Facebook today announced some notable upgrades to its photo-sharing product: the ability to share high-resolution photos, "tag" people in bulk, and browse photos in a more streamlined fashion that doesn't load individual pages each time a new photo is viewed. The announcement was made by Facebook Photos product manager Sam Odio, and the new features will be rolling out over the next month, starting with a small test group on Thursday night.
Previously, much of Facebook Photos had been "a clumsy experience," Odio explained, with image sizes limited to a relatively small 720-pixel resolution, tagging other members only possible through a slow process, and the photo upload tool "several years old--it was just using this old Java technology."
With millions of photos uploaded to the social network every day, Facebook didn't think its existing product was sufficient. "Reliability is extremely important to us," he said. "The biggest problem in other countries, where you're talking about slower computers and slower Internet connections: they were really struggling to upload photos to Facebook."
The new uploading tools, which have gradually been improved with more advanced Flash technology, will give Facebook members the option to upload a photo in 2048-pixel resolution and offer their friends the chance to download them. "It's enough pixels to print out a 5x7 print at 300 DPI," Odio explained. Then, when they've uploaded them, they'll be able to tag their friends in them in bulk rather than individually.
The bulk-tagging tool will also detect when the same person has been tagged in an album multiple times. But Odio stressed that Facebook will not be going so far as to utilize facial-recognition technology; it'll be using a less complicated technology that can detect when the same face appears in an album, but does not attempt to connect that face to a profile, or identity that person based on other photos of that person that have been tagged. The user who uploaded the photos must supply the name to be tagged.
"This isn't face recognition," he insisted. "Picasa and iPhoto--they'll detect a face and say, 'This is Sam,' and they'll suggest that it's Sam. We're not doing that. We're not linking any faces to profiles automatically. Right now, we want to stay away from that because it's a very touchy subject."
The new viewing function means that instead of loading a separate Web page for each photo, images and the comments and tags for them will load directly on top of the page that the user is currently viewing. "It's essentially going to happen very quickly, right when you click on the thumbnail," Odio explained. "If you click on a photo and an album from a news feed, you can still page through the entire album."
Odio joined Facebook about five months ago, when it acquired his photo start-up, Divvyshot. "Facebook was in the middle of building out a photos team to focus on a photos product around the same time," he said of the acquisition and new developments. "The fact that we can do this without charging users or having any kind of pro or premium plan is really cool."