Audio, Image and video keywording. By people and machines.

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Tagging.tech interview with Kirsti O’Sullivan

Tagging.tech presents an audio interview with Kirsti O’Sullivan about keywording services


Listen and subscribe to Tagging.tech on Apple PodcastsAudioBoom, CastBox, Google Play, RadioPublic or TuneIn.


Keywording Now: Practical Advice on using Image Recognition and Keywording Services

Now available





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

Kirsti O’Sullivan:  I’m good, thanks for having me.

Henrik:  Kirsti, who are you and what do you do?

Kirsti:  [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.

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:  Kirsti, what are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with keywording services?

Kirsti:  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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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

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 workflow to make that happen.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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

Kirsti:  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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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:  What advice would you like to share with people looking into keywording services?

Kirsti:  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.”

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.

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.

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:  Where can we find more information about keywording services?

Kirsti:  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.*

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?

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.

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 shoestring, then you are going to have to do it for yourself.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:  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:  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?”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:  Thanks, Kirsti.

Kirsti:  Welcome.

Henrik:  For more on this, visit Tagging.tech.

Thanks again.


For a book about this, visit keywordingnow.com

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Tagging.tech interview with Kevin Townsend

Tagging.tech presents an audio interview with Kevin Townsend about keywording services


Listen and subscribe to Tagging.tech on Apple PodcastsAudioBoom, CastBox, Google Play, RadioPublic or TuneIn.


Keywording Now: Practical Advice on using Image Recognition and Keywording Services

Now available




Henrik de Gyor:  This is Tagging.tech. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today, I’m speaking with Kevin Townsend. Kevin, how are you?

Kevin Townsend:  Good, thank you.

Henrik:  Kevin, who are you and what do you do?

Kevin:  I’m the CEO and Managing Director for a company called KeedUp. What we do is keywording, but also adding other metadata, fixing images, image flow services; a whole heap of things, but keywording and metadata is really the core of what we do.

What makes us a little bit different to maybe some other keywording companies is that we started out from a basis of being involved in the industry as a syndicator/image seller. We were like a photo agency, photo representative, like many of our customers ‑‑ in fact almost all of our customers.

As a result, we’ve developed services in a somewhat different way. For instance, we operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We do celebrity as well as stock. Everybody that works for us pretty much is working in an office. There’s no piecework. Almost all of our staff are university graduates.

Henrik:  Kevin, what are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with keywording services?

Kevin:  I think the biggest challenge, certainly for us, has been dealing with the multitude of requirements and the different systems that our customers work with. It’s never really a thing where you are just sent some images and are allowed to do whatever you like to them and provide the best keywording or the best metadata you can.

Everybody has their own things that they want done. There are all these different standards, like you might be keywording for a Getty Images standard, or back when it used to be a thing, the Corbis standard, and so on and so forth.

Dealing with all of those different things I think is the real big challenge in keywording and delivering exactly what people want. That’s the real key.

I think the successes, kind of related, is that we’ve built systems that have enabled us to cope with all of those different things, things such as our own workflow system called Piksee, which it really did cut out an awful lot of handling time and wastage just dealing with sets of images.

Or we have our own client database which records and enables all our staff to know exactly, down to the contributor level, all of the things that you maybe want to do differently for one photographer over another when it comes to metadata or fixing your images.

Just a whole series of things that, when I first started, I didn’t realize all of these nuances would come into play, but they really are crucial to delivering a good service.

The result of that has been that our reputation is such that we tend to work for the big names ‑‑ certainly in the news, celebrity, and increasingly in the stock area as well ‑‑ like Associated Press, like Splash News, and like Magnum. It’s being successful in that we’ve managed to defeat the problem, I suppose.

Henrik:  As of early March 2016, how much of the keywording work is completed by people versus machines?

Kevin:  I guess it depends on how you work that figure out. In terms of, if the question is how many of the images that we work on are touched by human beings deciding on what keywords go into the images, that figure is really 100 percent.

But, and this is important, the technology that you have to assist them in doing that and doing a good job is quite considerable. I don’t think that’s it’s appreciated, I think, often by maybe photographers, or particularly amateurs out there, exactly what goes into what I’d call professional keywording as opposed to “seat of your pants” keywording.

We don’t sit there very often and keyword one image after another, searching into our memory banks, trying to come up with the best keywords. There are systems, vocabularies. There are ways for handling the images, organizing the images.

So much technology is involved there to really make the humans that we have the best that they can be.

