Organizing Photo Collections: Why No Transportability?

Organizing Photo Collections: Why No Transportabililty?Organizing your photos in a filing system with tags greatly enhances their value. Simply being able to locate immediately a particular photo — say your graduation picture or a friend’s wedding pictures — among the hundreds or thousands of digital images you have stored in My Photos increases the likelihood you will actually look at the pictures you want and not waste time rummaging. Modern photo organizers represent a major improvement over static albums for organizing and accessing precious photos.

When people think about their photo collection, often they will think first about enhancing particular images. Maybe they want to correct for fading in digitized color photographs; maybe they want to crop out a formal lover; maybe they want to try more advanced “Photoshopping.” Those are important actions, but pale next to the value added to a collection by effective organization. File clerks are belittled in our society, but good filing and organization greatly enhances data sets.

Organizing photos is essentially designing a filing system, but unlike physical filing systems, the elements can be tagged with parameters such as photos containing a person, or location, or celebration of an event. Then, wonderful to behold, the photos can be sorted by those tags in different ways. Most Boolean operations work with most organizers. You can search for photos that contain tags for Ann and Bill. You have to work a bit harder to search for photos that contain Ann and “not Bill,” but it can be done, sometimes with special keys (e.g. iPhoto).

But here is a simple question. In any organizer worth its salt, I can ask for a photo’s properties and get a window full of useful information such a when it was taken and what kind of camera was used. There is a wealth of information encoded with every modern digital photo in EIFL, and any reasonable organizer can access it. (Geotagging has some issues, but that is another story.) Note that the format is the same regardless of the make and model of the camera. This is extremely useful.

Now suppose I spent a lot of time with Adobe Elements defining people, places, and events to tag thousands of photos with. This adds great value to my collection because now I can find pictures of a given person or people who visited over a Thanksgiving vacation without hassle. These tags are useful.

After finishing my tagging chore, I will close Adobe and open Picasa. Then I will use those tags to sort the same collection. Oops — does not work. Oh well, I will just tag the photos in Picasa that are new today and which I have not tagged in Adobe. Then the tags will carry over, right? Oops again. Unlike the camera manufacturers who live in an extremely competitive world, photo organizing software companies have not seen the benefit of standards. And it is not just the two I mentioned; try going from tagged Windows Live Photo Gallery to Picasa, for instance.

And on top of non-standardized formats, numerous people are trying to get me to store my photos on their part of the cloud. They give me good reasons why I should do so, but I have not seen anyone address the basic question of a standardized tagging system. So I decline the invitations. I will occasionally use online storage as a means of sharing photos with specific persons, but that is it.

One of the things that computers can do better than humans with no quarrel is to sort data sets. Whether it is as simple as re-ordering your inbox or sorting a vector in Excel, or as complicated as sorting multiply-tagged photos, humans cannot compete. So why not take advantage of this power by establishing simple standards for sorting photos? Standards work so well with so many other things. Imagine not being able to plug in a flash drive or upgrade a hard drive without buying a manufacturer-specific piece of hardware.

“Any standard is better than no standard” (it’s an old engineering saying, not my own). In fact, there is a standard: IPTC. Does anyone know why my applications do not use it? I would love to be able to ship properly tagged photos to family members so they could sort through them using their favorite organizer and get the benefits of the tags I made. Maybe they could add further sub-division tags that I missed, and maybe they could do it not knowing what software I used. Wouldn’t that be nice?

I would even be willing to pass on the fancy facial recognition features to get simple transportability. What do you think? Am I simply off on a useless rant? Will the next generation of organizers be able to do what they should already do even without a push from frustrated users?

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  • http://profiles.google.com/daboodah Jeff Bandera

    I have been frustrated by this exact issue for years now. I dream of the day that there is a standard that is implemented across all photo organizing apps. I’m not holding my breath anymore, though.

    • sdeforest

      Eventually it will happen. There was a fight over video tape standards and later over writable DVD standards. Things will work out, but in the meanwhile, people like us suffer needless headaches because a few companies think locking things up with proprietary standards is more profitable than promoting the industry. In the short term, they are probably right.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jrdnv Jordan Vasquez

      I dream of a day where a standard is implemented across most things lol. But still, yes there needs to be a better way of organizing photos.

      • sdeforest

        One of the innovations that allowed classic photography to take off was the agreement on standards for film. If each manufacturer had insisted on making cameras that only accepted a proprietary size, then none of those wonderful 35 mm slides would have existed. When will they learn?

