uploaded "New York 2006" and made it a public album, a Picasa user who searched for "Brooklyn Bridge" would see your panoramic photo, along with 2,324 other public photos of the Brooklyn Bridge that are currently available on Picasa. People could see your title and description and even add their own comments.

Private albums, on the other hand, remain private until you click the Share Album button on the upper-right-hand section of the screen and e-mail invitations to people.

Invited friends and family can see your photos instantly, along with whatever descriptions you care to provide. They can also download favorite pictures onto their computers, transfer them to their online albums or even order prints directly from the site.

Such options might provide enough context for many people, but not for me, which is why I got excited when I heard that Google had added a new feature to its Maps site called My Maps.

My Maps allows users to take a standard overhead view of a location and add content via "thumbtacks" that let you display photos and descriptions of the marked location. The program also lets users draw lines to show a route or shapes to highlight an area of interest.

Both Picasa and Google Maps have their problems. Neither allows me to size and shape photos to my satisfaction. The maps program doesn't allow users to number pins so viewers know the proper order for viewing entries.

That said, given that the technology that these programs replace is an envelope of photos with Post-it notes attached, both are very flexible. My Maps in particular offers a lot of different functions. Users can attach audio to push pins or they can vary the color of lines they draw on a map to distinguish between one day's route and the next.

Best of all, both these programs — along with competitors such as Flickr — are constantly improving.

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