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Google and Facebook write your end-of-year cards for you

With a Google+ auto-awesome movie and a special Facebook page, social media powers try to give you a hand with your holiday communications. It's a nice idea, but lacks a certain personal touch.

With its auto-awesome feature, Google+ creates a movie with musical accompaniment out of what it deems to be your best photos and videos of 2013.
With its auto-awesome feature, Google+ creates a movie with musical accompaniment out of what it deems to be your best photos and videos of 2013.
screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

If you're one of the countless people who feels guilty about failing to send end-of-year letters to your friends and family, perhaps it's time to let Google or Facebook do the work for you.

Both companies have released tools that compile what they judge to be your top moments of the year for easy sharing with your social contacts. Of the two, the Google+ auto-awesome movie is more interesting -- at least if you actually have some photos and videos uploaded onto Google+ -- since it builds something new rather than just repackaging some highlights from the year's posts.

Google packages what it deems to be your best Google+ photos and videos of 2013 into an embedded YouTube video. You can see ones that are public or from your contacts with a Google+ search for #year2013. The results show animated GIFs of the videos, but clicking on a post takes you to a movie version with Ken Burns-esque photo zooming and the cheerful music.

Vic Gundotra, Google's senior vice president of engineering, announced the feature on Monday.

And Google gave itself a little marketing present with the feature. At the end of the movie, viewers see a Google+ plug including the suggestion: "Give the gift of awesome photos. Help your friends install the Google+ app and turn on auto backup."

Google's auto-awesome feature examines photos that people have uploaded then takes actions like combining a group of them into an animation. More recently, Google's auto-awesome feature took a seasonal turn by adding falling snowflakes to snowy scenes and making Christmas-tree photos twinkle.

Facebook described its feature this way: "Your year in review is a collection of your biggest moments on Facebook from this year, including life events, popular posts you've shared and posts your friends have tagged you in," Facebook explained. Facebook also amasses your friends' top moments into another year in review that you can browse.

It's cleverly convenient, though the Google and Facebook highlight selections may not agree with your own. But let's be honest here -- who these days actually writes and sends real holiday letters to all their friends and relations? Surely only a tiny fraction of people, and for the rest, a Google+ slideshow or Facebook page could be a convenient way to share a year's worth of shots.

Just don't be fooled into expecting that people will see any kind of personal touch in your year-in-review page. It's a nice idea, but both the Facebook and Google features have a very mechanical, algorithmic feel.