Image and video keywording. By people and machines.

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Tagging.tech interview with Clemency Wright – March 2016



Henrik de Gyor:  [00:00] This is Tagging.tech. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today I’m speaking with Clemency Wright. Clemency, how are you?

Clemency Wright:  [00:07] Hi. I’m good, thanks Henrik. How are you?

Henrik: [00:09]  Good. Clemency, who are you and what do you do?

Clemency: [00:13]  I’m Clemency Wright. I’m the Owner and Director of Clemency Wright Consulting, which is a UK‑based business and we specialize in providing bespoke keywording services and metadata consultancy, primarily for the creative media industries.

[00:28] We work with stock photo libraries. We also work with specialist image collections. We work with book publishers and a small number of online retailers. We do some collaborative work with software developers and technical consultants on various projects.

[00:44] The purpose of our work, mainly, is to help our clients organize their digital assets. These could be visual or text‑based. The idea here is to make the assets found more quickly and more easily by their end users.

[00:58] Initially, my role in this field was working within the stock photo library, in search data and search vocabulary for a major global stock photo library based in London.

[01:09] From here, I’ve worked with specialist collections, where the nature of keywording is very different, and also in the museum and heritage sector; again, working with data in a very different format on a digitization process. The experience across those different fields is quite different when you look at it from a keywording perspective.

[01:28] Just to clarify now, I’m a consultant for various businesses. This is really key, as the proliferation of visual media continues to grow. We’re very closely looking at the way we handle digital content, how we make sense of that digital content, how we make the information relevant, and more available to more people.

[01:48] It has huge potential for our customers and for their end users, in terms of improving the search experience and the access to these assets. I think that pretty much summarizes where we are at the minute, in terms of who we work with, and what we provide for those people.

Henrik: [02:06] What are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with keywording services?

Clemency: [02:10]  One of the biggest challenges really is the perception that keywording is pretty much the same as tagging. Obviously with the rise of SEO, we’ve got some confusion here about what keywording is. We started keywording many years ago.

[02:24] Obviously within librarianship and archival work, people were keywording as a way to retrieve information, which is still what we do, but I think the challenge here is breaking down these perceptions that it’s always a very basic way of tagging content.

[02:40] We’re trying to differentiate between keywording which is, on its basic level, adding words that define an image or the content of an image, and high performance keywording which is very much a user‑focused exercise.

[02:52] It’s a very 360‑degree look at the life cycle of the image and how that image will be ultimately consumed and licensed for use in the broader digital environment.

[03:05] One of the challenges is highlighting the value of a high quality, high performance keywording project to the customers, and also their end users and the various stakeholders therein.

[03:18] I think working with specialist collections can be quite challenging. We have to create bespoke keywording hierarchies and controlled vocabularies for these clients, which obviously makes the access to the content much more. The performance of that is much greater, but it can be challenging. It can be quite time‑consuming.

[03:36] There’s a level of education that we need to have with our clients, to illustrate to them and demonstrate to them the return on investment that can be had from a good keywording methodology. By the methodology, I just wanted to define that, which links to the challenges that we have to do with technology and the extent to which we use controlled vocabulary systems and software, and the hierarchies that we build for our clients.

[04:03] They help to define the depth to which we can classify content, and also, the breadth of that content. The content may be video footage, or it may be photography. It may be illustration.

[04:17] Obviously, a challenge there is creating a vocabulary or a taxonomy that will cater for an ever‑increasing collection, one that is growing and evolving as businesses themselves incorporate new content into their collections.

[04:32] Technology is a challenge, but it’s also a great facilitator in the work that we do. It allows us to embed a level of accuracy and consistency to the work that we do for our clients.

[04:45] When you’ve got measures in place, and you’re creating controlled vocabularies and hierarchies, you’ve got systems there that make sure the right vocabulary is being applied, and it’s being applied consistently and accurately. There’s a level of support that the technology can offer, as well as it having its own challenges.

[05:05] Perhaps on a more general level, keywording has been tarnished somewhat by some multi‑service agencies which are offering keywording as a bit of a sideline.

