We woke this morning to fresh blanket of soft, light snow. If you think there is no other kind, you are sadly mistaken. The snow we received as recently as two weeks ago was wet, heavy, and cold. It was also tough to shovel from the walk. So, the delicate and fluffy version of today was a welcome change. It did leave me thinking about the hours I’ve spent indoors recently — where else but — in front of the computer.
Syntax Gull scuffs her feet through the fresh snow as we walk side-by-side. “I saw you were tagging faces again this morning.” She says.
“Yeah.” I admit. “It’s almost… addictive. It started out just casually testing a couple of image management packages and comparing the face recognition features of each. But once you get going…”
“Addictive.” She says. “As you said.”
My digital photo collection spans eight years of (I think) ever improving photography and is well above the fifty-thousand-item mark. “It’s just that I have so many photos, spanning such a good chunk of time and people. I start tagging and — wham — some pic I haven’t looked at in years shows up. Tagging that one reveals a couple more, and… well.. on it goes.”
“What’s the point?” Syntax asks. “You now have a few thousand pictures with the faces recognized? Are you going to do something with that?”
“It’s meta-data isn’t it. It’s information that helps sort.” I argue. “And it’s not a FEW thousand. It’s more like fifty-thousand.” We walk a hundred meters or so in silence. “Besides,” I say finally. “I’ve already used some of the pics I’ve tagged as an excuse to contact people I haven’t seen in five years. I emailed them a photo — a photo of them, of course — with a little ‘hey, how ya doing’ message attached.”
“I suppose.” Syntax shrugs.
“Actually, I’ve got two different collections going.” I continue. “I started this little project with the latest version of iPhoto. Apple has done a slick job of some parts and has totally dropped the ball on others.”
“How so?” She queries. “It can’t be the interface? Apple always seems so clever at interfaces.”
“Actually, the interface is, well… so-so.” I say. “They left out some important features. Like, you know all those pictures I take for the Fringe Festival each year? Well, I keep them for portfolio purposes, but I don’t know the hundreds of people who’s mugs show up in the face software.” I sigh. “You don’t know how many times I wish there was a way to highlight a whole swath of photos and click an ‘ignore everyone in these pics’ button.”
“Is that all?”
“It’s a big one.” I say. “Not to mention the performance issues over a networked drive. I’d say it was a big mistake to have done it that way, but the photo collection is currently bigger than my poor MacBook Pro hard drive. And Picassa 3 doesn’t seem to have any issues with the same set-up.”
“And you’ve got a gigabit router, too, don’t you?” Syntax adds.
“I do.” I nod. “And also with the fastest wireless I can get.”
“How does the Google product compare?” Syntax asks. “I think that’s what I saw you using this morning. I’ve heard good things.”
“Well, the interface is a lot more cluttered.” I say. “I’ll give Apple props on that one. But the speed and features make this the superior product. Especially — and I’m still a little choked about this — since I spent a hundred bucks upgrading the Apple package just to get the face regonition features, and Picassa 3 was a free download.”
“Don’t know what to tell you.” Syntax grins. “But you still haven’t answered my question? What’s the point of all this face tagging?”
“You understand content.” I scold. “You don’t get the value of meta-data?”
“I get the meta-data.” She argues. “Meta-data is priceless. I’m just not convinced that face recongition is, well, the right kind of meta-data to be capturing.”
“No? Why not?”
“Wouldn’t it be smarter to tag photos not by faces but by who is in the picture? To use — and add to the existing — keywords instead of building a very narrowly focused set of meta-data to add attributes to a very specific set of photos?” She asks. “What about all the pics without faces.”
“Keywords.” I reply. “And geotagging.”
“This is getting complex.” Syntax shakes her head and kicks another clump of snow in her path. “Call me old fashioned, but I think I might just stick to text tags until I’m sure there is some real long-term benefit in all this facial, geo, temporal, whatever-tagging.”
“Let me know how it works out.” I say. “But if nothing else, I’m quite enjoying looking at so many old photos again. Makes me quite nostagic, particularly over the holidays.”
“Some people go to parties. Drink eggnog. That kind of thing.” She grins. “You’re tagging your photo collection. Is that humbug or what?”
“I’m going to go with ‘or what.'” I say as I pitch a soft snow ball in her direction. “Now where is that eggnog?”