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Organising Our Photo Archive

October 8th, 2004 · No Comments

Wired has an article by David Weinberger on the challenge we will all face in organising the photos htat we will take with our digital cameras:

Digital cameras already capture critical data points at the moment the shutter clicks. Most models record – in the image file itself – not only the date and time a photo was taken but also the focal length, the aperture setting, and whether the flash fired. These tidbits can provide clues about whether the photo was taken indoors or out, during the day or at night, focusing on something close up or far away. Scanty metadata, but potentially helpful.

But why limit the possibilities to what today’s cameras can do? The image file format most cameras use includes fields for longitude and latitude, in anticipation of the day when global positioning systems are built in. That day could be soon. Cell phones already gather some positioning information, and by the end of 2005 all new cell phones in the US will be locatable to within 500 feet or so. Establish a Bluetooth wireless connection between phone and camera and the camera will know where it is. Web sites already exist that use GPS data to let you upload photos pegged to spots on maps, and a Stanford research project compares photos with shots of known locations, automatically annotating snaps with information about where they were taken.

Combine location data with a database that knows about places and public events and you can pinpoint pictures of Aunt Rose at the international volleyball semifinals. Link that with her personal calendar and you can differentiate between shots taken at the volleyball tournament and those shot at her 61st birthday beach party later the same day.

But there’s even more metadata waiting to be gathered without lifting a finger. Presumably the most important pictures are the ones viewed, printed, or emailed most often. When it comes to searching for photos, that information can play the same role as the number of links to a Web page in Google’s ranking algorithms.

Since the introduction of the Kodak Brownie more than 100 years ago, we’ve thought of photos as shiny paper rectangles stacked in shoe boxes or pasted to dusty albums, to be hauled out when we’re feeling sentimental. But the connected world in which we live suggests a different approach. Private snaps are migrating to the Web as well as to closed social networks such as Flickr, where they potentially belong as much to their subjects as the person wielding the camera. If your family members could browse through your photos whenever they wanted, you wouldn’t have to tag the photos featuring Aunt Rose, because she could do it herself. So could her children. Or crazy Uncle Fred, who has too much time on his hands.

And this may be the key to the future of photo management: Rather than locking pictures away, we’ll make them public. Technology will imbue our images with a broader, deeper sense of shared memory. Our ways of finding photos will change – and with them, our ways of remembering.

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