[05:15] Perhaps their core business may be software or systems development or post‑production, but then, by offering keywording as an offshoot, some clients are going down that road and then discovering later on that actually, the keywording side of that was a bit of an afterthought. I think the methodologies and strategies in place have failed some of the clients that we work with, at any rate.

[05:41] There’s a challenge there for us to make sure that we can differentiate between specialist keywording provider and an agency that offers keywording as an additional add‑on to their core business.

[05:55] I think another challenge that is worth mentioning is the idea of offshoring keywording to agencies where perhaps the quality is compromised, and this is what I hear from clients. The feedback on some projects has been that there’s been a lack of understanding, due to language barriers mainly, but also cultural understanding of visual content.

[06:15] It can be quite difficult, across the continents, for people to read and interpret visuals in the way that your market may perhaps be consuming those visuals. There’s a challenge in, again, educating people into the options and the various consequences of using these various agencies.

Henrik: [06:35]  Clemency, as of March, 2016, how much of the keywording work is completed by people versus machines?

Clemency: [06:41] We know that there is a lot of work being done in auto‑tagging and systems that will automatically add keywords that are relevant to the content. In my business, we define automated systems and keywording in a much more specific way.

[07:02] We use it to automate the addition of, say, synonyms, or to automatically translate keywords, or to automatically add hierarchical keywords, but I think, Henrik, what you’re asking really is about the image recognition technology, which is something we’re clearly aware of and we have been for some years now.

[07:22] Image recognition is not something that we currently engage with or consult on. It’s in its infancy, and it will be very exciting to follow these developments, but for now it’s quite limited to reading data in a very simple form.

[07:40] For example, color and shape, and to some extent, say, for example, number of people within an image is something image recognition technology can do, but I think there is quite a lot of documentation to support the idea that it’s very difficult for a machine to understand the sentiment behind an image, the concept, or the emotion.

[08:02] I was thinking of a good example of an image of a person smiling. I’m not sure, I’m not convinced, the extent to which a machine could determine whether that smile is one of happiness or one of sarcasm, for example.

[08:16] A person looking at an image will make a certain assumption about that smile. Maybe it is subjective, but I think it’s just something that’s perhaps a little bit too advanced for machines at the minute, to be able to read the emotional side of visual content, which is really the field that I’m most interested in, most active in.

[08:36] I think the technology will improve, but underpinning that, it really depends on who will be responsible for managing the architecture and the taxonomy, and maintaining that, and editing it, and developing it, because of course we need people to put the intelligence into the structure behind the technology.

[08:57] Although we can increase efficiency, and that’s great, and we need to increase efficiency and reduce costs and increase productivity, I think there’ll be a lot of management required and people involved in making sure that the technology is delivering consistently relative results, and testing, and testing, and testing to see that this is how it’s happening.

[09:18] But, as I say, we question the extent ultimately to which machines can interpret the more conceptual content and the visual content that we work with primarily, because visual media is always open to interpretation.

[09:38] It’s a subjective form that perhaps machines will go so far, in terms of classifying basic content, which will be very, very helpful, and it certainly will help speed up the processes for people like us, but I think for the user we have to be mindful that relevance is really the most critical element of this whole process.

Henrik: [10:00]  What advice would you like to share with people looking into keywording services?

Clemency: [10:04]  I’ve been working with keywording for 14 years, and it’s a really varied and rich resource for anybody who’s interested in looking into keywording services.

[10:18] I have a few ideas here, which are from my experience working with clients and from gathering feedback from clients, but I think the advice would be generally that there is no quick fix. Keywording isn’t something that you can pull out of a box. There’s no standard as such.

[10:34] Even though we’re told there is a standard,the stock libraries that set standards are having to change those constantly because the distribution networks are changing and the media types are changing.

[10:50] Be prepared for it to be a fluid project. If you start engaging with a keywording service. It will probably evolve over time. It will change over time, and that’s a good thing.

