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.