Review: The Big Picture

The Big Picture was officially launched a couple of days ago. I got a sneak preview at a Flickr meet some time earlier but I wanted to hold off until it was ready before I turned in some critical (and therefore useful) feedback.

So, what is it? Well, it’s ‘a project to create the biggest photo album in the West Midlands’. The benefits I immediately read: getting people sharing their ‘local place’ photos online and tagging (and geotagging) them up nicely. It’s based on Flickr, which does all this well, so this should be a cinch. In fact the goal could be restated as to get people from the West Midlands using Flickr (and using it properly). Anyway, let’s give the site a spin.

The site itself is very clean with a flash iPhone-ish preview. You can add photos without a Flickr account but it may take 24 hours to appear. However, if you are really going to make this work you need a Flickr account. Fortunately, I have one. Let’s rock.

First bump: I have to authorize the Big Picture service access to my private photos. It’s only because I know the guys behind this project are sound that I’m not bailing out right now. I expect a lot of people will. Adding a new photo is pretty straightforward since I have already tagged my photos like a good flickrite.

Cool – using Google Maps to set the location! This is the first technical enhancement to the existing Flickr interface since the Google Map is superior to the Yahoo Map that you are normally forced to use. An improvement would be to allow satellite view to help place the photo precisely and perhaps a location search too.  I add a photo.

No immediate payback but an (optional) questionaire.  First question, what have I done today? A decent logging system might tell you that but I have dim  visions of research marketing bods typing reams of feedback forms into an excel spreadsheet to produce pie-charts for presentations. Next, how was it for you? Not too painful since I was already primed but no real payback. I put average. How did I find out? Actually, someone told me and pictures of that are on already on Flickr. Defocussing somewhat, I’m asked what kind of cultural events I’ve been to in the last 12 months. It’s been an OK year and I tick 3 boxes. Where do you live? This is personal. I presume its optional and I pass. As I work through age, ethnicity and disability status I’m feeling myself shrinking to a data point for someone else’s ends.

About half an hour later I try to find my picture. There’s a red pin which is probably my photo but when I click on it the speech bubble contains only empty space. Every other pin I try comes up the same. Zero payback thus far and I’m still edgy about those permissions. I deauthorize them and move on.

In summary.  I like the motivation of promoting online sharing and tagging of location-specific photos.  I admire the technical wrapping of Flickr to make it more digestible for non-geeks (you’d be surprised how many people still don’t get tags).  There are still a few issues that are holding this super-mashup back.

The first and most important one is limited payback for my participation.  There’s the chance to Be Part Of Something, i.e. record attempt and a possible huge photo montage.  The promise is of extra exposure for my pictures but its not obvious this will be any better than just posting to a relevant Flickr group.  With some great promotion this will hopefully change.  Audiences Central is handling the admin for the project although social media might be a new game for them. They seem more geared toward herding rather than peer interaction.  The interface also needs a spot more polish.  The Google Maps locater is a good move but still has a few issues as noted above.

The site reminded me of Panoramio and I revisited that.  At this point I have to say it still tops The Big Picture by a significant margin.  Perhaps the mission or scope is different.

3 thoughts on “Review: The Big Picture

  1. Thanks for that first-time user feedback. I particularly like the line about shrinking to a data point. Might make a good photo!

    The points you raise and the questions you’ve asked make sense to me. Bht some of these things have no answers. They just are.

  2. Hi Simon,

    Thanks for giving it a critique – extremely useful stuff. I’m the man tasked with building the site, so it’s nice to have some step by step feedback on the site.

    A few responses from me then:

    * The ‘may take 24 hours’ – we had to put this line in because we have to temporarily store all of the requests to Flickr so that the site is quick to use and we didn’t want people getting confused about where there photo is once it’s added. There’s also the issue of moderation, but a photo you add should only take about 20 minutes to appear at the moment. Definitely looking at a ‘find my photo’ or a ‘get an email when your photo is online’ button.

    * The ‘authorize’ issue – basically we don’t have control over the message you get here. There are four levels of access – Read, Write, Delete and None. So we can add tags and geotags we request ‘Write’ access, and it’s only when you’re logged in to the site that the system does anything with your photos. I’m with you on the message – it looks scary, particularly the ‘private photos’ part. However – the site doesn’t allow you to add private images, and we’re only issuing a small subset of Flickr commands – “Get photo info”, “Search photos”, “Add tags” and so on.

    * Glad you like the Google Maps geotagging – I’ve got a few improvements I’d like to see here. “Type in a UK address”, “Type in a postcode” shortcuts and so on. I’ll add an optional satellite view.

    * The ‘payback’ issue – I’ve been working on this this week but been held up with slight headaches and improvements that needed making on the system – I agree, something a bit special for adding a photo is needed…. I’ll get my thinking cap on.

    * As always, there are ties that go with any arts project, and in this case it’s to gather some information about who’s using the site. I’ve done my best to ‘webbify’ the form and make it an easy thing to do. We’ve had a great rate of response to this so far – I’ll see if there’s any way to compress it or simplify it further in any way.

    * Because participants retain the rights to their images the promotion thing has been a bit of an issue, so we’re adding an ‘opt in’ box to alow media partners to use an image with permission and credit.

    Again – thanks for the feedback. Maybe in a week or so take it for another spin and see what you think? Hopefully most of the bugs will have been ironed out by then and we’ll have a bunch of new features and things to do on the site too.

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