[11:01] You need to be prepared to talk quite a lot about your business goals and objectives, perhaps more than you think. A good keywording agency will want to know a lot about your market, about your channels, your network, your distribution.

[11:15] They won’t want just to see the content, because if they just see the content and they just add keywords, there’s a lack of connection from a marketing and a sales perspective. It’s very important for the keywording agency to understand your business and the context within which your business sits in the bigger picture.

[11:38] Be prepared to be asked quite a lot of questions before you start engaging with a keywording provider.

[11:43] The other main thing is to be wary, perhaps, of agencies that seem more focused on volumes and deadlines than they do quality. I alluded to that earlier on, with some of the options to offshore your work.

[11:57] This can be a bit of a false economy. It can be, in the long run, more expensive to focus on volumes and timeframes. Quality’s always a good groundwork to base your keywording projects on.

[12:10] Also, I’d advise people to work with someone who’s a communicator, someone who’s going to uncover the problem and really spend time and effort in solving that problem. They’ll want to see samples of your assets before they start giving you prices.

[12:30] I think that’s a really important conversation to have. It’s really important to have good communication with your provider and also a good level of trust, so I’d advise you to find out who they’ve worked with and if possible try to speak to their clients, who they have worked with.

[12:48] Another great idea would be to speak to picture researchers, because they use keywords day in and day out. They’re on stock photo websites, publishing, advertising, and design agencies.

[13:01] People that use picture researchers and picture buyers would be a really great source of information, just to ask them what their experience is working with various providers of the content, because then from there you can track who has been investing well in good keywording, and what that means, and where the value is in that.

[13:23] Most of the software that you look at will not do everything that you need it to do, and I think that’s another important thing to bear in mind from a technological standpoint, is systems are great and you’d do well to consult with someone who knows a lot about different systems.

[13:35] But ultimately it’s best to configure a system that’s bespoke for your needs, so perhaps maybe investing a little bit more time than you first anticipated in researching systems that will be fit for your purpose and give your clients the best experience as a user.

Henrik: [13:53]  Great. Where can we find more information about keywording services?

Clemency: [13:58]  There’s various resources online. There are some really interesting blogs. We can put links in here for you for your readers, if they’re interested. One great independent resource, which I think is fantastic for all industry news in general, is Photo Archive News, which is a news aggregation. They list services and providers that you might want to contact and speak to.

[14:25] You’ll also find information about keywording services on stock library websites. For example, Alamy has a list of resources*, and there are marketing services such as Bikinilists listing various resources available to the industry, but also mentioning keywording agencies that you might be able to work with across the globe. There are keywording agencies based in the US. There are agencies in New Zealand and across Europe.

[15:02] I think, just to go back on the conversation previously, there’s a lot of research to be done. It does take a little bit of time, but I think when you find an agency that really understands what you’re looking for then you’ve got that conversation to have with them about what you’re specifically looking to achieve.

Henrik: [15:22]  Thanks, Clemency.

Clemency: [15:24]  Yes, thanks, Henrik. I hope it’s been a useful insight into the world of keywording.

Henrik: [15:28]  For more on this visit tagging.tech. Thanks again.


* Note: All Alamy resources listed were emailed for an interview with http://tagging.tech

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Tagging.tech interview with Kirsti O’Sullivan – March 2016



Henrik de Gyor:  [00:00] This is Tagging.tech. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today, I’m speaking with Kirsti O’Sullivan. Kirsti, how are you?

Kirsti O’Sullivan: [00:06] I’m good, thanks for having me.

Henrik:  [00:09] Kirsti, who are you and what do you do?

Kirsti:  [00:12] [laughs] I am the Managing Director of Keywording.com. Keywording.com offers outsourced keywording services to, in large part, the stock photography industry, but we do have people with internal collections that we do keywording for.

[00:25] We do tagging for stills and for video. We’ve done illustrations and graphic designs, but basically we do the outsourced keywording for anybody who needs it. Depending on their target audience, we’ll get them what they need.

Henrik:  [00:39] Kirsti, what are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with keywording services?

