For quite some time it has been obvious that Google was putting a lot more effort and resources into Google Photos rather than just Google Plus. In the first two years of the product, Google quickly figured out what was successful and what was lacking. Engagement and comments have slowly diminished on Google Plus yet users still +1 or “like” photos at a rapid pace. Recently, we learned that Google is going to break Google Plus into three separate products that include Google Photos, Google Stream and Google Hangouts.
When Google announced the enhancement of photos through AutoAwesome and other helpful tools I felt as if it would make sense to break this off and make it its own social “layer” or product. From personal experience, I receive about 20 times the engagement on photos and gifs compared to links or long form content. If you share a quality HDR photo or a funny gif you will get tons of reshares, comments and/or +1s. If you share a link to a great article you will be lucky to get any engagement at all.
Google has one thing that has yet to be touched by Facebook, Twitter or any other type of social media website – search. Millions of Google users search Google Images every single day. One of the weaknesses of Instagram is search. You can only search with hashtags and users have no idea what to name their photos. If you search “Yellowstone River near Livingston, Montana” on Instagram you get basically nothing. If you do the same search on Google Images you have an endless stream of beautiful photos. This is where Google can be successful in my opinion.
User submitted content has made the Internet what it is. Amazon and Wikipedia are successful companies mostly because of user submitted content. There have been a very small amount Google Image searches I completed that did not provide what I was looking for. If Google can get 1/10th of the submissions that Instagram does it will greatly enhance Google Image search.
That being said, I have no idea if Google even has the ability to crawl, index and rank images that are shared through Google Photos. It is a Google product so one would imagine it will not be that hard to assign a value to the photo based on the caption and keywords used in the photo share. Google has the technology to determine what the photo is without any captions anyway.
I honestly do not think Google Photos will be comparable to Instagram. I think it will be more like the old Webshots or current Flickr. It will be a place for you to store all of your photos rather than sharing just one a day or one a week. The Instagram user base has grown accustomed to sharing a few photos a month. Google would prefer you save all of your photos on their product for free. It is a win win for both Google and the user. The user has a place to store all of their photos and can search them quickly and easily. Google will get free content they can index in search.
Before getting any crazy ideas it is important to remember that Google is greatly concerned with privacy. The only way they are going to index and rank a photo is if the user allows them to do so. It will be just like a blog or website. Users will have the opportunity to stop Google from crawling, indexing and ranking the photos at any point.
Moving forward, I see Google trying to succeed with Hangouts and Photos. The stream has become a lackluster product because very few interesting people actually use it. In fact, I have not looked in my Google Plus stream in over six months solely because it is all marketers trying to tell me how to use Google Plus. Heck, some of them are even trying to sell Google Plus products. This turned me off from the product because I would much rather read news that is relevant to me. That is what makes Twitter a much better “stream” product. There are a large number of journalists and writers that actively use Twitter which keeps me interested.
What do you think Google will do with Google Photos? Will it be similar to Instagram? Will they try to get more people to “like” or +1s photos? One thing is certain, the ranking factor of “likes” or +1s is highly unlikely for the Google algorithm in the near future.