Pre-mobile and pre-Google Plus, Google had a handle on the creation and sharing of photo albums. Picasa took some time to learn, but once you got the hang of it, photos synced correctly from the desktop to the web, and you knew with whom you were sharing—key features of any social site/app/service, and usually difficult to get right. Everything seemed to work. So, with my photos I stuck with Picasa, and dismissed Facebook and whatever Apple was doing, which seemed to lag behind its competitors in features. I also use Gmail so I figured that the connection would make sense to maintain over time as the products evolved.

Then came the limited and frustrating introduction of photos to Google Plus. For months (well, “cycles of use” for me which were separated by months at a time), it looked as though Picasa would be merged into Google Plus. And my Google-induced paralysis started. I figured Picasa was on the way out, so I backed off using it for a while until it was clear how it was going to evolve. The features on G+ were severely limited. No editing, captioning or organizing. And even with the simplicity of Circles (which initially captivated me for hours, but never since), figuring out what photos were shared with whom on G+ (and also now still on Picasa) proved frustrating.

Since that time I had been begging (in lonely mutterings during points of dispair) for Google to articulate a coherent product strategy for photos, one that didn’t seem to be surprising me with changes I had to figure out every time I wanted to add or update an album. And then, with its social network in place, Google entered the mobile era with G+, with extremely limited support for basic features you’d expect in a photo app. And the mess became bigger.

Uploading, managing, sharing and viewing pictures with Google has become a case study in how not to deploy a product ecosystem. The startup philosophy of ship fast and correct later is just not acceptable in the context of a multi-node experience framework that has already been established, and was already difficult to learn with all of its nuances.

Now, not even third parties can sufficiently help Google out of the confusion they’ve sewn, although I’m grateful for the attempt. It’s taking quite an effort now to figure out how the evolving photo ecosystem works.

First of All: Which Product Am I Using?

Picasa? Picasa Web Albums? Google Plus? A third-party app? The answer is ALL off them. I’ve been forced to. Suddenly my photos began showing up on Google Plus (G+ from here on out). Surprise! After using Picasa for years, I now have to manage and regularly verify who sees which photos on G+. That means I have to manage the same photos at least twice to be sure which photos are showing up where, and who can see them. It’s tiring and time consuming, but necessary—I’ve had surprise over-shares of personal photos that I was unhappy to discover. Picasa is still linked to Picasa Web Albums, so that’s still functioning. But the only way to upload photos to an album on mobile is to use a third-party app. The tangled network of apps required to manage a photo album has made me want to pack up camp and move my photos to Apple or Facebook—clarity around sharing is even worse with Facebook, and managing and organizing features is possible as bad if not worse, but at least everything is in one place. So what, specifically, fuels my desperation?