Google Plus: Photo Backup and Stories, Automated Photo-Based Trip Report Creation For Us Lazy Folk

i’m not a big Google Plus user (or Facebook user, for that matter, so it’s not like i’m playing favorites) but happened upon some pretty cool features recently, one of them being Stories. Stories generates a timeline of events automatically based on photos that you’ve uploaded to the service.

the example i’m using here is my Trip to Vilnius — the only change i’ve made was to add a couple captions here and there, edit a photo to test things out, and remove a photo that was redundant. everything else from the title to the maps were all automatic.


I probably should change the cover photo since it picked a photo from my layover in Copenhagen. heh, shh!

but wait, you say, if you don’t use Google Plus, how did it get your photos?

using Google Plus as cloud backup for the photos on your phone

good question. i’ve been using Dropbox (use that link and we both get 500 extra megabytes) to automatically back up the photos on my phone but i’m too cheap to pay for storage space. while accounts come with at least 2 GB of storage, i somehow signed up during a promo which got me 50 GB. i used another promo to get me yet another 48 GB, but that will expire in a year and a half. yes, that’s a lot of disk space, and yes, that’s still a ways off, but i wanted a service where i don’t have to worry about anything.

that’s where Google Plus comes in. if you download the app (if you’re not on Android, there’s a small link there for iOS) you can set it up so it automatically saves your phone’s photos to Google. this is great because if i run out of memory on my phone and have to wipe all the photos, or if i lose it or it somehow breaks, i know i have a copy of my photos in the cloud. the only downside to this (whether it be automatic backups via Dropbox, Flickr, Google Plus, iCloud, etc.) is that it backs up all your pictures, whether they are ones you want to save or not. note, though (phew), that Auto Backup’d photos are by default private.


the changes i made to the default automatic photo backup settings:

  • turned off Full Size Backups. if you use Full Size Backups, the photos count towards your Google Drive space, currently free up to 15 GB. if you flip this toggle to off, it saves smaller photos, no more than 2048 pixels long on their longest edges (which is more than enough for sharing on the web). these photos do not count toward your limit, so effectively you get unlimited storage for them.
  • set photo backups to Wi-Fi only. this isn’t a big deal if you’re on a plan with unlimited (or lots of) data, but if i’m traveling i’m usually not on an unlimited plan on a local SIM card, or if i am on a technically “unlimited” plan (thanks T-Mobile), it’s slow and i don’t want that data usage coming back to haunt me if they say i’m using it excessively abroad.

with these set, i then used the “Back up all photos and videos” button to force it to back all the photos on my phone up at once (all 3000+ of them).

and that’s how Google got my photos.


once your photos are uploaded, the Google’s robot elves begin their work, analyzing them (it’s a bit creepy, but i don’t mind) to do things like combine multiple photos into an animation or add effects like snow (even when it’s not a snow scene — robots aren’t perfect!). or…automatically combine a group of photos into a scrapbook-like timeline — a Story.

there are algorithms that pick the supposed best or key photos from the ones it has, extract location labels and maps, and segment by day. you can manually include more photos or exclude the ones it has picked, as well as add captions to them.



photo editing is also made easy — you can crop, rotate, enhance, filter, tilt shift and more, all from inside your browser:



what you get out of it is a timeline that you can share not just on Google Plus, but with anyone (the URL to use appears when you finish scrolling through your Story).

it’s not perfect, though. you still have to go through it and do some touch-up work, assuming you’re not even going to bother to add captions. sometimes the photos it chooses can be of questionable quality or worthiness, and sometimes it includes too many in a Story, like this one:



looking good so far, right?

but the Story ended with this:


cute, but no cigar. another shortcoming is that there’s no way to embed a story into a blog post (as far as i know). i’m hoping that is a feature that will be in a future release; it’d make it a pretty cool way to add a series of photos to a post, no? also, as of now, there’s no way to view a Story on a phone unless you have an Android phone running the Google Plus app, although they say this feature will come shortly to iOS.

but you know, it’s not bad for something that’s automated. i probably won’t go about manually uploading photos from my regular camera (sticking to Flickr for now), nor will i bother to manually create stories. i’m not sure if the servers are still churning away with my other photos or if they gave up the ghost after making a handful, but if a cool one gets generated, i just might share it. no matter what, i’ll still keep automatically backing up my photos to the cloud via Google.

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