Friday, November 09, 2007

Organizing photos goes all Philip K. Dick

I don't write about technology often, I know, this coming from the guy that posts about video-hosting websites, new cameras, RAW processing and Microsoft's table computer thing, but honest I don't do it often, check!

Anywho I was looking at the Natchway speech from the TED awards again, and I saw this other video on the site for a software application called Photosynth, which presents us with a new way of organizing, manipulating and viewing digital images.

(They were recently acquired by Microsoft as well... It looks like Microsoft is positioning itself as a major player in digital imaging?)

Pretty amazing right?

I think it's cool to think about organizing and being able to move stuff around and arrange your files in a GUI that's both slick and fast, not to mention the amazingly innovative and revolutionary idea of, as its creator Blaise Aguera y Arcas calls it "creating hyperlinks between images" based on the content of those pictures. Which is like the Google Maps new local pictures tab (which got into some trouble) but ten times cooler!

Still not getting it?

Imagine all the pictures on Flickr of the Golden Gate bridge being combined to create a mosic of images rendered into a 3-D space that you as the user are free to move around, zoom in and out off, click on any point to see a real picture of that point, from that point and from virtually every angle allowing for you to generally direct your own unique navigational experience though the collection.

This is revolutionary and can change the way we store and call up information.

It creates a "collective memory" of the real world space and archives it for anyone looking to see it.

Think of it as a visual wiki (btw, if that term catches on, I coined it!)

I've seen some baby steps made into this area in journalism with data based multimedia, most notably Andrew DeVigal is steering some really intertesting experiments in this area at the New York Times, but after seeing Photosynth in action, it only hints at the potential and challenges us to go much further.

What I find really interesting

Now this is all new and as you can see, quite fascinating (for me) and "from the world of tomorrow!", but what I find to be really the most interesting thing is what's found at 1:42 of the video.

The video goes on to show how this technology is so developed for image processing and delivery, that it can not only store entire novels, but also newspapers; that can be zoomed in and out of and navigated from pages within a section or other sections all together within seconds. (Look just watch the video, I'm never going to do it justice by trying to describe it.)

My pal Ryan's been talking about e-Paper for a while and how it's going to replace printed newspapers, well, as much as I'll miss the smell of ink (maybe they can sell it in a mist?) and tearing out interesting articles, pictures, comics and ads that I'll want to place in my sketchbook or research more about (maybe e-Paper can come with I can't deny it.

E-paper is coming, assuming RSS and online delivery doesn't replace it as wi-fi comes to cell phones and everything from a PSP to TiVo to refrigerators with built-in screens (I've still got one on reserve Hanna ;) are starting to connect to the web and offer information everywhere anytime whenever.

I can see e-paper and something like photosynth combining and giving us the next newspaper, or newspaper 2.0 or whatever the techie marketers will call it.

What I find really-really interesting

Ok, that's what I find to be really fascinating, but what I find to be really-really fascinating is the new forms of multimedia we can produce with this technology on newspapers.

Yes folks, this is the most important part and the ideas that I think are relevent to our industry and to me as a photographer and new-media thinker.

Say we're sent out to cover another protest story (yes, another one) and we're looking for a new angle (just to challenge ourselves if nothing else) and of course if you're anything like me, you're thinking multimedia. So why not cover the protest and get all the killer pictures you always do (you're so good) and of course we'll get the ambient sounds and interviews (of course) but what about the presentation?

Many of us just throw it in soundslides or edit a video in Final Cut, Premier Pro or iMovie, but we never really think about presentation or what sort of interface the viewer will use to engage with our work.

Some of this can be caulked up to time constraints and impeding deadlines (I know every time I've done multimedia it's always been on my own time) but a larger reason is that everyone already at a paper is so busy trying to learn the new programs and tools used to make these new things that no one is thinking about how to show them off... because Flash is hard and many papers don't have multimedia editors (yet) to budget for these things.

So I'm looking at Photosynth and I'm thinking of that protest story and I'm getting excited thinking about all the possibilities.

Like rendering the photos into a 3-D environment and interviews could be mapped to the subjects with a picture of them where they were in the 3-D space when you spoke to them and then map the ambient sounds to their sources within the environment. Birds chirping in the tree, the plane flying over at the end of the street, the ding-dong of the cross walk sign, the wheels of the skateboard from that kid on the sidewalk...

This could allow letting people navigate their own way through the story and find interviews and story blocks and pictures in completely unique and innovative ways.

Copy from a story could show up in newspaper boxes, posters on walls could link to related stories, zooming out to a birds eye view could turn the scene into info graphics or other data-based multimedia).

And we can then take it one step further by inviting the public to submit their pictures from the event to further develop the archive of the collective memory.

How cool is that?

I know some folks on photo staffs will hear things like this and fear it, but I say embrace it. Embrace it before the kid fresh out of college (me) embraces it and comes into your newsroom.

Want more? Here's NASA's take on it.

There isn't any reason why we shouldn't be doing this.

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