I have to say, in that regard, what we always are doing ‑‑ and as I said earlier, we employ almost exclusively university graduates, people who have degrees in communication studies or English, or art history ‑‑ is that we’re trying to have the best supercomputer to do the keywording, which is the human brain, and the most educated and best-programmed supercomputer.

Then we add the technology on top. So, yes, 100 percent of the work in the end is done by people, but certainly with a lot of assistance from technology.

If you look into the future, the far future, I feel sure that one-day artificial intelligence will probably do a lot of things for all of us in all sorts of areas we’re not even vaguely aware of now.

We’re starting to see some of that happen already in all sorts of things to do with apps on your phones that can tell you how to do this, that, and that other, and account for your heartbeat; all sorts of things that are happening with artificial intelligence, which is great.

When it comes to keywording, what I see is not very flattering at the moment, which is not to say that it may not get there in the end. But I think what I need to do is try to put things in a little bit of perspective, at least from where I see it.

The level of complication that I was talking about earlier, which is really the key to good keywording, I think is where at the moment AI keywording falls down completely, and even before that it’s falling over some hurdles right now.

On my blog recently, I did a post about one AI provider, and they invite you to put test images in to see what they can do. Well, [laughs] the result was particularly unedifying, in that a lot of the keywords were just completely wrong. The point of the images was completely missed. They weren’t able to name anybody in the images.

It was really a pretty poor effort, and even the examples they had on their website, showing what they considered to be successes, there were very few keywords in terms of what would be acceptable commercially.

Also, a lot of the keywords were extremely inane and almost pointless; certainly nothing that would fit into a vocab that you would be able to submit to Getty, for instance, or that would be acceptable to Alamy. This is a long, long, way from where it needs to get.

Perhaps the best analogy, that I could explain how I view things at the moment with AI and keywording, is a few years ago I went see the Honda robot which had come to town.

They had spent millions and millions and millions of dollars on this robot, and its big claim to fame was that it could walk upstairs, which it did. Not particularly well, but it did it. It was a great success, and everyone was very happy.

Thing is, any three‑year‑old kid in the audience could have run up and down those stairs and run around the robot many times.

I feel that AI keywording is a bit like that robot at the moment. Yes, it’s doing some rudimentary things, and that looks great, and people who think it’s a good idea and it’s all going to be wonderful, can shout about it, but it’s a long way from the reality of what humans are able to do. A long, long way.

I think where you have to consider the technology has to go is if you want to carry on the robot analogy, is to really be able to do the sort of keywording with concepts and meeting all these challenges of different standards, they have to be more like an android than they need to be like a robot that can assemble a motor vehicle.

Now, how long it’s going to take us to get to that sort of stage, I don’t know. I would be very doubtful that the amount of money and technology, and what have you, that would be needed to get us to that point is going to be directed towards keywording.

I’m sure there’ll be much more important things that sort of level of technology would be directed at. But certainly one day, maybe in my lifetime, maybe not, we’ll probably wake up and there’ll be androids doing keywording.

Henrik:  Kevin, what advice would you like to share with people looking into keywording services?

Kevin:  I think that it’s one of those things, it’s the oldest cliche, that you do get what you pay for, generally speaking.

We have had so many people who have come to us who have gone down the route of trying to save as much money as they could, and getting a really poor job done, finding it didn’t work for them, it wasn’t delivering what they wanted, and they’ve ended up coming and getting the job done properly.

For instance, at Magnum we have taken over the keywording there from what used to be crowd‑sourced keywording, which was particularly poor. That’s really made a big difference to them, and I know they’re very happy.

There are other examples that we’ve had over the years with people who’ve gone off and got poor keywording and regretted it. Just to use another old saying, no one ever regrets buying quality, and I think that is very true with keywording.

Henrik:  Where can we find more information about keywording services?

Kevin:  Right. We have a website www.keedup.com. We have a blog. We are also on Facebook, on Twitter, and on LinkedIn. We’re in a lots of different places. If you go there as a starting point, there are links there to other sites that we have. That’s a good place to start.

We have a site called coreceleb.com that’s a site which is an offshoot of what we do, which is focused really on editing down and curating the images that people are creating, so that you have more sales impact.

We also have brandkeywording.com, which is focused on adding information about brands that celebrities are wearing and using; not just fashion, but also what cars they drive, all sorts of things really to add new revenue streams, particularly for celebrity photo agencies, but also there’s no reason why that doesn’t include sports news and even stock.

Those are two which are really pretty important as well.

Henrik:  Thanks, Kevin.

Kevin:  Good. [laughs] I hope that will give people some food for thought.

Henrik:  For more on this visit Tagging.tech.

Thanks again.


For a book about this, visit keywordingnow.com