Kirsti:  [00:45] I think one of the biggest things that we see, that could be better from the client side perspective, is to have someone who owns the keywording piece within in your company. I know often times these companies aren’t very large, and it’s quite difficult to have one person who owns one job.

[00:59] With keywording, the consistency and continuity is huge, and so your main goal is to always drive yourself towards consistency. How can you put things in place that make it the most consistent possible?

[01:13] Oftentimes you’re having someone come in temporarily to help you do the keywording, or that person doesn’t stay very long, and so you’ve got turnover in terms of who’s actually doing it.

[01:23] You want to put processes or documents in place that give you as much quality control along the way as possible. That’s the biggest drawback that we see. We will start off with one person, who then leaves, rather abruptly sometimes, and we’re with a new person who probably doesn’t know much about keywording and we are starting over.

[01:44] That’s one of our biggest challenges when taking on a new client. The successes are that having a keywording service do all of your keywording so one source, or one person for that matter, and we can just call it a source. Having one source do virtually all of your keywording makes your collection that much more valuable.

[02:04] You’ve got a consistently tagged asset versus the biggest challenge we just talked about, which is having any number of people having done it any number of different ways. You’ve basically got a collection that’s hit or miss when you do a keyword search.

[02:18] Thinking about what you want to do with your collection down the line ‑‑ and I think it’s even fair to even say 10-15 years down the line ‑‑ the more that you can point at this and say, “This is keyworded consistently 100 percent from beginning to end” is really a huge value when you are trying to sell your collection, frankly.

[02:37] We do definitely ask clients, “What have you done in the past?” A lot of times they have not thought through how they want to categorize their collections. They don’t have an answer to give me, but we do want them to have thought about like, “How do you categorize these different types of pictures?” depending on the collection that’s coming to us.

[02:53] Obviously, if you have a wildlife collection, you probably have thought much more thoroughly through how to categorize your collection. It’s a very straightforward thing to actually think about.

[03:05] If you look at a lifestyle collection, trying to get categories out of something that’s so broad and could be any number of topics, is more difficult. If they have that, we absolutely incorporate it. If they don’t, we have our own that we institute.

[03:22] We also try to ‑‑ and this is also quite difficult ‑‑ we would like to be involved in what were you thinking when you were designing this shoot? What is your intent in creating these pictures?

[03:33] When the creative director is thinking about putting this together, what are the concepts and the things that you are trying to illustrate?

[03:40] Trying to get that information to filter down to us and/or to whoever is going to be doing the keywording for you because that’s your intent. That’s super important, but is quite actually difficult in the work flow to make that happen.

[03:54] Re‑keywording is probably our biggest challenge, and one we actually have chosen to say no to. Oftentimes people will come to us and say, “I’ve got 10,000 images I’ve keyworded and we need you to fix them.”

[04:08] There’s some things that we can do to fix them. We can run through and analyze the words across the collection and say, “We can fix the misspellings easy enough,” and we can say, “This isn’t the right term,” or we can take out the plurals. It’s a much harder job to fix bad keywording than it is to start over.

[04:28] Basically, we’ll have a look to see if there’s anything we can do, but 100 percent our answer is, “It’s going to be cheaper for me to do this again the right way.” Our advice is, do it once and do it right, whether it’s for yourself ‑‑ because it’s certainly possible ‑‑ or have someone do it for you right the first time.

[04:46] The other piece of that is you need to watch the store. I think we are the best at what we do in the industry, but that doesn’t mean you turn a blind eye to what it is we are doing. If you don’t give us feedback, we have to proceed like we’re doing it exactly the way you want.

[05:03] If you are not telling us this is good, or this is not so good, or I want this different, we have no way to know that we’re not doing what you want. We had one client who was really angry, who had said nothing to us for a whole year, and that we weren’t putting this particular keyword on these images. No one was looking at what we sent them. What do you do?

