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Photos That Find Themselves

The first time I inspected a photo "geotagged" with the Eye-Fi Explore card and saw that Eye-Fi's software had not only placed the picture on the map within maybe 30 feet of the spot where I'd pressed the camera's button, but also the copy uploaded to Flickr was tagged with the appropriate city and state, I thought "cool!"

But when I told my editor about this successful test, her reaction was more along the lines of "that's kind of creepy."

Technologies that do things you've never seen done before can be like that. As I wrote in today's column, I found the Eye-Fi's auto-location abilities more fascinating than frightening, but I can see how others might disagree.

I was also pleased to see a combination of hardware, software and Web services function as advertised for a change. A lot of the products I try out fail when they have to interact with a device or a program from another company, but this was a rare case where things largely lived up to their advance billing. The software performed properly in Windows XP, Windows Vista and Mac OS X 10.5 (it was even smart enough to verify that it would work through the firewall software on each system), after which pictures flowed from card to computer and thence to photo-sharing sites (although the Eye-Fi-to-Photoshop Express connection didn't work for a day, due to a now-fixed bug).

I was surprised, however, to see such limited support for geotagging in photo-album programs and the more than 20 picture-sharing sites Eye-Fi supports, including such popular sites as Flickr, Facebook, Picasa, Kodak Gallery and Photobucket. Many of these applications either ignore the latitude and longitude coordinates Eye-Fi adds to the "EXIF" tags of photo files or don't provide a clickable map in response to them. I expect this to change before too long.

I ended the column with some perhaps-wishful speculation about some sort of self-location feature becoming a standard camera component. But what kind? The WiFi-based system used by the Eye-Fi Explore has the advantage of quick operation (it should only take a second or so to get a fix on nearby wireless networks), indoor and outdoor operation, relatively low battery consumption and affordable hardware (note that the card's $129.99 price covers the operating costs of the Web services that cross-reference the anonymous MAC addresses of nearby WiFi routers with Skyhook Wireless's database of wireless networks). GPS, however, works anywhere on or off the surface of the Earth, provided the receiver can see enough of the system's satellites.

Jef Holove, Eye-Fi's chief executive, predicted that GPS capability would remain too expensive to be more than a luxury option: "The camera business is very very cost-sensitive." At Skyhook, founder and chief executive Ted Morgan thought a GPS-enabled camera would still need WiFi, both for picture-transfer purposes and to jump-start GPS auto-lcation. "GPS takes a good minute or so to get a fix on a location," he said. "We can... help GPS get a fix quicker."

GPS developers, naturally, say they can solve the lag and battery-consumption issues on their own. I look forward to seeing these two camps race each other to market--I'm confident enough that they can work this out that I've put automatic geotagging on the requirements list for my next camera.

How intriguing do you find the whole geotagging concept? Has it earned a spot on your own wish list, or is it yet another "must-have" feature you can do without?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 31, 2008; 12:52 PM ET
Categories:  Pictures  
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Geotagging is a great feature, but not sure if I'm crazy about it being a default. But for those that like to broadcast their whereabouts, it could be great. Would like to see it married with Flickr or BeenUp2.

Posted by: Josh Morgan | July 31, 2008 3:46 PM | Report abuse

This stuff is pretty facinating. I went to Europe last year and in researching new business opportunities for our PR firm, I came across and started talking to a company from Germany called Locr. They have this geo-tagging, social media, wikipedia-type system. Not sure where they are now, but they haven't launched in U.S. yet. I think I still have some pics up there.

Posted by: TeddySF | July 31, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Rich | July 31, 2008 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Photography is often a personal pursuit and cateloging by location simply facilites the obvious question of "where was that taken." Location-stamping will eventually be as acceptable as time-stamping. GPS accuracy is not necessarily needed for personal photos but could be needed as geotagging enters more professional applications as in real estate and retailing.

Posted by: Joe Francica | August 1, 2008 9:30 AM | Report abuse

My take is that this is a classical example of technology stretching the boundaries of what is feasible and completely ignoring users' real needs. Is this feature something I was really jonesing for? Don't think so. It's doomed to the trashcan along with Microsoft Bob, WebTV, and others. Call me Luddite if you will, you early-adopters.

Posted by: Pete from Arlington | August 1, 2008 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Pete has a point, but he applies it to everyone though it only applies to your average family "picture-taker", the predominant use of cameras. There are many of us, however, for whom photography is a passion (notably scenic/travel photography) and we most definitely have longed for and would appreciate integration of geotagging in the camera. "f/16 and be there" is the mantra, and the "there" is what geotagging is all about.

Posted by: adc-va | August 2, 2008 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Some photographs are taken for the purpose of navigation and orientation, or can be used for that purpose. Others have nothing to do with it. There's not much point in geocoding pornography, but quite a lot for geocoding tourist shots. For navigation, cameras which do this are already available. Microsoft Visual Earth may be even now hard at work to enable software to recognise and geo-identify any outdoor scene, even going so far as trying to digitize every tree in every satellite photo and attribute it with its species.

Posted by: john tucker | August 4, 2008 8:12 AM | Report abuse

I think that "location tagging" for travel would be wonderful.

Posted by: Judy Schenkman | August 7, 2008 12:32 AM | Report abuse

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