Webshots, Google, Yahoo!/Flickr, MSN and the Landscape of Image Search

No Soap, Radio! � Blog Archive � Webshots, Google, Yahoo!/Flickr, MSN and the Landscape of Image Search by Narendra Rocherolle Narendra Rocherolle, the founder of Webshots, is out with a post today on the current state of image search and sharing on the internet and he has some really interesting things to say.

Rocherolle started Webshots back in 1995 providing content and “photo sharing” with a windows screen saver.

“We are witnessing the democratization of photography and the resulting downward pressure on the “value” of images as they become commodities. The days of Life magazine are long over and the long tail has arrived. The Flickr community is leading this charge within the segment of aesthetically sensitive aficionados with an open api strategy, great feedback mechanisms, and boatloads of pr.”

Wow. Strong and perhaps true.

As amateur photographers begin to get noticed and picked up at places like Flickr and photoblogs and begin churning out voluminous streams of photos the question is how does this change the business of photography.

Recently I was approached by Clear, a division of a company called Convergence LLC regarding using one of my photos that they found online for a national broadcast and cable television commercial. As it was the first time I’d ever been approached for a photo for pay I decided to just go with it as a learning experience. I was offered $500 for a one year from first airdate license. I agreed and sent the release back to the company. It’s not a done deal that it will be included and I’ll get paid but it was the first step in the process for their commercial creators.

I suspect that the company interested in my photograph found it through a Google Image Search. I seem to get a lot of traffic from Google Image Search for my photos.

Certainly selling photographs is a topic of discussion for the modern photographer. Recently I attended my first Flickr meet, er, drink up, and met Sam Bloomberg-Rissman, who had recently made the decision to turn pro photographer full time. Sam had some great insights on working with Corbis and Getty and explained to me in some detail how the process worked. I would certainly assume that much of how people see Sam’s work is through his photoblog and his Flickr site. His work is truly brilliant.

As amateur photographers get better and better it will be interesting to see how much of the media turns to this new source for photographs. Some of the best photography I’ve ever seen in my life I’ve found on Flickr and certainly I would imagine that it would be a wonderful place for creative advertising directors to pull from — perhaps in some cases to the chagrin of the current professional photographer or in others where these tools are used to promote one’s work to their benefit.

As someone who loves both digital photography and Media Center, a few months back when I had the opportunity to have dinner with Microsoft exec Jim Allchin I spent a fair amount of time questioning him about the role that photography and photo sharing could play with Microsoft’s Media Center product. “My Pictures” in Media Center is one of the “wow factor” pieces of Microsoft’s software at present. To watch full 43″ plasma slide shows of your photographs is great fun. Microsoft’s effects as photos change give them an almost animated quality and with a strong playlist playing in the background help to set wonderful moods with digital photos and music.

Personally I would like to see Microsoft or others take this one step further and integrate photo sharing into Media Center. I’ve been harping for a Flickr plug in for Media Center for a while. At Flickr I’ve currently marked a little over 3,500 photos that I’ve found on Flickr as favorites. Check them out if you get a chance. The work is stunning. These photos, these favorites of mine, could easily appear in Life magazine, fashion magazines, or art magazines. And most of these photos were not taken by professionals, they were taken by amateurs like me.

I would love to be able to stream these photos in through my Media Center PC and watch them full screen on my 43″ plasma. Hopefully this will happen soon.

Rocherolle spends some more time talking about the folksonomy of the photo sharing experience and asks what in my opinion is the much larger billion dollar question with regards to photography and the internet.

“The tide is turning because Flickr has brought attention to public sharing and “tagging” is the metadata implementation du jour. Two questions that are ripe for discussion and debate:

Who are the players really poised to improve image search?

And what constitutes an improvement?”

Certainly image search at both Yahoo! and Google now is pretty pathetic. Do a search and you miss the rich and wonderful photographs that are buried deep in their searches on the 605th page. Instead the first page results are mixed with some decent and in some cases some truly horrible image results. Search is a multi billion market and although text search is the golden goose, image search could make for a powerful toehold in the search realm for the company that gets it right first. Being able to use user tagging and ranking data to rank and prioritize general image search could be a boon for the amateur photographer and the search company that gets it right.