[05:22] My advice to people who do take on keywording services is, don’t assume that they are doing good work for you. Make sure that someone’s checking that work. We strive really hard to check our work. Nothing goes straight from the keyworder to the client. There’s always someone with the second pair of eyes looking at it.

[05:40] As someone who spends so much money creating that image, make sure someone’s looking at the keywords. That’s the only way you are going to sell them. If you take it back from me, or any other provider, and you don’t look at that, you are doing yourself a disservice.

Henrik:  [05:54] Kirsti, as of late February 2016, how much of the keywording work is completed by people versus machines?

Kirsti:  [06:03] I can only speak for myself. For us, its 100 percent human performed. We do have a few things that happen on the back end where we do a first pass of the core keywords. Then we have a system that will add in ancillary terms.

[06:19] We just have to say, “woman,” but our system will add in “female”, and “lady”, and “human being”. We don’t have to do that, so that piece of it is machine‑driven. In terms of describing the picture, that’s 100 percent human for us.

[06:33] The more you don’t watch what’s happening, the more trouble you can get into. I think what I’ve found when I hear something about, “Oh, we can analyze your photograph and tell you what ethnicity people are”, and “how many people are in the picture”, and “you can jump start your keywording that way”,what I found is that it’s not 100 percent.

[06:53] It’s back to that whole issue of re‑keywording is harder than keywording right the first time. When I’ve tried these services, because I’m absolutely not opposed to saving money in any way, shape, or form, but when using those kind of things like visual recognition, it causes me more problems than it solves.

[07:13] I’ve yet to come across a service that I felt like I could put a picture in there, and hit a button, and be comfortable that I don’t have to go look at…I’m still going to check it, but I haven’t gotten to a point where I feel like I’m not super worried about what’s in there for every single picture.

[07:32] If I have to worry about every single picture, and read through it, and remove what’s wrong, then I am going to have to go back and add what was right. It could be across any number of different categories, so I’m back to the, “It’s easier to do it right by hand than to use these technologies.”

[07:50] Maybe someday it will get to the point where you just have to read through it and maybe there might the tiny tweak at the end, but I honestly don’t see that for a while.

Henrik:  [08:02] What advice would you like to share with people looking into keywording services?

Kirsti:  [08:06] I think the thing to remember when you’re looking for a keywording service is that it is so, so easy to do an amazing job on 10 images. Anybody can do it. You can get these samples back and look at them, and you can look at one company versus another company versus the next company and go, “Wow! They did an amazing job.”

[08:27] Well, they sat down for half an hour and did 10 images, and they’re trying to get your work. The thing to remember is that the job that you see when you pick a company needs to be the job that you see six months down the line. Doing a great sample isn’t everything.

[08:42] You need to check references, and I think that gets missed, that piece of the thought process is, “Just because I send you this.” Actually, when we do samples we try very hard not to go the extra mile. I don’t want you to be surprised when you pick me and then you send me your first job and it looks very different from the sample.

[09:02] I could go to town and just put gazillions of words on an image and you go, “Wow,” but I can’t keep that up for the money you are going to pay me, so I try very hard to make sure that we give you the job that you will see six months down the line. That’s the big thing, to be very mindful and check references. It’s the longevity that’s important, not the sample.

Henrik:  [09:23] Where can we find more information about keywording services?

Kirsti:  [09:25] That’s a really good one. We rely heavily on being…and we have a good URL, knock wood, so we’re easy to find. I know that a lot of times places like Alamy will offer information on who’s out there doing keywording.*

[09:40] I would do searches for keywording and then see what forums people are talking about what’s going on and other places to go to. If you’re lucky enough to go PACA or CEPIC, oftentimes there’ll be keywording services there. Word of mouth, I think, has been the best for us. If you have friends in the industry, asking around who do they use, who do they recommend?

[10:01] I think those are probably…because it is. There’s maybe six companies in the world that do it on any kind of scale, so there’s just not a lot. I think, depending on who your audience is for this podcast, by and large our competition is the photo creator. We’re not really competing against another company, per se.

