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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Google offers unlimited free storage of photos and videos for everyone

It's all you want, really, isn't it? A digital equivalent of that shoebox full of photos in your parents' closet — a place you can store all the photos and videos you're taking, without having to worry about having enough space for them.

Because here's the thing: Your parents' shoebox didn't cost them anything. If you decide you want a phone with more storage space, it could cost you a couple hundred bucks. If you can figure out how to get them off your phone onto a disk, you've got to buy that, too — and then you'll have to worry about what happens to all those photos and videos if it gets broken or lost. Storing them online seems like the best option, but storage space is always an issue. You can get the space you need, but you'll pay for it, every month, for as long as they're willing to store your stuff.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, Google announced Google Photos, and it might be a game-changer in the cloud storage game. Google Photos will store all of your photos and videos. For free. All of them.

There are limitations, but right now odds are they won't be important to you — photos can be up to 16 megapixels, and high-definition video is limited to 1080p. Stay within those limits (as you likely already do) and you can dump everything you want into Google Photos.

There's an app for iPhones and Android phones, and a website (photos.google.com). Visit, and you might see shades of the old photo management tool from Google Plus, the company's struggling social media site. But Google Photos will be different, the company says.

"There has been a renaissance in the thinking of what Google Plus is for," Bradley Horowitz, Google's vice president of photos and streams (that's a job title?), told the Associated Press. It's not that Google Plus is going anywhere, Horowitz said, but AP says it's "likely to focus on bringing together people who share common interests and hobbies instead of trying to connect friends and family." I admit I'm not sure I understand what that distinction will mean when you're deciding how to share photos of your cat, but the message seems to be this: Google admits the shortcomings in Google Plus were obvious; hopefully Google Photos will address some of those concerns.

And the benefit to you goes beyond the free price tag, Google says. Google Photos will be about how your photos are arranged and managed, freeing you from having to sift through that entire digital shoebox when you want to find that photo of Uncle Phil falling into the pool last Thanksgiving. If you use Gmail for your email, you probably understand the approach Google wants to bring to organizing and searching your photos. They'll be automatically sorted by location, activity — or, according to the AP, "even species of animal." Down the road, after you've uploaded thousands of your photos, Google wants you to be able to find pictures of your dog just by typing "dog" in the search field — even if you've never taken the time to put tags or descriptions on any of your stuff. You'll be able to create slide shows and albums automatically, too, and set them to music. 

Is there a catch? There has to be one, right? And maybe it's this:

Ask yourself what's in this for Google? How do they come out ahead by offering you everything you wanted, and for free? Well, for one thing, they're trying to fine-tune their image recognition algorithms. What better way to do that than to turn it loose on an enormous stash of photos that people have given you for free?

Is that some nefarious invasion of everyone's privacy? Meh. I guess it depends on how worked up you want to get about that kind of thing. Stashing your photos on Google's servers is kind of like leaving your gym bag in someone else's locker. It's probably fine, but you wouldn't want to leave anything valuable or embarrassing in there.

And when the alternatives are 5GB of free storage from Apple, then 99 cents a month for an additional 20GB, or even 1TB of free storage from Flickr, Google's free and unlimited largesse might be worth managing that concern. It's certainly enough to get your attention.

Google Photos director Anil Sabharwal announces the new service Thursday during the 2015 Google I/O conference in San Francisco, Calif. The annual conference runs through May 29.

[Getty Images]

Google Photos director Anil Sabharwal announces the new service Thursday during the 2015 Google I/O conference in San Francisco, Calif. The annual conference runs through May 29.

[Last modified: Friday, May 29, 2015 1:03pm]

    

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