  • Ryan White

    I try to organize my photos across different services depending on who I am going to share them with. I use Google+ as a backup of all of my photos as it has no storage limitations and is automatic. I use dropbox when working on a project as I can get a synchronization of the full resolution photos for editing and such. I can’t say I know how I will use Instagram as honestly I just signed up for it to follow Chris… I have always thought the filters were a cheap trick and was never interested…

    • sdeforest

      If by filters you mean the tags, then I find them useful. The automated facial recognition is interesting, but still more of a toy in my opinion. Of course we do not get the good facial recognition like the security people use in stadiums etc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrdnv Jordan Vasquez

    I normally just use my dropbox folder for pictures, but have them separated between Camera uploads and wallpapers and those sorts. Thanks to HTC and Dropbox, I now have somewhere close to 30 GB of space which is plenty for me as I don’t take or save pictures very often…

    • sdeforest

      If you have anywhere near 30 gig of photos, you have a bunch. Putting them in designated folders is one thing. Tagging them is another. I use Dropbox to, and it works well for occasional sharing.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jrdnv Jordan Vasquez

        Well I know some people that have over 10GB of just wallpapers haha

  • Curtis Coburn

    Organizing pictures for me at least is a lot easier when you are connected to the internet, rather than using a dedicated camera to take pictures. I’m not a big photographer, and I think my smartphone takes good enough pictures. While I am taking these pictures, they are instantly uploaded to the cloud, in picassa web. From there, I can organize them into the folder I need, and share the picture with who is in the picture.

    There are so many different ways to organize pictures, or any media. It’s more of, what suite you better? Some people like to have them all in dropbox, or Apples photo stream, or flicker, or just Facebook.
    It’s more of, “What suites you the best?” Rather than what’s best for one person. For me, I like to have everything in Picassa Web,

    • sdeforest

      I agree that rather than searching for “the best”, just learn how to use one, but when I write in WordPerfect, I can import or export to Word or LibreOffice. Try that with photo tags. It is transportability that I desire.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dan.czarnecki1 Dan Czarnecki

    On the Mac (which is what I now use, and am typing this comment from), I think the best photo organizer is the one that comes with it, iPhoto. It’s interface looks nice, and it provides every feature you could ask for like enhancement tools, face and location tagging, as well as the ability to share photos to various sites like Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter.

    • sdeforest

      But the point is, that its tagging does not work reciprocally with Picasa or Adobe. If you like living in the garden, then that is okay.

  • http://twitter.com/uthmanbaksh Uthman Baksh

    I have photos on Instagram, Facebook, and Even Google+/Picasa. Oh and iCloud. I guess they are never gonna be synced up no matter how hard I try!

    • sdeforest

      They could be. But when we have foolishness like the Apple and Samsung fiasco, what hope is there?

      • http://twitter.com/uthmanbaksh Uthman Baksh

        I used to have a Flickr but I got rid of it when I realized it’s useless unless I went premium. Plus I have a few on Tumblr and a few saved on my Hard drives. It just keeps getting better and better!

  • http://twitter.com/Mr_Karmostaji Salman Karmostaji

    nice post

    • sdeforest

      Thank you. Fvorable comments are always welcome!

  • islanduke

    I agree that standardization is necessary for the exchange of photos. And, as a genealogist, I have been frustrated by the lack of transportable tagging for as long as I can remember. I have used a few work-arounds, but none are satisfactory, nor completely transportable.

    A number of comments are obviously from snapshotters who are not confronted with the need to search and identify large numbers of photos.

    • sdeforest

      You bet! Either that, or people simply have not realized that there is a better way and are content with what they have.

  • http://twitter.com/qwertysucks Zain Siddiqui

    Transporting any “old” technology to a newer format is a pain. Another example (and painful one for me personally) is transferring VHS tapes to a CD format.

    • sdeforest

      Whether CD or DVD, the transfer will not be permanent if you used standard discs. They will probably last a few years and then start deteriorating. I advise strongly storing the converted video in at least two places on at least 3 types of media. For instance, on a hard drive, a backup or even a USB flashdrive, and a disc.

  • scallawagon

    i just spent a couple of weeks transferring old negative rolls, negative strips and slides into digital format so i could put it all on a cloud for family to share. there were a few thousand of them so it did take some time, but at least now they’re in the same place for family to enjoy, d/l, whatever. am gonna try to get some old audio tape reels transferred into something before the deteriorate completely. whew

    • sdeforest

      Good job, but how are they organized? Does your family have to rummage through them? Which part of the cloud did you use?