[10:20] My job is to convince them I can do it better than you can, and I can do it cheaper than you can. I think everyone should choose a keywording service. I think if you are trying to build a collection on a shoe string, then you are going to have to do it for yourself.

[10:33] I don’t know if you want to add an extra question, because I’ve got some advice to give for people who need to do it for themselves, but if you are going to go out looking for keywording service, I think that that’s the best money you can spend.

[10:45] I have no idea why keywording is the last thing anyone thinks of, because keywording is the only thing that’s going to mean you get your money back. You can do everything right, but if you leave off the keywords then you’ve thrown your money down the toilet.

[10:59] I don’t understand why it’s not until those pictures are all ready to go that they start to think about keywording then. Then they want to do it as cheaply as possible.

[11:09] They wouldn’t in a million years put a crappy lens on their camera, but that’s kind of what they are doing when they leave keywording as an afterthought and as a “Let’s see how we can economize on this piece of this image creation or video creation.” It’s the thing that means you make money.

[11:31] That piece I don’t understand, so I would really encourage everybody who has got a collection, or thinking about building a collection, to have that be your first thought. How are you going to handle this? Because this is the thing that means you maximize your investment.

[11:45] If you’re going to do it for yourself, do have advice about that. If you’re going to look for a service, you want to have one that’s been around for a while, that people tell you is consistent, that has a good reputation, that is going to be responsive when you call them. If they make a mistake, they’re going to fix it. That would be my advice, [laughs] .

Henrik:  [12:03] Great. I think to your point, I think it comes down to search, because people don’t realize that the keywords power the search. They think that the images…they just post them on there with their magic titles, and that will be enough. You and I both know that’s not the case.

Kirsti:  [12:21] No. One big thing that we get a lot, that I think is important is, they say, “You have too many keywords on this image.” That’s the wrong question. The [right] question is, “Do I have any inaccurate keywords on this picture?”

[12:36] Every single word that’s accurate is one more avenue to reaching your client. Do you want to leave off an accurate keyword? You can’t predict how someone will look for a picture. The more accurate keywords you have on your image, the more opportunities you have to get that picture in front of someone who you can’t predict how they’ll search.

[12:58] The only question that matters is, “Are all these words accurate?” and if the answer is “No,” then they need to come off. If the answer is “Yes, they are all accurate,” the more you have of those; you maximize your opportunity to sell your pictures.

[13:11] My advice for someone who can’t afford keywording service is, like we talked in the beginning a little bit, is that think about your collection and make a category, make a category list, and really think about how you want to tag these pictures, and write it down because you’ll have that piece of paper to pass out to the next person.

[13:29] The next thing I would recommend is to invest in something like TextExpander. I don’t know if there’s other know software that do that, but I work on the Mac, so I know the TextExpander. Basically what it does is, you can give it a three letter code and it will add in whatever you want it to.

[13:45] Like I can’t stand typing Latin American and Hispanic ethnicity over and over again, so I have LAE and if I type LAE with a comma, it just pops in that word for me, but you can also have it do any number of keywords.

[13:59] If you have, take the example of a wildlife collection, you’re probably going to have core set of keywords for just about every picture ‑‑ outdoors, daytime, nature, wildlife, color image. Those you might be typing for every single image in your collection. You can just type a code and in pop all those words.

[14:21] You don’t have typos, you don’t have to remember all of them, and you could have any number of words collections that let you be more consistent. You don’t have to remember every time.

[14:30] If you’re doing business and the other guy is on a cell phone, you can have it add in words like “communications, cell phone, technology, wireless technology”, and you don’t have to type all those words.

[14:43] For us, we use that. I highly recommend it to anyone doing their own keywording is that, and really put some thought into how you think about the way that you want your collection keyworded and documented. Then look for those kind of tools that can make the job a whole lot more consistent.

Henrik:  [15:02] Thanks, Kirsti.

Kirsti:  [15:03] Welcome.

Henrik:  [15:05] For more on this, visit tagging.tech. Thanks again.


*[Note: All Alamy resources listed were emailed for an interview with http://tagging.tech]