Today’s cool tool is heads and shoulders above the rest.  Well, at least heads.

Google’s just released a new version of Picasa, their photo editing/managing software.  This tool is great for keeping track of your pictures and sharing them.  And for losing track of time, but I’ll get to that later.  You can upload and email pictures through Picasa, and do basic (but decent) photo editing, in addition to the new stuff discussed below.

I got the new Picasa this week and was happy to see a new feature: It will tell you what sort of camera took the picture and what the color layout is like

along with other nifty technical stuff.  Then I found out the coolest thing: face recognition.

After you have Picasa installed and it has found all your pictures, it will start trying to identify all the faces it can, and grouping them into similar structures.  Not “my friends from school” and “my friends from Rome”, but faces that look similar.  It’s up to you to give them names.

With Google being Google, it wants an email address as well.  This poses a problem with people you know but don’t know their email addresses, or people too young to have email addresses, or people who died before computers were invented.  Yes, Picasa can identify folks from pictures.

Let’s jump in.  After you have downloaded Picasa, install it and make sure it can search for pictures where you store your pictures.  If it’s in My Documents, you should be covered.  I had to tell it which folders to watch, because my folder layout is a little peculiar.  Get to it through Tools | Folder Manager.

The “Scan Always” makes sure that newly added pictures get detected.   The Face Detection On means that Picasa stays busy.  It puts heads of people it finds into an Unnamed People group.  You can go through and identify people you know.  Picasa then builds on that to identify the same person from other pictures.  When it works, it’s great.  You can confirm Picasa’s suggestions one at a time, or hit the neat Confirm All button in the top right.  But tread carefully.  Here are some fun hits and misses that I have found.  These are siblings, but one is not like the others.

Seems to happen with younger ones:

And with delightfully mature ones:

There are times when it makes amazing face finds.  This little picture in the lower left

From this big one:

and then this dark face in the lower right

from the shadows of this strange restaurant picture.

This is not to say that Picasa is perfect.  I was surprised at this face among the unnamed people

and Picasa apparently thinks most babies look alike (which they do, but they’re not identical).

Bettie and I are big picture-takers.  Picasa is chunking through about 1200 folders of pictures.  When I was in India, I took about 300 pictures a day.  Most folders have fewer pix than that, but Picasa has found roughly a hundred thousand faces to identify.  It does a pretty good job at matching – it recently proposed over a hundred faces it thought were me, and the Confirm All button was much easier than clicking on the “accept” button a hundred times.  No false positives in the group, either.

The biggest problems will be creating fake email addresses for people (I’m sticking with FirstName@LastName, which Google accepts even though it complains).  The other thing is sorting through the babies, and removing faces of people who I don’t know – other people at a park, or random folks at a reunion.

And I’m learning to hate pictures from baseball games.