TagCow to Charge For Their Tagging Service

Is Tagcow The Future of Tagging on Flickr?

I got an email from TagCow today thanking me for participating in their beta tagging service (they’ve tagged thousands of my photos on Flickr for me) and letting me know that to thank me that I was credited with “100 free tagging credits.”

100 Tag credits get me their tagging service on 100 more photos.

“Dear TagCow.com Customer,

Let us begin by saying thank you for being a beta user. By using TagCow.com you have provided invaluable feedback and information during our Beta testing. From your feedback, we have made many improvements to our tag quality, performance and processes. We are now looking forward to the next phase in our development and are readying our site for a release to a broader audience.

To say thank you, we have credited your account with 100 free tagging credits. We hope you will continue to use the service and see the improvements that we have made and will continue to make.

Sincerely,
TagCow.com”

Now of course I knew that TagCow was too good to be true when it first started out. And I had no idea of how a company could offer something like this for free.

The cost of the tagging service is by tag as follows:

250 $9.95
500 $19.95
1000 $39.95
2000 $69.95 save 10%
2500 $89.95 save 10%

So basically you are paying 4 cents per tag that they put on the photo with discounts if you buy 2000 or more tags at a time.

Now TagCow says that they use a “secret” method to tag your photos. From their FAQ:

“We can’t tell you all our secrets but we can say that it is a combination of both computer and human technology. There have been numerous attempts to have computers do some sort of facial or other type of recognition. But let’s face it, the technology is just not there yet. We incorporate the best of both “technologies” to solve a fill a very simple need: searchable personal photos.”

How they are tagging is actually pretty simple though. They are basically just using Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk service and paying other people 4 cents per tag to tag your photos. Read here at TechCrunch for more on that. They do also have a automated technology that does text recognition from photographs, but my own experience is that this part of their tagging service is pretty worthless. The worst and most inaccurate tagging that they did on my photos came from what was obviously their text recognition engine. (See the last 14 tags on this photo on Flickr to see what I’m talking about).

So other than their text search engine which does not add very much descriptive value at all to photos, TagCow is basically just using Amazon’s pay for hire Mechanical Turk service to get people to tag your photos for 4 cents per photo. They then charge you 4 cents for photo. So how do/will they make money?

Well you are paying 4 cents per tag for both their automated and Mechanical Turk tags. So they come out even on the Mechanical Turk tags and make the money on the automated text recognition tags.

Assuming the popularity of their service increased over time and they got more users would be where the arbitrage would begin to come in. Essentially they could begin paying less for tagging and charging more and keeping a market differential.

So the question is will this business plan work?

I doubt it.

While I’ve enjoyed and appreciate the free tagging that they’ve done on my photos, I wouldn’t pay for it. The text recognition tags are horrible and the Mechanical Turk tagging is just too variable.

In some cases I got some fantastic new tags on my photos. But in other cases they were clearly wrong. Many of the taggers didn’t understand Flickr’s method of tagging where you are required to put multiple words in quotation marks. (Hence “girl in blue dress” without the quotation mark tags a photo with: girl, in, blue, dress).

Also many of the tags were not all that descriptive. I’ve had to delete a lot of their tags on Flickr in fact because I use SmartSetr to organize my photos by their tags and some were clearly mistaken. They labeled some photos as paintings for instance which were not. The spelling on their tags was hit and miss sometimes too (I guess some of that is to be expected when you pay people $1.20/hour to tag photos).

Would I pay someone to tag my photos if they could do as good a job as I could though? Absolutely. At present I am spending hours every week keywording my photos in Adobe Bridge. In fact I’d pay more. But tagging is still a very subjective thing and getting someone who sees my photos exactly the same way that I do may be a tough job to assign.

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  1. killercup says:

    Hi Thomas,

    I also doubt this business plan will work. But I’ve thought about something like this earlier and I came to this solution:

    On a photosharing site where you can also sell your pictures (shouldn’t this also be possible on Zooomr?) you can tell the people that if the tag others photos they will earn a bit if the photo got sold. Optionally, you could say “if it got sold because it was found by your tag”.

    I think this would motivate the users to add some tags to the photos they look at and additionally wouldn’t cost the service that much.

  2. Gary Denness says:

    I’ve been using TagCow since you previously posted. Yeah, some of the tags are ok, but some are whacky. I had too many photos tagged with ‘Family’ when there wasn’t a single person in the shot. Bizarre.

    And at the end of the day there are no landmark recognition tags, which would be important for me. Although they did do a good job on text recognition for me, so I had a different experience to you on that one.

    As for the pricing though….jeez, they’d want to charge me more per year to tag my photos than Flickr charge to host them. I could tag them, better, for free. I couldn’t host them better than Flickr do.

  3. TranceMist says:

    Your last paragraph is key.

    Having your Flickr photos tagged is one thing, but having ALL photos in your LIBRARY tagged is what would really be valuable.

    Of course, that’s what staff is for. 🙂

  4. Many of the taggers didn’t understand Flickr’s method of tagging where you are required to put multiple words in quotation marks.

    That’s one of those little things that calls the expertise of anything/anyone into question.

  5. nickp says:

    Think the maths is a little messed up in your article.

    The Mechanical Turk users make 4 cents per PHOTO, but you get charged 4 cents per TAG.

    That said, reviewing the TechCrunch article they seem to imply that the MTurk users actually get 4 cents to properly tag a group of five photos.

    In the first instance, so long as more than one tag was added to a photo tag cow would make money. In the second example, they’d be raking it in.

  6. Shawn Oster says:

    A few things jump out at me…

    First, if they are using Turk then they need to build in a feedback mechanism, so instead of you manually removing the tags from Flickr, which is worthless from a feedback loop perspective, they should instead have you thumbs up/thumbs down the added tags via their site. This would allow them to gauge whatever system they were using as well as not charge you for that photo or pay that Turk cost, which is the other end of how Amazon’s service works. The feedback needs to trickle all the way back down. In time the people that couldn’t tag well wouldn’t be allowed to signup for TagCow’s Turk actions.

    Second, you said, “But tagging is still a very subjective thing and getting someone who sees my photos exactly the same way that I do may be a tough job to assign.” On one hand you’re trying to offload some of your own work, which is a great idea, but on the other another reason to have someone else tag your photos, even ones you’ve already tagged, is to get other people’s perspectives on your work thus opening up the search field. Since art *is* so subjective someone may use a tag that you’d never think of and that is worth quite a bit if it generates some work or a purchase.

    It seems the business model could actually work very well if they built in a mechanism to improve the quality of their service. If the tag quality rate went up from say 50% to 80% then I can see a lot of people that are just jumping into world of tags wanting a little head start.

    Another thing that is subjective is the whole tag in quotes vs. single word tags. The only time I use multiword tags is for proper nouns. It would be nice if they could tighten up their tagging guidelines for the Turks. A tag like “girl in blue dress” is pretty worthless in a tagging system, even if they had quoted it properly.