VENICE BEACH, Calif. — Google has a cool new solution for the hundreds of photos and video clips that get snapped during a vacation, family reunion or other outing. Tuesday it introduces Google + Stories, an automated tool that selects images and turns them into online presentations — without you lifting a finger.
The free program is the first new feature in some time for Google +, the struggling social network that saw a shakeup in April when longtime G+ boss Vic Gundotra suddenly exited.
With Stories, Google sifts through your posted photos in the background, and lets you return from vacation with a fun slideshow to watch of the best of the best.
"We've added not just the photos and videos but the travel information, places and restaurants you went to along the way," says Google + product manager Ben Eidelson. "We've given this all to you automatically when you've gotten back from whatever you're doing so you don't have to stress about that on top of doing your laundry and unpacking."
Once it's created, you can go in and tweak the presentation, moving and deleting photos and videos, and adding captions.
To work with Google + Stories, here's what you need to know:
— First, you need to have a Google + page and Google account. That's not hard. If you have a Google ID for Gmail or other Google products you also have a G+ ID, even if you've never bothered to set up a G+ page.
— Secondly, you need to turn on the auto backup tool on the G+ app for your Android or Apple device. This automatically sends all your smartphone photos directly to Google, without you having to bother with uploading.
(Note: Camera phone images are stored for free at lower resolution — sized 2048x2048. Since most folks don't know what size their camera-phone shots are, consider this: by comparison, the iPhone 5S photos are sized at 3264 x 2448. In the gear section of G+ on the smartphone app, you can adjust the Auto Backup settings to down-sample them.)
If you use cameras instead of smartphones for your photos, which have even larger files, make sure to upload them to G+ as well so they'll be available for your "Stories." But remember the limitations of uploading full size photos — you'll need to pay for the service.
For full size photos — including uncompressed RAW files — Google offers 15 GB of free storage, or 1 terabyte (1000 GBs) for a generous $10 monthly. This compares to $50 a month for 500 GB via Dropbox.
Beyond having the G+ account and using the auto-backup feature, "you just have to be running the app so you can be notified when we have a story for you," adds Eidelson. "You'll be able to open them as soon as you get back from your trip."
Eidelson demoed the app for us by mostly showing vacation photos, because those are the easiest for Google's algorithms to figure out. An outing to the zoo, graduations, friends over for barbecues also work, as long as there's a big group of photos, he adds. "Enough for us to make a story."
The app will show up in the left-hand section of Google +, within the Photos area.