I would assume that Yahoo! has a leg up in this regard with their recent purchase of Flickr. It would seem to me a pretty easy process for Yahoo! to begin to push top rated Flickr photographs to the first page of Yahoo! image search results which would presumably please the Flickr photographer who would garner additional attention as well as encourage more people to join Flickr to get their photos included in this more general broader search area. Quite frankly I’m truly surprised that this wasn’t done immediately right after the Flickr acquisition.

On the other hand, the Flickr community, as I’m finding out, may be a little more complex than this. There is a strong community grass roots spirit amongst Flickerites and it would be important that Yahoo! positioned the integration with their image search in a positive way and built strong buy in from some of the community leaders within the community.

Still, using the amazing photographs available and ranked correctly could improve the quality of image search for Yahoo! by leaps and bound. I suspect you will see this integration at some point in the future.

Certainly Google will not sit by idly and I would suspect at some point would look to make a strategic acquisition of their own in this area or expend some significant corporate resources in house to develop it.

Microsoft who has the current best end user platform in Media Center will also not want to get left in the dust. To be able to turn my living room plasma on and see that a new folder has been added to my “my pictures” called baby’s first steps that had been linked in through a family contact would be priceless. The living room experience makes shared photographs even more powerful and whether friends, family or the artistic photographic community in general Media Center should play a role in the photo sharing process.

Time is short. Whoever best integrates these ideas first stands to reap huge rewards. Certainly there are licensing and other issues that must be overcome but the fruits of this labor will be sweet indeed.

Although I have never tried Webshots myself, they seem to be an interesting company and I may have to check it out as well. Cert
ainly Rocherolle’s post has made me think. I signed up for a free account and will poke around it a bit.

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  1. hubertk says:

    Great article! And the other good thing to be said about the “democratization” of photography – really the digitalization: unlike with the corresponding processes for music or video, there is no obsolete “maintain-the-status-quo-at-all-cost” organization (i.e. the RIAA and MPAA) lurking out there that is doing it’s worst to kill progress.

  2. Dave Harding says:

    We run our Media Center (Okoro Media Systems OMS-TH540 w/ATI Radeon X850XT Platinum Edition 256mb, 2 Hauppage MGEG2 Encoders/TV Tuners and 1 ATI HDTV Wonder PCI TV Tuner) on a Runco CW-61 Plasma Display. Concerned about possible burn-in, we use several screensavers that add to our overall experience.

    Webshots provides an excellent screen saver. We like to run any Media Center Audio along with it.

    Webshots free is great. We required Webshots premium ($29.95/annual)to enable download of the photos in a widescreen format. I was suprised that where Webshots preminum allows you to download whole pages of photos at a time in standard or Hi Resolution quality, you still have to select Widescreen format photos individually for download.

    Took about an hour, selected and downloaded 200 or so images and we have a wonderful, updateable, screensaver that protects our screen from burn-in.

    Our Media center runs 24/7 and our Webshots screensaver is definitely part of the overall experience because it is so often running in screensaver mode.

    Off the topic of photo search and webshots completely and on to screen savers with Media Center, we also enjoy Serene Screen Marine Aquarium. It look and sounds so realistic on the Runco that people’s brains stop while they try to figure it out when they first see it.

    Alas, the background doesn’t move (back to plasma burn-in fears)and so we only run it for brief periods of time like a couple of hours or less.

  3. HORSK says:

    I hate webshot. It used to be very nice but for last two onths 75% of the images WILL NOT LOAD! All of page loads, all of the ads load, frame work, etc. etc., everything but image.

    This happens not on all image, but on 3 out of 4 and on testing it now happen on image that I used to be able to view. Something is very wrong with web shot server.

    THE WORST PART, I eail technical support and never get an answer. I start posting in forum and you know what they do? You think they would answer my question? No, THEY DELETE ALL MY POST!!!! Never answer. Delete. At first I was very polite then start to get angrey. 20 times I post. ALL DELETE!

    I post in blog. Delete. Blog I understand delete in blog because is off topic but I only post there from depseration because noone answer email and in forum they just delete my post. ou know what is woest? They delete my post for help and let spam stay!

    Also I learn through blog and forum that other people have the same problem as me , both premium and free user. All their post delete too! And problem is not on my side because every where else on internet work but just not webshot!


    Sorrty for bad english and lousy redundant post but 75% of webshot no longer work and the staff try to hide it by deleteing all post and never answer! Now even the forum is gone, take off line entirely so customer have NO PLACE tp gather and discuss problem.

    Webshot very rude and very shady customer service! Will never pay them penny again. I have never been so offended and angry in life!