Reading feedback from Picasa users is one of the best parts of my job. And lately the feedback has been especially clear and direct: please offer an easy way to share photos online. Today, we’re delighted to begin testing a new Picasa feature that does just that. It’s called Picasa Web Albums.

In case you’re not familiar with Picasa, it’s Google’s free desktop photo management software. Picasa is a quick download that makes it easy for people to organize and edit their pictures using something that’s simple and clutter-free. It’s all about the photos. And now we’ve tried to bring that same experience to online photo sharing with Picasa Web Albums. Just pick a bunch of your photos from Picasa and upload them into a web album in a couple of clicks. Once they’re online, it’s super-easy to share them – click the “Share” button from anywhere on the site or, just email friends the URL for your public gallery.

Take a look at the photos that our tester wants to share: Try flipping through photos using the arrow keys (we pre-fetch photos so they load quickly). Zoom in and out to check out details or see the whole photo. Or maximize them on a large monitor. We focused on the photos, not ads or archiving, because we know how important your photos are to you especially when you want to share them. Of course, there's a lot we want to add and improve — which is why for the moment, we're only testing this feature by invitation. If you’re interested in making your own Picasa Web Albums (and helping us make it better), give us your Gmail address here. We’ll be sending out invitations first come, first served.

Once you have an invitation, you’ll be able to download the latest version of Picasa with the web uploading feature. And actually, it’s not just about web uploading -- there’s also downloading. We wanted to make sure you can keep enjoying the photos your friends have shared with you. With this in mind, when viewing others’ galleries, you can download an entire album of photos directly into Picasa with just a couple of clicks. For uploading and downloading to and from Picasa Web Albums, you’ll need the new version of Picasa – again, it’s only available to invited users for the time being.

Finally, you may be wondering if this costs anything. No, and no hidden fees either. Picasa is free as always, and Picasa Web Albums comes with 250MB of free storage space. That’s enough for approximately 1,000 wallpaper-sized photos at 1600 pixels each. We also offer an easy-to-understand storage upgrade option if you have a whole lot more pictures to share.

We’re working hard to make both Picasa and Picasa Web Albums better. And we’re excited to start making our most commonly-requested feature available to more people. Try it out and tell us what you think. We’d love to hear from you.