Poor Keywords, I hardly knew ye

I’ve been using iPho­to 5 to try to (re)organize all my pic­tures. All 2,500 of them. iPho­to offers sev­er­al facil­i­ties for doing this. You can see your pic­tures by date, and home in on a par­tic­u­lar date or range of dates. You can scroll through your pic­tures visu­al­ly, find­ing the one that stands out. Or you can assign key­words to a pho­to, per­form­ing a search on those key­words when you want to find all the pic­tures hav­ing to do with “Mason”. Key­words in iPho­to, though, are more like cat­e­gories. The pro­gram isn’t built to let you (eas­i­ly) use a ton of key­words. You want to keep them to a dozen or two. So you’re forced to be suc­cinct. A pho­to of my dog run­ning through a flock of pigeons might have the fol­low­ing key­words: “Mason Fun”

But a new orga­ni­za­tion­al scheme has come to the Inter­net. One that I think is inter­est­ing, but ulti­mate­ly flawed. They’re called tags. What’s a tag? It’s pret­ty much like a key­word, the way you expect them to be, not the way iPho­to lim­its you. You post, say, a pic­ture, and then you tag it. The pic­ture of Mason and the pigeons? Tagged with “dog Mason pigeons chase scat­ter fly­ing mur­der­ous”.

Online social appli­ca­tions like flickr then use the tags to cre­ate a com­mu­ni­ty. You can find all pic­tures post­ed to flickr with the tag “pigeons” and it is prob­a­bly a pret­ty big group. “mur­der­ous” would pro­vide an inter­est­ing sub­set. “Mason” would prob­a­bly pro­duce a small­er set of pic­tures. If you tagged some­thing with “alurehrs­gur” your pic­ture might be the only one.

Back to iPho­to though. I’ve found a bet­ter sys­tem of orga­ni­za­tion. iPho­to 5 has a full text search box, right in the inter­face. When I am anno­tat­ing my pic­tures, with titles, and rat­ings, and key­words, I ulti­mate­ly want to write a lit­tle text for each one in the com­ments field. “Our dog Mason run­ning through a flock of pigeons in Memo­r­i­al Park today. Oma­ha, NE. I think he had a mur­der­ous intent, but the pigeons scat­tered quite effec­tive­ly, leav­ing him noth­ing to chase.” The full text search, dynam­i­cal­ly find­ing pic­tures as I start typ­ing, is as effec­tive as the key­word search.

I see this idea extend­ing to the Inter­net soon­er, rather than lat­er. Google is already doing it with Google Sug­gest, and I can only see a full text, type-ahead sug­gest­ing search improv­ing the usabil­i­ty of places like flickr or del.icio.us.

I won­der how many peo­ple use their tag­ging field as a full text com­ment box? I would be curi­ous to do a search on one of those sites for words like “he” or “and” or “to”. I may start doing that, just to see what hap­pens.

In any case, I think the days of try­ing to pick out rel­e­vant key­words is fad­ing. Long live the key words.