In fact, Stories is one more example of why Google Photos is the best photo management software out there for the average smartphone owner. If you take a lot of pictures with an Android or iOS device, and aren't using Google+ auto backup to organize them, you are missing out.

Google's basic idea is that photography is far more than just capturing the picture. Yet everything that comes after hitting the button to suck up a moment in time onto a sensor is too hard. If you take a lot of pictures–and almost all of us do these days–sorting through them to find the best ones can be tedious and time consuming. And then there's the presentation layer. Google thinks it's been too hard to build anything immersive without putting a lot of work into it. And finally it believes photography is of the moment–you want to be able to share things immediately. Your pictures from this weekend are interesting now in a way they won't be next month. And so with Google+ Photos, and Stories in particular, it's trying to do all this for you.

Of course, there is a self-serving intent in all this–because it works best when you really feed the beast. Your Stories will be better when you give Google more data–when you let it know where you are, upload your pictures to it by the thousands, and help it learn who your friends and family are, and what their faces look like. And all that data helps it know you better. The better it knows you, the better it can serve you an ad for something you may actually want to click on and buy.

It's easy to see how it's getting a lot of contextual data from photographs just by looking at the albums it can build. One of the albums Google automatically generated for me was from a trip I took to Las Vegas. There's a cover photo with a title I added, (initially, it was just listed as a trip to Las Vegas in January), which then jumps right into SFO, where we see my colleague Christina Bonnington eating breakfast at SFO. That was the first photo I took that day, and it really was the beginning of a trip. To Google, this is basically the first photo in a cluster, and the logical place to start. It also can tell–because it knows where my phone was at the time–that it was taken at the airport, and that I left on a trip.

There's a time stamp, and a connective line that prompts me to scroll sideways. The next screen is a map link that animates a dotted red line, showing my flight to Las Vegas. Next up, we're in the Las Vegas airport, at CES badge pickup, and then inside a car where I had a Garmin product demo. And then we see something pretty interesting–it's a circular photo of the Encore, along with a place marker–tapping on it takes you to Google Maps, and a link to the Google knowledge card where you can see more information on the hotel. It automatically adds these to Stories, and they do a great job of putting your photos in context. They make you want to explore.

Likewise, the user interface is inviting. It feels alive, especially on tablets. As you scroll sideways, pictures bounce into view. It has an elastic quality to it that responds to the movements of your hands across the screen. If there are videos or animated GIFs–which Google Photos also automatically generates–these get embedded as well, giving the Story an even more animated quality.


You're not going to want to stick with all the defaults, like this Winchester card for example. Screenshot: WIRED

There are some definite hiccups. You can really see these in the places it automatically includes. For example, a lot of the events that take place at CES are held at the Mandalay Convention Center, but Google tagged me at the Mandalay Spa. Instead of putting me at the LVH, another CES venue, it has me at the Las Vegas Country Club. It also thought I was at the Wynn Golf Club for some reason, which I never was (as far as I remember), and then there's the place marker for Winchester. The default image for Winchester, Nevada is, apparently, a bunch of butts. Granted, these seem to be bronze butts, so it's art? But they remain butts nonetheless and I'm not sure many people want butts in their moments. Naturally, you can edit and delete any of the moments Stories drops in automatically, but to me the butts really illustrated the perils of allowing robots full control of your memories.

Still, even with the missteps (which are easily corrected), Stories are exquisite. This is Google doing what it does best: organizing all the world's information in a very literal sense. It's taking your past, putting it together into a narrative, and rescuing it from the tyranny of file folders.