Rolling out gradually to Facebook users, the social network is launching a new version of the photo viewer that allows pictures to be displayed at a significantly larger resolution than previous designs. On a typical 15″ laptop, pictures display as large as 960 pixels wide and 720 pixels tall. After the user clicks on a photo, the new interface launches and covers the entire screen with the photo as well as a white space on the right side. Users can like, share or comment on the photo on the right side of the screen. In addition, Facebook is rotating out advertisements underneath the comments as well as sponsored stories.

In order to navigate through a typical Facebook album, the user hovers the mouse over the picture. Two arrows on the left and right side of the picture appear, thus the user can click the arrows to view all pictures in the album. Also appearing on the picture during a mouse hover action, a clear “Like” button can be clicked at the bottom of the picture as well as a tagging button to include names of friends in the picture. In addition, a link to the full album appears at the bottom of the screen which leads to Facebook’s standard album view. 

Seeing how this is the first major new feature to come out of the social network since the IPO announcement, the inclusion of the ads within the new photo viewer is likely indicative of Facebook’s efforts to monetize the site more effectively. While the ad placements are currently static when clicking through pictures within the album, Facebook could alter the ad rotation frequency to change upon each new picture and drastically increase ad impressions. 

The concept of the photo display is remarkably similar to the basic outline of the Google+ lightbox overlay, but there are several key differences in functionality and design. The Google+ overlay completely blacks out the screen behind the picture rather than the dark gray, translucent overlay that Facebook uses. Also absent from Facebook’s concept, Google+ offers a wide array of photo editing tools such as rotation and color correction within the overlay interface and allows the user to create an Internet meme out of any picture within a Google+ feed. In addition, the Google+ interface includes an option to view the photo’s EXIF data to determine the camera that took the picture as well as a link to download a full size version of the original photo. 

Photographer Thomas Hawk posted a comparison of the two photo overlay designs earlier today as well as links to comments from both Facebook fans and Google+ followers.  Hawk stated “It’s better than the old Facebook lightbox. It’s still not as good as Google+’s which still has a larger photo — but along with the new much larger photo thumbnails in the Timeline view, it’s a step in the right direction.” Hawk also mentioned that Facebook should improve the cropping tool within the Facebook Timeline. 

Related to Facebook photos, the social network has also recently received negative attention for keeping user-deleted photos on Facebook servers for years beyond the original deletion date. According to an investigation by Ars Technica, writer Jacqui Cheng was still able to reach direct links of photos that were deleted during 2009. As detailed by Facebook spokesperson Frederic Wolens, he stated “We have been working hard to move our photo storage to newer systems which do ensure photos are fully deleted within 45 days of the removal request being received.” However, this process is not expected to be completely finished for another few months.