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The new Yahoo Photos has the right mix of features and ease of use

The new Yahoo Photos has the right mix of features and ease of use

There's a new Yahoo Photos Web site in closed beta right now. By June 21, Yahoo plans to post it on photos.yahoo.com. I got access to a very buggy preview, and with Google's Picasa Web Albums fresh in my mind, I took it for a spin.

Yahoo Photos is a joy to use. While not perfect, it offers a superior experience to most photo sites.

For example, the upload tool, which runs inside a browser window, allows you drag photos or entire folders into it. It previews your images, tells you how long it's going to take to upload them, and allows you to down-sample the images to save bandwidth.

Yahoo owns another photo site, as well: Flickr, the photo sharing site favored by geeks. The Flickr influence in Yahoo Photos is evident in the tagging features. Unlike with Flickr, however, you can safely ignore tagging in Yahoo Photos and still have a good experience. The primary organizational mode of Yahoo Photos is albums, and selecting photos for inclusion in albums and organizing them within albums is extremely easy. Yahoo Photos also has a clever Smart Album feature, which automatically puts photos in albums when they meet certain criteria (for example, if they have specified tags).

Yahoo Photos' breakout feature is its browser-based photo editor (compare to Pixoh and Pxn8). It handles cropping, resizing, and image adjustments (such as contrast and brightness), and will also add borders and perform special effects, such as pixelate. The editing feature in Yahoo Photos is so easy to use that you might forget what a neat trick it is to have this inside a browser.

Yahoo makes it easy to share images with other users, and you can also get buddies' new public photos in your own Yahoo Photos home page. It's a simple implementation of community, but I think it's effective.

Best of all, there are no published storage or bandwidth restrictions on Yahoo Photos. That smokes Google, which has a 250MB limit on the free account.

Google's win over Yahoo is its integration into Picasa. Although the Yahoo Photos upload tool is easy to use, if you are a Picasa user, it's easier to upload to Picasa Web Albums than to any other service. (Unfortunately, you can't even drag photos from Picasa into Yahoo Photos--although you can drag from Picasa into the Flickr uploader.) You can also send photos from your phone directly to your Yahoo account. There are different ways to do it--you can e-mail photos directly or get an application to handle it for you (the app costs $2.99 per month, while e-mailing is free).

Like most photo sites (with the notable exceptions of Sharpcast and Phanfare), Yahoo doesn't have a desktop component and can't synchronize with your desktop image library. Especially since Yahoo has a photo editor, it needs a way to synchronize the changes users make to their images back to the source files on their PCs.

The strength of Yahoo Photos is not in any one particular feature, but rather in its overall clear design and good user experience. It's a top-tier product, and it has all the basic photo organizing and editing tools that most users will need.