Next Google acquisition: Flickr + Picasa 2.0 = Fotoogle

Okay, so I’m kidding about the Fotoogle name (yuck!), but — mark my un-insider words — Google is going to buy community photo service Flickr or perhaps Fotki early next year and integrate it tightly with the upcoming Picasa 2.0.

What problems would this solve?

1) Bridge the offline – online photo gap.
Right now, via Google’s Picasa software and similar products, people can easily catalog, browse, and search for photos on their hard drive. But, one-at-a-time postings to notwithstanding, there’s no point-and-click-easy ways for folks to get their photo catalogs online.

2) Enrich the Google Images database with a plethora of (IPTC-based) metadata.
The vast majority of amateur photographers (and probably the bulk of professional photographers) have neither the know-how nor the availability of non-geek tools to add IPTC title, description, and category information to their photo files. This, then, makes it extremely hard for Google to return useful hits in its Image search, since it relies on fuzzy contextual clues like jpeg alt-text, general surrounding text, and so on. By making it rewarding and easy for people to enter metadata for their photos and have them uploaded to a site online, Google will reap a humungous windfall of annotated photo data… greatly improving its Image search database. And such annotations will also provide a monumentally stronger hook for effective AdWords advertising on the Image pages ;-).

Why Flickr?
– It’s already well-respected and well-liked by bloggers, including at least one prominent team member.
– Open API!
– Small, smart, dedicated team behind the service.
– Flickr already uses AdWords 🙂
– It’s not evil; Flickr strongly considers member concerns and interests.
– Flickr uses tags, very similar in concept to Gmail’s labels.
– Strong focus on community: groups, live chats, etc.
– It’s based in Vancouver, not all that far from Google’s new Washington office.
– Flickr’s often-Flash-based UI is creative, useful, fun. And — while lately inexplicably deemphasized — their Flash-based chat is especially brilliant. Maybe something to integrate into Blogger or Google Groups? (“Chat live about this [blog | topic]!”)

Why Fotki?
– Offers photo printing.
– Already reads and works with IPTC info.
– Seemingly strong backend in terms of computational power, storage, and bandwidth.
– Also focused on community: blogs, contests, even a personal Image server for sharing photos from one’s hard drive.
– Based in New York City, relatively near Google’s NY office.

Why not a ‘major’ player like Ofoto or Shutterfly?
– Too big. Google likes smaller, more nimble firms.
– They’re focused on printing and commerce far more than photo sharing and discovery.
– They have minimal community aspects.

Why not a wildly popular site like fotolog?
– Rudimentary permissions structure.
– Focuses more on skin than art.
– Large non-English-speaking audience (which — no xenophobia intended! — merely presents an early hurdle in terms of documentation, community building, and so on).
– Very little community underpinnings.

* * *

So here are my bottom line guesses:
1) Picasa 2.0 will be out in beta by February 15, 2005.
2) Google will announce a partnership with or — more likely — an acquisition of Flickr simultaneous with Picasa 2.0, or alternately about 45 days later.
3) Soon after the Flickr deal, Yahoo will acquire or partner with Fotki.
4) Microsoft will be steadily working on making MSN Spaces photos integrated with its current software tools and MSN Search. I expect an announcement in this context around May 2005.

You read it here first ;-).

Related links:
Added 12/19/04 8:54pm article on Flickr (free daypass or paid subscription required)
Conversation on Flickr

Edited on 1/2/05 to add:
I’m honored that my prediction has been written up a bit in the blogosphere; however, I’d like to reiterate one word from this entry to make sure things are clear: “un-insider.” My speculation is based upon my broad understanding of the areas of blogging, digital photography, Google’s past acquisition behavior, etc. If you haven’t already done so, you may wish to read my disclaimer.

Edited on 3/20/05 to add:
Well, well, well… so I was wrong about Google (it ended up being Yahoo!), but I was only 10 days off in my estimate. Not too shabby, eh? BTW, nice poker face, Jeremy 😉


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