A better way to locate photos

Submitted by David on Tue, 12/30/2008 - 22:18

We've made some changes so that it's easier to give photos a location. That in turn will make it easier to search for photos that you are interested in.

What it is

If you look at a photo (the software we use to run this site calls them 'images'), you'll now see a new section 'Places shown in this photo:'. And, ta-da, it is followed by a list of the places you can see in the photo.

Similarly, if you look at a place, you'll see a new section 'Photos that show this place', which ... well, you know already.

As this is new, these sections are still empty for most places and photos, but to get an idea of how it works please take a look at this photo of Statue Square, or the place for the HSBC Headquarters building.

How to make it happen

The link between a photo and a place happens when you create a new photo (image). In the 'Places shown in this photo:' section, type a few characters of the name of the place you can see, wait a moment, and you'll see a list of matching places. Click on the one you want to add it to this photo. There is space for two new places initially, but if you need more just click the 'add another item' button.

If there isn't any match for the place name you type, maybe it was created under a different name? Different people may use different abbreviations for the same place. You can check the map first to see if that's the case.

And of course if the place you're thinking of still isn't shown (though together we've created over 900 already!), it's easy to add a new place

Why it's good

Googling text is amazingly accurate, but photos are still difficult to search for. When I was looking for photos of the old KCR Terminus, I manually skimmed through thousands of thumbnails on the web, lookingat anything that was potentially an old photoof Hong Kong.

A step forward is to give a photo a location - like pinning a marker tack onto a map for each photo. That's what services like flickr allow, and something we've used here too. But I've become increasingly frustrated with the limitations of this approach:

  • The biggest problem is that it only works for close-up photos of a single building - say the HSBC HQ building. For many old photos there are several points of interest in the photo, so which do I choose as the location?
  • If I add six photos for an article about one place,  I have to manually set the location for each photo, which is time consuming. In practice if I'm working with a large group of photos I just don't bother, so the location information is lost.
  • Whenever I add a new photo, I have to go back to the place, add a comment, and insert a copy of the new photo, so people viewing the place will know its there.

So, fingers crossed, the new approach fixes all these problems in one go:

  • You'll be able to search for photos by their location on a map, or by a text search on names of places that appear in the photo.
  • You can note as many places as you want on a single image.
  • Linking a place to a photo automatically lets us know the location of that photo
  • Adding a photo and linking it to a place automatically updates the list of photos shown on that place

The only downside is that we will soon remove the location information that is attached to photos. It's a shame to see all that work disappear, but I think the new approach will work a lot better in the long run. Also, if you're adding any photos, please don't bother filling in the location information, add it to a place instead.

As usual, it's new, so there may well be some problems still lurking. If you have any questions or feedback; if anything doesn't seem to be working or is confusing to use, please let us know in the comments below.



Each Place now has its own mini photo album showing all the images (photos) that the Place appears in. eg take a look at the 'HSBC HQ building' Place and scroll down to the bottom.

So in future when you add a Place to an Image, that Image will automatically appear in the Place's mini album.