I have promised my company’s photo club to teach an introduction to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. When we first touched on the product, one of the most interesting functions for them was the image database and, especially the keywording feature.
Back in the days when we all shot slides or negative film, keywords were things that you wrote on paper lables and put them on the fronts or tops of the slidde magazines. They would say „Crete, 1988“ or so. Nowadays, as Images are somewhere out there on the internet and the primary mode of finding them is still searching for associated text (i.E. keywords) they have become so much more important and also so much more descriptive. We assign keywords by location, by content, by color, by camera and lens used and other factors. Actually, when you’re trying to sell your images on micro stock agencies, anyone will tell you that your success lies in how well your images can be found, that is, in how well you describe the image by keywords.Modern applications such as Lightroom don’t just allow to add single keywords, they have a rather sophisticated system to tag images. Normally, keywords are defined in a hierarchy in order to reflect the fact that most things in the world don’t stand for themselves but are members of larger classes of things. A Table is a piece of furniture, for example or a Kea, who of course is also a bird. For geographical features you could say that, let’s say, the fact that you lable your image with „Washington Monument“ probably means that you’re in Washington DC (though not necessarily) and therefore in the USA which again is part of North America. You could, however, also define „Washington Monument“ as a member of a class of Monuments which itself is a member of the class of architectural structures etc.
Also, applications sometimes have the option to add synonyms to a keyword. You can use this to literally add synonyms (like you might want to add „vessel“ as a synonym to „ship“) but the much more useful case for this is to create multilingual catalogs. Let’s say you, like me, usually work in German. You tend to use German keywords and so instead of „bird“ you put in „Vogel“. Your image is great but noone will find it if he isn’t specifically searching for the German word. Lightroom, like I’m sure many other applications, will include the synonyms into the exported files and therefore you’ll have „bird“, „Vogel“ and maybe „oiseau“ associated with your image on flickr (or whatever you platform of choice is).
It’s clear, proper hierarchical keywording requires some thought and won’t be the same to everyone.
However, there are major benefits for having a generalized system of keywords, a public catalog free for everybody to use. Mainly, if we all use good keywords, seach results get better for everyone. Yes, that also means we’ll get more comparable, but if we want to stand out, then it should be with our images, not with our keywording skills, no?
So why am I writing this down?
I thought of a solution to the problem. A solution that doesn’t require every single one of us to come up with his or her own hierarchy but that, much like wikipedia, allows a group of people to collaborate, to create a large, well laid out keyword catalog and translate it to as many languages as possible.
This will not be a one size fits all and not every hierarchical order will necessarily be right for everybody. >ou may want to have all bird names just classified as „bird>animal“ or prefer the proper scientific classification of species>genus>tribe>familiy>order>class>phylum>kingdom. Both is possible and both will probably find people to use it, but for the occasional shot of a Kea, it’s probably irrelevant that it’s in the tribe of „Nestorini“.
What I’m thinking of is a web service that allows people to create and manage such hierarchies of keywords. In the birds case, there might be one catalog called „Animals, simplified“ and another one called „Animals, biological classification“. You decide for either one and next time you add a bird species, you automatically get all the information that is in the catalog you chose.
But that’s not all, I’m also thinking of having this multilingual. Once the hierarchical structure is defined, we can have any node of it provided in various languages. You might then go in and chose to download the catalog for „Animals, simplified“ with the primary language „German“ (so you can put in all those familiar German bird names) and chose „English“ and „French“ as secondary languages, which is to say they would go into the synonym fields, you wouldn’t see them when tagging your images but they would be exported with the image, making it accessible for searches in those languages, too.
I know there’s probably a ton of things still to be thought of and defined, but I would really appreciate if a few fellow photographers with some web programming background could think about the idea and maybe we can get it off the ground.