Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Google Photos Is Great–Except When It Is Not

The recently released Google Photos with its unlimited storage is you allowgoogle_photos_albums Google to resize your images is Great!  Except when it is not.

At the end of May 2015, Google announced Google Photos Unlimited, a free service for Google users that allows unlimited photo storage for your Google account as long as you allow them to resize your images to no longer than 16 megapixels.  The company states that the resizing is “near identical” to the original image.  I’m not a photographer beyond my family and genealogy snaps and found the resized images were indeed “nearly identical” to my eye.   If you want to store your images in their original size on Google Photos, you can do so but you’ll have to pay for the storage space used that exceeds the free storage limit associated with your Google account that includes Gmail, Google Docs, Blogger posts, etc.

The new Google Photos storage is a steam roller in the cloud photo storage sector.  For example, Yahoo’s Flickr offers 1 terabyte of free storage (which is great but it isn’t unlimited), and Dropbox only offers 2 gigabytes of photo storage for free.

From a personal perspective as a genealogist, I was delighted with Google’s news.  I keep a full set of my genealogy related images in many locations, including Flickr and other cloud backup sites as well as on local storage drives both in my home and in proximity to my home.  If the “Big One” from the movies ever hits and my home is sucked down to the depths, the odds that at least one copy of my images surviving on an external backup site is still high.

I can’t stress enough how this knowledge comforts me.  I want my genealogy images to survive me to be used by my family and the public for a long time.  There is no need for them to spend the huge amount of time and money that I’ve expended to acquire them, and in many cases, I have the only surviving original copy of the hardcopy photo.

Using Google Photos

Adding photos to Google Photos is simple. Just click the up arrow at the top of your browser page in photos, or install the Google Photos App if you aren’t using an Android phone or tablet.  The Android OS has the photos app installed in it.


My genealogy person or homestead image collection is fairly large, but in terms of storage size, it isn’t very large.  That selection of my genealogy photos could reside on my free Google Drive account without the need to purchase additional storage memory.   However, I am a volunteer who takes thousands of headstone photos annually to post on sites like Find-a-grave.   Even though the cemeteries in my area are relatively small ranging from 1200 to 20,000 headstones, the corresponding number of images at even a 5 megapixel size adds up after season of 1000 photo image per day forays.   

When I first started adding the photos to Find-a-grave, I kept a copy of the images for my own local purposes because a large percentage of the names on the images were related to me.  As time when on, I continued to keep a copy of all of my images even after they were uploaded to Find-a-grave and started to wonder if it was necessary since my job was done.  Find-a-grave had a copy of the image, why waste storage space locally for the same image.

Then came a note from the husband of a young woman buried near me that I’d posted a photo of her headstone on Find-a-grave.  He thanked me profusely for posting the photo.  When she passed away, they were living here as students.   Like most students, they had little money and it was a few years before her husband could save enough money to purchase a headstone for her grave.   He finished school and went to his home country and later ordered her headstone from there.  The stone was beautiful but the company that placed the marker sent him a photo of the marker in the mail but it looked like one our grandmothers took forty years ago.  He hadn’t seen a good photo of the maker for his beloved wife and couldn’t find anyone who would take the photo for him.   

…..And then I posted my photo as one of the 1000 that I’d taken the weekendgoogle_photos earlier.   When I brought up her memorial on Find-a-grave and inspected the full size display of the image I’d uploaded, I noted that the image had be significantly resized by Find-a-grave.  The original image was dramatically better.   Which image should you want of your beloved’s marker?  The original hi-res image or the significantly resized image on Find-a-grave?   Of course, I found the original in my backup storage and sent a copy of it to him.   

That experience alone convinced me that I needed to keep a copy of my images in my off-site storage plan.

Since that time, I’ve received hundreds of requests for a copy of my original tombstone images.  The stories vary, but the are invariably consistent in one aspect.  Family members want a copy of the headstones of their family but live so far away from their burial location they can’t afford to make a trip here just to take a photo.

Problem with Google Photos

After the requests for images started to arrive, I created an account on Flickr and received a free 1 terabyte account for my images.   I installed the Flickr uploader program and uploaded all my genealogy photos.  The process was simple and fortunately, I created relevant albums for each category or cemetery.   Moving images from album to album through a browser was simple if I messed up.

The day that Google Photos Unlimited went hot, I started uploading the headstone photos there as well.  I had to use my browser because there isn’t a standalone program like Flickr Uploader but it isn’t an issue.   The problem I encountered is that as you know, sitting and uploading thousands of images over a long period of time turns you into a mindless zombie.  My mind degraded to that level around 1:00 a.m.   I have four monitors and so I kept working on genealogy research on three of them  while using the fourth as my window into Google Photos.  I’d glance at it, note the status of the current upload set and act if necessary.   Mindless, repetitive action for hours on end in that venue.  Sometime early in the 1:00 a.m. hour, the shutters on my uploading intelligence slammed shut.   I started uploading the first batch of images for a new cemetery without creating an album for it first.   My mind and memory motion was set and it was wrong.   After 20,000+ image uploads later, I tumbled the fact that I was just dumping the images into the Photos bucket, not in the right album.  They were now all floating there without a home.

Thinking that I could move them fairly easily, although with a fairly significant time impact, I selected 1000 images in the browser window, clicked on the plus (+) sign on the top right of the screen and clicked “Add to Album”.  No problem right?   Not so Joe Jitsu!!  You just discovered your mess up.   After waiting a few minutes an error message appeared saying that the move to the new album had failed.  Thinking that I’d taken too big of a bite at a time, I selected 200 images and tried again.   Once again, No Joy!   Hmmmmm…   I selected 100 images and the transfer took place.   OK, I had to keep the bites small.  I’d only have to do the same transfer movements 210 times!   Phew!   

…. And then…..  the next selection of 100 , no, rather 99 images failed.   50 failed.   20 failed.   9 worked.   

…. And then….. the next selection of 9 failed,  5 failed, 2 worked……… aaarrggghhhh

…..And then….. the next selection of 2 failed, 1 worked.   What the heck?    

It looks like there is a limiter built in Photos that will allow you to make one fairly large move of images to albums.  After that, the choker hits and hits hard.   

I’ve played with the transfers a number of times since and the initial group continues to get smaller every day that I try to make the transfers.   I hit 1 image at a time within a few transfers now.

The problem arose because I failed to create the cemetery album before I uploaded the first headstone image associated with it.   When you upload your images, think first, think second and don’t turn into a zombie hours into the process.

Create the album(s) first then upload your groups of photos to them accordingly.

I haven’t found a solution yet.  I haven’t found a way to grossly delete the images for that cemetery and starting over.  It may exist but my zombie mind his affixed itself to my conscience instead of my normally ‘brilliant’ self.  It was a very short trip.

Bottom line…. I highly recommend Google Photos but do as I say, not as I did.  Let me own the pain from messing up and just laugh at me at my expense.  You don’t want to find yourself in my particular pickle.   

Posted 9 June 2015 by Lee R. Drew on Lineagekeeper’s Genealogy Blog