How many times will  members of this industry get together and talk about IPTC, keywording and other metadata. How many meetings, conferences, synopsis, “get togethers”, panels, parties, does it take ? Both the ASPP conference in Arizona and CEPIC in Malta have scheduled hours long conferences on this subject. Again. The one in CEPIC is 8 hours long !!!

It used to be that the IPTC was a small geeky association of nerds looking into how to standardize metadata in images. It has now become the most sought-after organization. More than the dying PLUS coalition.

The amusing part is that none of the attendants are keywording their own images. They have staff people to do that. Furthermore, none of the companies that offer this service are on the panels( JaincoTech, Keedup, OnAsia Digital, Etc) They would know better, wouldn’t they?  Instead, you have marketing managers or agencies owners sitting in stuffy rooms, vaguely writing notes while waiting for the suffering to end until they can finally get a free drink at the evening’s cocktail party.

At a time when the temple of controlled vocabulary  ( the Library of Congress) has decided to pull out from its antiquated method of keywording by putting 4,000 of its images into Flickr and ask for crowdsourcing wisdom, the photo agency world is wasting time and money into desperately trying to impose a standardized form of controlled vocabulary. Some probably spend more time and money on attending these panels than they do in a whole year of marketing.

The aim, apparently, is to define a series of code words that could be transported from one databank to another and yield the same results. Thousands of them. Same keywords. Wether they are related to the real world is irrelevant as the priority is to standardize and eventually give photo buyers a book on which word to use and how. And then what, have university offer a degree in photo researching, transforming photo buyers into bonified librarians? It is bad enough that some “photo editors” have no visual experience, it gives me the shivers to think what would become if this would happen.

There are few misconceptions here :

Language, unless dead, evolves all the time. Even dictionary publishers worldwide know  as they add and delete words every year.  Who uses “walkman” anymore ?

Keywording is not a marketing tool:  A bad or irrelevant  image well keyworded is still a bad image. It will not sell.

Controlled Vocabulary does not include local cultures. If it does, than it cannot be controlled anymore. It is arrogant, pedant and quite simply foolish to even believe that one controlled vocabulary can and will apply to the whole world.

A word is not a definition. It is only a description. It takes many words to skim the surface of what an image is. Thus keywording should be an accessory to search, not its main engine.

In the long term, keywording will die. Already, there are other emerging ways to search for images : visual, color, face recognition, similar, pattern recognition. In the text world, there is even semantic search, which allows you to search by meaning instead of exact match.

Google images, which everyone sees as the ultimate “find me tool” does not even index IPTC.

They say insanity is repeating the same thing over and over hoping for a different result. Seems to be that the photo industry is banging over and over on the same door and it will just not open.

The solutions ? Exactly what the user generated content agencies are doing. Let the keywords be offered by the source . They shoot, they keyword. And they keyword well because they are using an everyday vocabulary that the buyers are also using. A vocabulary that changes and evolves all the time. A vocabulary that is not “controlled”. Organized chaos.

Or follow the giants. Getty, which you never see at these repeated panels, as well as AP, Reuters, Corbis and others, have hired outside companies to do their keywords. Because it is not their chore business and do not feel it necessary to have a full time dedicated team of librarians. They seem to prefer selling images rather than cataloguing them.

It would be an interesting exercise to calculate how much time was wasted in “perfectly” keywording images that never sold in some of the medium or smaller agencies that seem to be obsessive about doing in house keywording .

Would it be more interesting for these congress, meetings, conference to have a panel about how to make great pictures that sale ?

Worst that could happen would be a few hours looking at great image.

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