Better Than Flickr, Better Than Picasa… it Just Doesn’t Exist Yet, Photohawk
So there were a lot of great writeups in the past few days about the photo sharing sites, some coinciding with the upgrade release today by Picasa.
John Battelle had the insightful piece Thoughts on Picasa and Google’s Marketing Strategy. Wired Magazine ran a nice comparison piece yesterday comparing the various photo sites out at present. And Google themselves kicked off the news of Picasa 2 on their Googleblog, Smile and Say Cheese. Danny Sullivan wrote a nice piece for SearchEngineWatch, Photo Search: Google Picasa 2 Vs. Adobe Photoshop Album 2. PC Magazine has their Picasa 2 Review here. Slashdot takes it up here.
With all of the recent attention given to Picasa, Flickr and other photo sharing strategies, I thought the time was right to unveil, Photohawk, the ultimate online photo resource.
Although Picasa and Flickr have made good early entries into the online photo field, and Google Image Search shows extraordinary promise, these sites still leave much to be desired and the fictional Photohawk site takes image search to the next level. So, what should the photo sites of today be doing to truly capitalize on the immense upcoming opportunity in photo search, sharing and storage?
1. Limits on bandwidth, storage, etc. as an inducement to get people to upgrade to pay service might be an interesting short term strategy but poor long term planning. The real long term power and potential of the photo sharing experience is in building the largest collection of desirable, sought after, viewed images on the internet. To this end, the ideal photo site would offer unlimited storage for all. The site would be supported by unobtrusive, Google styled key word advertising. Upgrade packages would be sold and offered allowing an individual to keep the advertising dollars generated by clicks as an optional feature — otherwise all ad revenue would go to Photohawk as the trade off for providing you the unlimited storage.
2. The problem with Google Image Search is in the quality of the searches. Many searches are somewhat meaningless because there are limited tools to refine search. Type in “Ween” and you get 15,200 images. Some of these images are obviously better than others. Refine the search down to only “large’ images and you still get 673 images. Now Ween the band is no Britney Spears but if I’m a Ween fan, and I am, what I need is some kind of ranking system. This ranking system should have three components: rank by photo views, rank by user votes, rank by Photohawk Editors. The idea here is that there are initially three different ways to judge the subjectivity of a photo.
A photo view is perhaps the easiest to capture. User votes would be along the lines of a “hot or not” concept where individuals could, as part of an online photo community, rate and rank photos on a 1 to 10 scale basis. The most difficult part would be the rank by Photohawk Editors. Here the company would need to hire individuals who would basically spend their entire day voting on photos in the archive. These would be subjective ratings based on technical aspects of a photo (is it over or under exposed, etc.) as well as content aspects.
At present Brandon Stone is running one of the hottest potential sites on the internet over at Photoblogs.org. What Brandon, a new father as of last week by the way, has done is to incorporate a photoblog ratings system which allows users the opportunity to select “favorite” photobloggers. These bloggers end up on a ranking list and the self perpetuating system keeps the top bloggers at the top. To counteract the self perpetuating trend of the top bloggers receiving all of the traffic simply because they are the top bloggers, Brandon also has another ranking system for newcomers which quickly moves hot new talent up the photoblogging chain.
The top photobloggers at photoblogs.org truly do provide stunning work. It’s very artistic much of the time and technically vastly superior to what one might get from Google Image Search.
In addition to user ratings on each and every individual photo, Photohawk would hire editors, a la a Looksmart search model to further refine the photo search process scoring photos individually and allowing for searches that prioritize the very best images of what an individual is looking for.
If I do a search for “Golden Gate Bridge” on Google Image search I get 22,500 images of mediocrity. If I do an image search or “Golden Gate Bridge” at Photohawk I may or may not get 22,500 images but I will be able to see the most stunning beautiful amazing images as selected by both the general public and Photohawk editors which will be a far more satisfying experience.
3. There are an amazing amount of public domain artistic images available but not easily found on the internet. Part of Photohawk would involve teams of scanners and surfers that built large online libraries of public domain artwork. There is no reason that someone should not be able to do an image search for “Van Gogh” and get every single painting that was ever painted by Van Gogh in perfect high res clarity.
This service will open up art to the general public in ways never experienced before and drive an incredible amount of traffic to the advertising supported site. There are millions of public domain paintings that at present are not cataloged in high res on the internet. Recently I reviewed a plug in for the Microsoft Media Center called Gallery Player. This player attempts, for a fee, to offer artwork for your fancy plasma. The service is very limited offering something like 30 paintings for sale at a buck a piece. Photohawk will have thousands of images for free download with a simple “right click” “save as” maneuver.
4. Tags. Tags are suddenly very hot and for good reason. Navigating a too large library of images demands them. In addition to general public tagging, Photohawk images would also be supplemented by professional Photohawk taggers (editors) to further refine the cataloging of online images. Photohawk would also develop an MVP Award to hand out to volunteers based on their tagging and rating work. Top prizes would be given out to the top MVPs (cheap labor).
5. Geographic Tags. Alongside regular tagging would be geographic tagging based on location. Travel is a huge business — a huge, huge, online business. The top ranked photos would be categorized by location even down to the street address level. These photos would then be incorporated into a mapping system that I could use for travel.
The World City Photo Archive currently offers up about 10,500 photos of cities all over the world. I’m glad to have some of my photos included in their library. Much of the photos on this site though are accurate but not spectacular.
If I knew that I were going to Prague, for instance, and could then pull up the equivalent (through aggregation) of an amazing coffee photo travel book of Prague and even click through to find the locations of the sites for my upcoming visit, this would be a valuable resource. As always, next to the brilliant full sized photos would be a small text based advertising box.
Alternatively I could click on a section of a map and top ranked photos would pop up providing a visual version for the wi-fi savvy tourist.
6. Incorporating large image libraries. One of the problems with all of the current photo sharing sites is that they depend on uploading images which is a painfully slow process. Photohawk would create a free service for “power users” whereby they could send external hard drives in the mail and have all of their images hosted at the site. They could then further synch the online site and their hard drive to update their library going forward.
Although I can send 50 photos to Flickr, I actually have about 55,000 .jpg images at present. It would take months if not years to upload all of these 55,000 photos to Flicker. And yet they could be transferred via external hard drive in a day. Photohawk would recognize that adding 55,000 images at once to the Photohawk library would be worth the labor and expense of this kind of custom work for a power user.
7. Photoblogging is hot. Creating the top photoblog templates is not as easy. The format on the hottest photoblogs seem to revolve around a single image on a page. These are custom templates developed by users mostly in Movable Type and other more sophisticated blogging packages. Photohawk would offer a number of templates that individuals could use to build their photoblogs. This would encourage the top photobloggers to use the site and upload their photos which could be crawled, ranked and searched.
8. Although images could be removed by the owner at will, all images would be hosted on image search servers. This would alleviate the problem at present with Google Image Search of so many of the photo results being bad or old links. The trade off here, however, would be that Photohawk would have to be diligent and responsive to removing copyrighted material when requested.
The initial success of Photohawk would not be measured in subscription or even advertising dollars. Rather, the success of the project would be measured by the size of the library and the subjective quality of search. These two factors would drive the traffic and make the site the premier destination on the internet for image searches.