Picasa Web Albums has been folded into Google+ and is no longer a standalone product.
This review is only useful for historical comparison.
Picasa Web Albums lets you post photos to the Web directly from Picasa or iPhoto. Picasa Web Albums also lets you sort and share your photos into public and private areas and post those photos to your blog.
Web Albums is easy to use, and it is very convenient to post photos directly from your favorite desktop photo management software. However, there are competing products that may have more to offer.
You can upload photos directly from the Web Albums interface by clicking Upload. You can also install an Active X extension for IE that lets you drag and drop. You can also upload pictures by email, which makes it a lot easier to post photos from a mobile phone.
Photos can be uploaded directly from photo management software Picasa or iPhoto. To upload photos from iPhoto, you first need to download and install the special iPhoto extension. After the extension is installed, upload photos by choosing Export in the File or Share menu.
Uploading albums from Picasa is a snap. Select one or more images, press the Web Albums button, and then either choose from an existing album or create a new one. You can customize the album settings before you upload, so you could quickly upload a gallery of images from the beach or a set of pictures from Halloween.
Picasa Web Albums lets you pick three size settings, optimized large size, medium size, and largest size. The optimized large setting seems to work well for most photos without looking pixelated. If you're sharing photos for printing, you'll want to go with the largest size, but this may eat up your storage space quickly.
Uploaded photos do not sync with iPhoto albums, so if you rename a photo or apply a filter in Picasa, you will have to upload the image again for those changes to be reflected in Picasa Web Albums. If you're using Picasa, you can set albums to automatically sync.
Photos are arranged into album sets. You can comment on photos, edit captions, and rearrange the order of photos within albums. However, the interface sometimes makes these tasks annoying and slow.
To rearrange the order in which photos are displayed, you have to first click on the album, then click on the edit button, select Organize & Reorder from the drop down menu, then drag and drop, and then click the Done button. That's a lot of steps. Other tasks are similarly cumbersome, and this may be a stumbling block for new users.
Picasa Web Albums allows two levels of security. You can either make an album public, or you can make an album unlisted. If the album is public, everyone can see it, and if it is unlisted, you can still see the album if you know the album's secret Web address. You can click on the Share this album button to send the URL of either private or public albums.
This is not actually a secure way to make pictures private. Other comparable photo services, such as Flickr, offer password protected albums and sharing with select friends. It is really a pity Google doesn't do the same for Web Albums, since you can do this with other Google products. At the very least, there should be a way to share photos with only registered users.
If you'd like to post your photos in your blog or Web site, Picasa Web Albums will give you the HTML code to link or embed both photos and albums.
There is no direct method to post something to Blogger, although any photos you upload from within Blogger are actually stored here.
You can turn albums into Web slide shows, by pressing the Slideshow button. This is a nice feature, but it isn't remarkably different from similar slide shows that can be generated from other Web photo albums.
Socialize and Share
You can create a friends network of other Web Albums users and link to their photos. You can select photos as favorites, and you can comment on those photos. When someone comments on your photo, Google sends you an email alert. You can also subscribe to a feed of photos from other users with RSS. Learn more about RSS from the About Guide to Web search.
This is an area where Google could really shine, but right now it just falls flat. The features it offers are perfunctory, and there weren't any that stood out from the social networking tools built into Flickr.
Picasa Web Albums gives each user 1 gig of storage space. This is better than the previous offering of 250 megs, but still less than Gmail users get for email storage. You can upgrade to a full six gigs of storage space for $25 per year. The same price will buy you unlimited storage on Flickr.
Picasa Web Albums does let you know how close you are to your storage limits, both from the Web interface and from Picasa's upload tool, so running out of storage won't take you by surprise.
When Picasa 3 was released, Google also upgraded Picasa Web albums with a new feature called "Name Tags." This uses face recognition software to find images of faces in your photo album and match them up by name. It's not perfect, but it still works fairly well, and it will even find face matches in some digitally altered photos.
Picasa Web albums also lets you link your photos to their geographic location, so they can be shown on Google Maps. This works well for things like vacation photos.
The Bottom Line
If you are already using Picasa, Picasa Web Albums is an easy way to upload small collections of photos to the Internet. It is free for small collections of photos, and it has a relatively simple and clean interface.
There are no annoying banner ads to distract from your photos, and you don't have to know Web design to create an album. Public albums and pictures have a straight-forward URL rather than an odd search string with punctuation.
However, aside from Name Tags, Picasa Web Albums lacks features that would make it stand out. It offers relatively little storage space. There's no way to exclude access by password or to certain log-in IDs.
The market is glutted with places where you can park your photos for free. In order to persuade people to use this service, Google has to offer more.