Keywording Lemons - How To Avoid an Inflexible In-house Keywording System

Versatility is the key to a good in-house keywording system, so try not to get hooked into software that limits your options.

Keywording is one of the most important determinants of image sales, yet in software packages designed to run image web sites or provide back end support for photo libraries keywording is often a very basic add-on. Worse, they can be extremely complicated affairs which are difficult and time-consuming to use.

If you ever want to change your keywording system to improve or change the type of keywords you have, or to try outsourcing, you may find yourself unable to do so without spending large amounts of money.

And if you ever decide to change to different web site or back end software, you may find your keywording cannot be transferred to the new system except at great cost.

Many such systems have been designed with little thought as to the cost of entering keywords, the standards of vocabularies and so on. After all, the people writing the software often aren't keyworders and may well have little experience of this unusual science.

Sometimes the keywording interfaces have been designed assuming that the people adding the keywords will be untrained and so limits need to be placed on how words are entered in order to achieve consistency. That has superficial appeal, but in our experience may limit the poor keywording only marginally. More importantly it may limit the ability for professional keyworders to do their job should they be employed in the future.

To help you evaluate the keywording aspects of image management software we've come up with this checklist. If you don't know the answers to these questions, you'll need to find out from your service provider :

1. Where are your keywords stored, and how easy are they to move?

If the keywords are held within IPTC fields of each image, or a database that can easily be exported to a spreadsheet then you are in the best position to move elsewhere or change procedures. If you are locked into using only the database of the service provider, or to export the keywords is costly, then you have a major problem in the making.

2. Does the keywording interface include a lot of check-boxes and drop-down menus to select keywords?

Check-boxes and drop-down menus in themselves aren't a problem, except that if not designed properly they will slow down keywording enormously. We once saw some software written for a client which had hundreds of check-boxes to choose from. It took forever scanning these to make a selection - mindbending and slow. Likewise, drop-down menus of single words are very slow to use. These devices also tend to make if hard to change vocabularies or word selections without lengthy updating of databases, interfaces or the software itself.

3. Can you drop keywords into a single keywording window?

Even if check-boxes and drop-down menus are used, having this feature will give some versatility. It allows different (ie more efficient) systems for generating keywords to be used independently of the software, with the resulting keywords pasted into the field.

4. Do you have to keyword one image at a time?

It seems like the obvious way to keyword images, but it's also the slowest way to work with images. Doing a number of images at once is far faster and tends also to be more consistent and accurate.

5. How easy is it to change keywords already written?

We are often asked to fix up poor keywording, and clients can be frustrated to find out that there is no easy way to do it without ponderously re-keywording using the software they already have. The ideal situation is that the images can be sent for revising with the keywords in IPTC. These can then be amended and resubmitted into the database with the resulting changes overwriting what's already there. Overwriting by re-keywording into a spreadsheet which is imported back into the database is also excellent. Too often, clients are told this cannot be done at all, or only with major, costly, rewriting of the software. Make sure easy overwriting is standard and you'll avoid headaches.

6. How is your keywording vocabulary organised?

To maintain consistency you should be using a vocabulary to assist in selection of keywords. At some time in the future you are likely to want to change that vocabulary, integrate it with a better one from a third party, or replace it altogether. How easy is it to do that? If the vocabulary can be exported and re-imported as a text document or spreadsheet this should be relatively easy. If the vocabulary is held in a series of fields inside the service provider's database and can't be easily exported, you are looking at a lot of time and money to rectify the problem.

7. Are you able to add or amend keywords any other way than by using the service provider's software?

This is the bottom line when assessing this sort of software for keywording purposes. If the answer to the question is "no", then outsourcing, major vocabulary upgrades, or moving to a better service provider are going to be painful if not downright impossible. Even if the answer is "yes", you may still be up for the cost of messy workarounds. And if the method of adding keywords with the existing software is slow, you will keep on paying the price for that slowness with each new image.