It is funny how keywords have become the new verb. It is no more about what you are looking for but what is available. Keyword search has been elevated to new highs as photo agencies fail to replace the old “call me and let me find what you are looking for”
Case and Point. Getty Images, a few months back, launched its new website. Unfortunately for them, this was announced while the community of bloggers and other online photo industry watchers was in turmoil over the announcement of bad results for the second quarter. Few took the time to play around with the new tools as the lights of Wall Street seemed much more important to them. Needless to say, most photo agencies would love to have a year’s revenue look like a bad quarter of Getty. Regardless, that is not the point here.
Part of the site had been in beta for a while so most assumed that Getty was just making official something that was about to be official. Not at all. Inside is a very interesting approach to search, called Catalyst. After you are prompted to enter one, and only one keyword that you forced to select from a drop menu, you are brought to a page that displays from left to right 3 columns. Remember, we read from left to right
Far left is a keyword cloud . The more a keyword appears in images, the bigger and bolder it gets. The central column is , at first, empty and the right column has the image thumbnails corresponding to your initial search. What this page asks you to do is to select a keyword or more from the cloud, drag it in the central column and the corresponding images appear almost on the fly. A very web 2.o interface, with drag and drop functionalities and round edges.
What is captivating is that you can only select keywords that already exists and have associated image. Thus, it greatly reduces what you can search for and forces you to either find synonyms or a similar word or concept. This could fool an image buyer in thinking that this is an intelligent search, only because any combination will yield a result, and quite fast.
But all it is, really, is a huge amount of searches already cached with images already indexed. Not only it is not very creative, it literally forces you to search within a defined list. What I find captivating, outside its limitations, is two-fold:
One is Getty’s attempt to convince an image buyer to think like it does, instead of the opposite. That is, if i do not want any human beings in the picture, I have to use the “no people” keyword. or drag it. Not what would I have put in personally, or “leisure activity”, whatever that means. Thus the catalyst becomes really an inhibitor, seriously limiting how far you can expand your wings.
Second, Getty forces you to use their keyword and not yours, suggesting that they know better than you how to define what you think. They are now taking control of your mastery of language. And only because they, and not you, have limitation on how they can successfully achieve a search.
A perfect example of technology setting the rules for the humans and not the opposite. Speak the machine language should you wish to interact with it. Well, I am sorry, but I say no.
Already a keyword or a sequence of keywords is an awful way to search for an image. Now I am forced to use a pre-defined and limited vocabulary, thus limiting my thoughts? double no. It’s up to the machine, and their programmers to elevate the technology to comprehend me, not the opposite. I should be able to express my search in a long sweet phrase that relates more to emotion than objects and the website should return one exact image. That is the way it should work. Just the same way as if I called in and talked to another human being, he or she will immediately understand what I am looking for.
This is keywording gone crazy, this is the word trying to control or be better than the image, this is the attempt to install a Word “dictatoriat” over the image. Thus leading us to a situation where if an image cannot be described, it cannot exist.
If the Getty Searchmasters had paid a little attention, they should have noticed that images are used to enhance a text message, whether it is an advertisement or an editorial. It actually picks up where text fails to explain. It has more depth and signification than a few words.Yet, the search Getty is trying to impose does the opposite, reducing images to a bunch of pre-assigned and imposed keywords. I pick on Getty because they are much more advanced than other photo agencies, but lets not get fooled, everyone is working hard in the same direction.
Let’s liberate the image from its wordly chains and reverse the search process. Let’s start searching in colors and shapes, emotions and impressions, in feelings and memories. Lets educate the machine instead of educating the people.
Top Photo : Kevin Abosch. All rights reserved