The Trouble With Keywords

Is that they are typeless.

I guess I’d better explain that.

When you apply a keyword to an photograph or anything else it is a single value, usually a string. For example “Bangkok”.

That tells the person doing the search that the photo has something to do with Bangkok. That’s okay as far as it goes but what about “3”?

I have the keyword “3” several times in my Lightroom database. Sometimes it means a Mazda 3 car. Other times it refers to a bus on route #3. But that shows up in at least three bus companies I have pictures of.

In Lightroom it keeps track of the position of the keyword in the hierarchy I have built – aka nested keywords.

So I have


PSVs-Operators-Asia-Thailand-Bangkok MTA-routes-3

PSVs-Operators-Europe-England-London-Transport for London-routes-3

and I can distinguish them because of that hierarchy. But the hierarchy is lost when Lightroom exports the pictures, say to Flickr. On Flickr keywords (or tags as Flickr calls them) are just values with no structure. So I will just see “3” in Flickr’s tag list.

Combine that with the fact that many people don’t bother tagging their images, tag them inconsistently, mis-spell tags and even apply the same tags to all images whether they are relevant or not, tags are pretty useless for locating pictures.

Groups, which are akin to Lightroom Collections, are much better especially if they’re moderated, because often a human has ensured that everything in the group is relevant to it. Still mistakes slip in – I have seen many Skytrain pictures in a group on Subways for example.

Some people have tried to impose some order on keywording with efforts like aerotagging and geotagging.

I know aerotagging the best. In addition to adding the keywords Boeing and 747 the poster of the picture adds aero:man=Boeing and aero:model=747.

In computer science this is a simple example of typing. I know now that the second aerotag is an instance of the type “aircraft model” and not “aircraft construction number” (aerotag aero:cn=747).

Geotags are similar for encoding position information (lat/long) as keywords.

Lightroom’s keyword synonyms are excellent for aerotagging. I have “aero:man=Boeing” as a synonym for my keyword “Boeing”. Every time I add Boeing to a picture it is exported with the correct aerotag as well.

I have done with same with locations. So for example London Heathrow Airport has synonyms “aero:airport=EGLL” (aerotags use the 4 character ICAO airport code rather than the 3 character IATA code that’s used on passenger related stuff like tickets and baggage tags.)

Lightroom lets me add any number of synonyms to each keyword and to decide if they are exported or not.

As Lightroom supports a keyword hierarchy I have “747” as a child of “Boeing” so when I add keyword “747” to a picture it will be exported with

Jumbo Jet

and a few others. This also provides a modicum of protection against errors. I bet I’ll find as many pictures of girls if I search Flickr for “pretty gril” as I would for “pretty girl”.

If I have more than one keyword with the same value – like the Mazda 3 and BMTA bus route #3 then Lightroom gives me the context when adding the keywords so I am sure I am adding the correct instance of 3. (There is a Lightroom bug here but I will talk about that elsewhere).

Andrew Ferguson has a site devoted to aerotagging here. There’s a Flickr pool for aerotags here.

And Flickr keep a list of their most popular tags here.


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2 Responses to “The Trouble With Keywords”

  1. Picapp Annoyances « Bkkphotographer's Blog Says:

    […] It all goes to prove my point – keywords are pretty useless for searching. Partly because people can’t spell, and partly (my pet peeve) because they are typeless. […]

  2. Picapp Annoyances « My Test Blog Says:

    […] It all goes to prove my point – keywords are pretty useless for searching. Partly because people can’t spell, and partly (my pet peeve) because they are typeless. […]

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