Picasa and Google Photos: What story map authors need to know

UPDATE: This post was originally published on May 27, 2016. It was revised on Sept 13, 2016 with new information.

You may have heard that Google is retiring Picasa and transitioning its cloud photo hosting services to Google Photos. You also may have heard about changes to Picasa’s developer API that went into effect on May 1, 2016. You also may be wondering what all this means if you are a story map author. Read on to find out!

First, the good news

The good news is…there isn’t any bad news. While you can’t upload any new photos to Picasa:

  • Photos in Picasa that are used in existing story maps will continue to work.
  • Photos in Picasa can still be used to make new story maps.

Google has made no announcement about further deprecations to Picasa’s developer API that is used in Esri’s Story Map apps. While it’s unclear if or when this may change, there’s currently no reason to believe the baseline capabilities of the API that we use to let you browse albums and use your existing Picasa photos in Story Map apps will go away soon. We will stay aware of future announcements and consider updates to Story Map apps if the situation changes.

Where should I put photos I want to use in story maps?

Some Story Map Builders (Cascade, Crowdsource, Map Tour) let you upload your photos directly to ArcGIS Online and easily use them in stories. This is the easiest option since you don’t have to use a separate service to host your images. We will work to enhance other Story Map apps with this capability in future releases.

If you are in need of a service to host photos on the web for a story map, we currently recommend Flickr. Flickr is a mature cloud photo service, is not in the midst of any technology or branding transitions, and optimizes the storage and delivery of photos to story maps.

Another option is to store photos on your own web server or in a cloud file storage service (such as Dropbox or Amazon S3). To do this you need to link to each image from the Story Map Builder using the image’s URL. It’s important to know these storage methods are not optimized for storing and serving photos, so you may need to do additional work (such as manually resize images and/or manage multiple copies of each image) in order to get the same experience provided by Flickr.

Can I use Google Photos?

Yes, you can use Google Photos, but it currently requires a little extra effort. As of this blog post, there’s no way to make photos public in Google Photos, but you can do this in Picasa Google+.

Update: The previous workflow of making Google Photos albums public in Picasa no longer works as of August 1, 2016. The rest of this post has been updated with a new workflow involving Google+.

To make photos uploaded to Google Photos public and visible to Story Map apps follow the steps below:

Step 1: Go to https://photos.google.com, sign in, and upload photos via Google Photos. This step is optional; you can also upload photos directly to the Google+. Just start at step 2.

Step 2: Go to https://plus.google.com and sign in.

Step 3: Click the camera icon to create a new post from photos.

Step 4: Upload photos by dragging them onto the grey drop zone or clicking to open the file browser. If you previously uploaded photos to Google Photos they will be available here.

Step 5: Set the visibility of your post to `Public`

Step 6: Confirm a new post is created. An album named with the current date is created with your photos.

Step 7: In the story map builder (Story Map Cascade is shown below), enter your Google account to browse your albums/photos. You can see the album (named with the date of the Google+ post) in the first screenshot and the uploaded photos in the second.

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Leave a Reply


  1. rlawrence_azgfd says:

    Can one still load individual images into information panels in the tabbed story map template from Picasa/Google photos albums?

  2. Owen Evans says:

    Sure, just use the “Insert image, video, or web page” button on the side panel toolbar and you’ll be able to choose Picasa as an image source.

  3. eliudpr says:

    Can I use Photobucket as an alternative ti Flickr for photos in Story Maps?

    • Owen Evans says:


      While you can’t browse or search Photobucket from the Story Map Builders to select photos to use in a story, as long as you are able to get a permanent URL for your photos you can add them via URL. You can sometimes obtain this via a “Share” button or by right-clicking the photo and copying the photo’s address/URL.

      A permanent URL usually ends in .jpg or other image format extension and doesn’t have a token or other security parameter. For example, I just copied this URL from a public photo on Photobucket by right-clicking it.



  4. mrobinson says:

    The workaround for the Piscasa Web Albums seems to no longer be valid. It sends you to a Google “Album Archive”.
    While previous shared albums in Piscasa continue to show up while building Story Maps, ones that are recently shared in Google Photos do not and the workaround steps listed above do no seem to be available to follow.
    Any suggestions?
    Any word on when Story Maps will work with Google Photos?

    • Owen Evans says:

      Mike — thanks for your note. On August 1st, Google made changes to Picasa. As you mentioned, albums previously uploaded and shared via Picasa can still be added to story maps, but you can no longer use photos loaded via Google Photos as described above.

      There is still no developer API for Google Photos listed on Google’s developer site, so until that becomes available we cannot integrate that service into our Story Map apps. We will continue to monitor this situation for new information.


  5. abconsulting says:

    Another workaround if you don’t want to host pictures on Google+ is to create a public album in google photos, open the photo, copy the image url, convert to a tiny url and then paste this back into where to map is pointing. You don’t have to do the tiny url step if the photo is in a “map notes,” but if it is an attribute, there is a limited number of characters that can be used.

  6. abconsulting says:

    Also – the option to load photos into ArcGIS Online would be more compelling if there were an option to have subfolders. As it is, the file structure can get really messy for bigger mapping projects, independent of the photos.