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News from City, University of London

Piclet aims to make stock image search relevant and social, creating new revenue for photographers

A research project is aiming to overhaul the market for stock images, by creating new tools that make it easier for designers, picture editors and consumers to find, use or buy relevant, high-quality pictures.
by Luke Nava

Aurora Borealis

Photo by Trodel on Flickr (Jim Trodel).

A research project is aiming to overhaul the market for stock images, by creating new tools that make it easier for designers, picture editors and consumers to find, use or buy relevant, high-quality pictures, whether from professional photographers or citizen journalists.

Piclet is a collaboration between City University London, online marketing specialist Direct Traffic Media and integrated advertising agency Mediareach. Funded by the Technology Strategy Board, the project hopes to improve the experience of image search and to increase the value of an image for both photographers and buyers.

The Piclet platform will host an online community in which photographers can upload their images and comment on and rate those of others. This can later be combined with a plug-in for desktop publishing packages, enabling stock image users to search for pictures, then manipulate and insert them into their designs instantly. This search functionality will use several new approaches to retrieve suitable images, based on both technical specifications and subjective information.

Dr Ayse Goker, a Senior Lecturer at City's Department of Information Science, explains: "While text search is generally effective and accurate today, finding the right stock image for a news story, website or marketing brochure is difficult - pictures are tagged with their subject, colour or texture, but this does nothing to convey whether the mood of an image is right for the context or if it will fit in the space that must be filled.

"We hope to address this in several ways: using the activity of the social network to gather semantic information, such as what emotions a picture might invoke or whether it is well composed; developing context-sensitive algorithms to determine when one image is similar to another; and creating a search tool that considers factors such as size and resolution."

Rian Saunders, Founder of Piclet, said: "The stock image market is dominated by two major players, who have acquired many smaller, more innovative 'microstock' vendors in recent years. Photographers have little choice but to use these two companies to protect their images and ensure pictures are easy for buyers to find. They are starting to really lose out though, as these large vendors change their terms constantly to pocket more revenue for themselves.

"With this in mind, Piclet's technology will aim to: make it easier for amateur or professional photographers to share their work; help the stand-out images to be found and purchased; and create a user experience that gives real value for money to both buyers and sellers. We believe that we can cut the time taken to find and buy the right image by up to 80% and also reward the photographer to an unheard-of degree."

Saad Saraf, CEO of Mediareach, adds: "Piclet will be a tremendous asset for photographers and people working in the creative industries. It will make searching for appropriate and relevant photographs faster, hence saving companies and agencies time and money. It will also make the search much more interesting, precise and pleasurable."

The Piclet project will last for two years. Interested parties can let the research team know their views on the stock image market by completing these surveys:

• For photographers and image sellers: http://bit.ly/n3M7sU
• For image search users: http://bit.ly/nh8gQe

To follow Piclet's progress or sign up for beta invitations, please visit:

• Website: http://www.piclet.org • Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/usepiclet
• Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/usepiclet

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