"Stories" Is Google Plus's New Scrapbook-ish Feature in Search of a Purpose

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
May 21 2014 4:57 PM

"Stories" Is Google Plus's New Scrapbook-ish Feature in Search of a Purpose

google_stories
Your trip here.

Photo from Google Stories.

When you get back from a trip and you know you took a lot of great photos, you may be excited to share them right away. But let's be real, it's going to take months before you make that Facebook or Flickr album. And by then you'll have forgotten some of the specifics about the trip. That’s where Google Plus’ new “Stories” feature comes in.

Lily Hay Newman Lily Hay Newman

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

The goal of Stories is to convert your trove of photos into an attractive slideshow/scrapbook-type thing that's shareable. It does a lot of the heavy lifting for you: If you have auto backup enabled in the Google Plus app on your iOS or Android phone, the Stories algorithms will automatically look through your photos, evaluate time stamps, and geo-tag data in your images to figure out whether you've been traveling and then whether you took enough photos/videos to merit a Story. The service also scans to see if any of your photos include recognizable landmarks.

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If there's enough data there, a chronological Story will automatically generate. It will choose photos and landmarks to highlight, but you can go in and customize which photos show up and which location data displays from the restaurants, hotels, and other places you visited. You can also add captions.

Stories are created within 24 hours of your return to whatever Google knows as your "home," and in that time, you can upload photos from other devices you may lugged along on the trip.

Services that customize a product for each user by populating a template with their data/digital assets are really popular. Google starting messing around with the concept with its 2013 Auto Awesome custom slideshows and Auto Awesome video features. Facebook jumped on the trend with its "Look Back" videos a few months ago, HTC has Video Highlights, and countless apps pull from the photos and videos on an iPhone to create customizable slideshows.

So what's different about Stories? The big thing is that Google probably knows a lot about you. And the more data a tool like this has at its disposal, the better its customization for you is going to be. It's more likely to spit out a final product that you actually like.

But Stories, like Facebook's Look Back videos, seems a little bit aimless. It's a way of highlighting photos so they're not all stuck in a folder on your phone, sure, but it seems almost like a distraction from or a justification for all the data Google collects about its users. The more personal data Google has, the more ads it can sell and the more money it can make. If something like Stories will get people to automatically upload even more photos, then it's a win for Google. The link to your Story is just a little thank-you from Google for providing your valuable data.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

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