News orgs have forgotten that people really love photos

15 billion photos have now been uploaded to Facebook:

The latest numbers the company has shared with us include 15 billion photos uploaded in total, an average of 220 million new pictures posted each week, and at its busiest, 550,000 images being loaded each second.

Somehow news organizations lost sight of the fact that people love photos.

Instead they poured money and resources into newer, trendier fads, while neglecting a market they should be owning. What makes this even more inexcusable is how much money news organizations — especially newspapers — spend on cameras. Why give a photographer $10,000-20,000 worth of equipment for just a few shots to appear in the newspaper and online?

Still today most news organizations are only uploading a few photos from events that they take hundreds or even thousands of photos at. Still today news organizations are passing up events like high school proms, even though they are fantastic community and brand building events (and they will generate a ton of traffic and time spent). Still today most news organizations don’t allow users to upload photos to their Web sites.

Instead, people are uploading billions of photos to Facebook, Flickr, TwitPic and other sites. Imagine if those photos (and those eyeballs) were instead on news orgs’ Web sites? Imagine if news orgs tried to aggressively sell photos? Imagine if news orgs sold user-submitted photos and developed a profit-sharing model?

I hear all this talk about videos and databases and iPhone apps and Web ninjas, when news organizations could be making a killing by just utilizing something they have done well for decades: photos. Why have we lost sight of the fact that people love photos?

A few suggestions:

  • If you attend a community event like a high school football game and take hundreds of photos (or thousands), upload hundreds of photos.
  • Make photos big and beautiful. If my high school can do it, any news organization can too.
  • Make buying photos incredibly easy. Again, if my high school can do it, any news organization can too. Check out their awesome photo buying system. Just click on the photos you want (with add to basket button under each photo), go to check out and select the sizes and quantities you want. Really simple.
  • Allow users to upload photos. This is especially big for community events like parades, festivals, proms, sporting events, etc. Just check out how many people are at each of these events with digital cameras. We want their photos.
  • Forget about captioning every photo. It’s a huge time sink that often delivers zero value (how many original captions could one sporting event really have?). Stop thinking about captions for community events and start thinking about tags.
  • I agree with most of the stuff on here, though I think there is some value in photo-specific captions in terms of helping make it easier to find specific people/subjects, especially if you are going to start building a giant database of photos. Tags are great, but if I were a parent of a high school athlete, it would be handy to be able to search for my kids’ names to find pics of them without having to go through all the pics from every game that you shot.

  • pat

    @John,

    I think the tagging system would have to be fairly robust, otherwise the problem you bring up would be quite annoying.

    Let’s say Lincoln High School played Kenton High School on September 28, 2009 in a football game. Under the system I am envisioning, you’d be able to search for tags like, “Lincoln High School,” “Kenston High School,” “Joe Smith,” (a player in said photo) “football,” “September 28, 2009” and more.

    This way if you knew the date or event, you can then search for your kid in just that event or on that date. We certainly have to allow people to narrow down photo searches. This way you can sort photos by event, date, person, etc and by a combination of each.

    A weak tagging system would make this a nightmare. How about a robust tagging system plus the ability to allow wikipedia-like captions from our community?

  • @Pat, I think the tagging system you are imagining would do the job. Ideally, that would be the kind of system I want. But regardless of whether it’s done with tags, captions, or any other search field, achieving that level of specificity will invariably eat up a lot of time. That’s why I like your idea of wikipedia-style captions from the community, which will help alleviate some of that burden. Maybe wait two weeks after you’ve uploaded pictures for an event, let the community fill in some of the blanks, and then have your staff go back and do what’s left. I’m guessing your staff will still be doing the bulk of the work, though not as much.

  • pat

    @John,

    It shouldn’t be that time consuming to tag the photos. Most of the tagging would be a batch process. Every single photo in my above hypothetical would be a part of a photo gallery for that football game. Thus, every photo in that gallery would automatically get the tags “football,” “Kenston High School”, Lincoln High School,” and “September 28, 2009.”

    The only time consuming part would be tag who is in each shot. That might be a better job for the community. If we can some how offload some of this tagging and caption work to the community, it would save a tremendous amount of time. And it has worked pretty well for Facebook so far.

  • @Pat, when I said time-consuming, I was specifically referring to names of people in a picture. Obviously most tags would take little time; that’s what makes them worthwhile and that’s also why they work best for more general subjects. I agree w/ trying to offload some of the work to the community, but the difference b/n a newspaper photo site and Facebook is that on FB, it’s no one’s responsibility to tag a photo. Whether you tag someone in a picture or not results in relatively little benefit for any of the parties involved. If it doesn’t get tagged, no big deal. If you’re a newspaper running a photo site, esp. one where you’re trying to sell photos, then it does matter whether a picture is properly tagged, and that responsibility ultimately falls back on you. Any community help is a bonus. Like anything else in life, if you want to do it right, you’ll have to put time into it.

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