"Shared Albums" in Google Photos are great for collaborating. I finally got Joe on board with adding his travel photos directly to my shared albums, and it worked perfectly! So, if you think you'll want this set up where multiple people contribute to the same album, you should probably just create a "new shared album" right off the bat, right? WRONG!
"Shared" means . . . shared?
So, first off all, what is a shared album? Well, it's either an album that you made and "shared" to other people for viewing, or an album that you intend others for to collaborate on and add their own pictures to. Google does not appear to be making the distinction between the two, and simply calls any album that someone other than you might be able to see, and possibly add photos to, "shared."
This means that you can make any existing album a shared album simply by letting others view it. At that point, your album will have "shared settings" where you can further fine-tune whether or not others can comment, add their own photos, etc. You do not need to decide, when initially creating your album, whether or not it will be a "shared" album. In fact, it probably makes sense that for a lot of your albums, you'll create them first, and then at some point later decide you want to share them with (make them visible to) other people.
"The system kind of broke down..."
This is one of our favourite lines to use at home when things don't function as we intended them to. And, sure enough, this system did break down when I thought I'd get all smart and proactive and stuff and create a "new shared album" so Joe and I could both add our photos from Milan. Normally, I would create an album, then through various means, I would make sure I had copies of Joe's "album-worthy" photos and upload them myself. I even showed him how he could add a couple of photos to the album of photos from our recent Munich trip directly from his phone (which I had of course "shared" with him so he could see the photos). But, if now we've decided we will both contribute to the album, I thought it made sense to create a "shared album" up front.
The Problem: "shared" albums are not recognized as "albums" by any of my other photo apps
Third-party apps such as Picasa Tool are a key part of my photo organization system. These apps, written for Google's previous photo system Picasa, allow me much greater access to and control over my photos than Google Photos currently does. Perhaps the most important feature to me is the ability to download low-res versions of my albums for offline viewing on my phone and tablet that take up very little space on my devices. The caveat, however, is that these apps can only access "albums." Picasa, unlike Google Photos, didn't have the concept of a stream of added, unorganized photos: if a photo existed in Picasa, then it also existed in an album. Therefore, all my third-party apps only know how to deal with albums, and the photos therein. If a photo hasn't been explicitly added to an album, whether public or private, these apps can't see it.
My workaround has been to create albums (so. many. albums.) to ensure that every photo uploaded exists in an album, somewhere. Some of these albums are only for my private viewing, and essentially function as a catch-all to make sure I can access these photos through my third-party, Picasa-based apps. So yeah, I've gone a little overboard with the albums, but that's solved my problem of being able to see these photos in apps like Picasa Tool and Pics Pro. Imagine my surprise when my latest album "2016-10 Milan" (yes, I'm writing this in Milan!) wasn't showing up in either of these apps.
Insert montage of me testing various conditions and lo and behold, new albums created as shared albums are somehow entirely different from plain old new albums, and my apps cannot see them.
One of these days, Google Photos...
So, Google Photos is basically the worst photo organizing/management/sharing service, except for all the others. I can't keep trying all the others, only to notice that they suck in some even worse ways and lack things I already have, so I'm here, and I'm going to be a Google Photos hanger-on until it kills me.
Today's lesson, therefore, is DO NOT BE FOOLED: NEVER MAKE A SHARED ALBUM. Always make an album, then decide to share it, which could mean simply letting other see it, or could mean letting others add to it, because apparently it's not worth it to Google to differentiate. All these settings can be changed (or changed back) at any time, but shared albums (if created as such) break shit. Do not want.