How Google’s AI can eliminate the need to keyword photos

Google Photos Logo

Here’s a video I made that points the way forward when it comes to indexing and searching our photography libraries:

Google has built some truly amazing object and scene recognition AI (artificial intelligence) into its Google Photos service. By comparison, the drudgery of manual keywording we currently have to do, not only after we import our photos into the software we use to manage them (Photos, Bridge, Lightroom, etc.), but also when we upload our photos to stock photography websites (for those of us who do that) is downright archaic. The artificial intelligence algorithms that Google uses on the photos uploaded to its service do all of that automatically. They index every photo and identify every object, scene, face, logo, etc., whatever you can think of, and they’re constantly being improved.

You don’t have to be a pro photographer to take advantage of this AI. Even your personal photographs become easily searchable once you upload them to Google Photos, without any manual keywording. Try it and you’ll be amazed, just like I was.

By the way, Google is not paying me to say this. I just love the work they did on their photos AI. Furthermore, I wrote a post critiquing their buggy desktop Backup and Sync software which uploads our photos to their platform.

A review of Google’s Backup and Sync

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Google launched this new service in the second half of 2017. I remember being prompted by the Google Drive app to install an upgrade, and after it completed, I noticed a new app called “Backup and Sync” had been installed, and the Google Drive app had become an alias.

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The new app sat there unused for some time, until I discovered its new capability, namely to back up and sync other folders on my computer, not just the Google Drive folder. This was and is good, new functionality for Google, because it ties in very nicely with its Photos service, which has already been offering the ability to back up all of the photos and videos taken with mobile devices to the cloud through the Google Photos mobile app. I’ve been using Google Photos for several years, going back to when it was called Picasa Web.

I set it to back up all of my photos and videos, allowing Google to compress them so I could back up the whole lot. (It’s the “High quality (free unlimited storage)” option selected in the screenshot posted below.)

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I already back up all of my data with Backblaze, which I love and recommend, but it doesn’t hurt to have a second online backup of my media, even if it gets compressed. Having lost some 30,000 images and videos a few years back, I know full well the sting of losing precious memories and when it comes down to it, I’d rather have a compressed backup of my stuff than none at all.

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The thing is, there are shortcomings and errors with this new service from Google, which I will detail below. The backup itself was fast. Even though I have several terabytes of personal media, they were uploaded within a week. So that’s not the issue. After all, Google has a ton of experience with uploads, given how much video is uploaded to YouTube every single day.

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As you can see from the screenshot posted above, it was unable to upload quite a few files. The app offers the option of uploading RAW files in addition to the typical JPG, PNG and videos, but it couldn’t upload RAW files from Olympus (ORF), Adobe (DNG) and Canon (CR2). They were listed among the over 2700 files that couldn’t be backed up.

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I ended up having to add the extensions of RAW, PSD, TIFF and other files to an “ignore” list located within the app preferences. This is the full list I’ve added there so far: DNG, TIFF, RAF, CRW, MOV, PSD, DB, GRAPHDB, PLIST, and LIJ. It seems there’s a file size limit on images and on videos, because most of my large images (stitched panoramas) and videos of several GB or more didn’t get uploaded. That’s a problem for an app that promises to back up all your media.

There were also quite a bit of crashes. The app crashed daily during the upload process and even now, it crashes every once in a while. I set up my computer to send crash reports to Apple and to the app developers, so I assume that Google got them and will at some point issue an upgrade that fixes those bugs.

I also kept running out of space on my Google account. Given that I’d set the app to compress my images so I’d get “free unlimited storage”, and I’d also set it to back up only my images and videos, this didn’t and doesn’t make sense. Add to this the fact that it’s trying to back up unsuccessfully all sorts of other non-image files (see the paragraph above where I had to add all sorts of extensions to the ignore list) and once again, this app seems like it’s not fully baked. I ended up having to upgrade my storage plan with Google to 1 TB, so it’s costing me $9.99/month to back up most (not all) of my images and videos, compressed, to a service that offers “free, unlimited storage”. The app says I’ve now used up 408 GB of my 1 TB plan. Before I started backing up my media, I was using about 64 GB or so, adding together Gmail and Google Drive. So about 340 GB are getting mysteriously used by some invisible files that I can’t see in Google Photos or Google Drive, but they’re obviously stored somewhere by the Backup and Sync app.

Remember, this is Google. They have a ton of experience with apps, with images and with videos, so why did they push this out when it still has all these issues?

The trailer for my YouTube channel

This May, YouTube introduced a new design to the channel page which is easier to customize and resizes itself automatically on screens of multiple sizes, be it desktops, notebooks, tablets or phones. We can customize the videos that appear on the channel page much better than ever before, making it easier for visitors to see a variety of videos from our channel’s library. Best of all, we can create a channel trailer that helps those who are new figure out what our channel is about. It gets shown automatically to those who aren’t yet subscribed. Those who already are see viewing suggestions instead. Here’s my channel’s trailer:

If you haven’t yet subscribed, now is a good time.

Thanks!

Thank you TH!

It goes without saying that Thomas Hawk loves photography. It also goes without saying that he writes about photography. In spite of all those givens, I still got a pleasant surprise when I saw that he took time out of his truly hectic schedule and went to the trouble of identifying 1,500 great photographers who are active on Google+. He posted the full lists on his blog and also on Google+.

What surprised me wasn’t that I was on the list (although that was nice). The real surprise was the effort involved in manually identifying 1,500 people. It takes a lot of time and effort to do that! It shows genuine interest in others and a desire to see them succeed and be recognized!

I’ve known TH since 2006. We’ve met and talked during his trip to Miami in 2010. The man is consistently nice, online and offline, obsessed with his art, works punishingly long hours, is constantly working to improve his craft and trying new things, is always pushing the envelope when it comes to photo sharing technology and is concerned with the welfare of other photographers.

While I’m fairly sure that I came across as a bit odd to him in person, because I’m much more comfortable interacting with people online, we had a nice conversation and a nice little photowalk on Hollywood Beach. Here are a couple of photos I took of him back then.

Thank you TH! Keep up the great work! 🙂

Where’s Google Photos in this drop-down menu?

If you use FeedBurner (which has been part of Google for a good number of years now), you probably know about the Photo Splicer feature, which allows you to merge your photo feed from services like Flickr, BuzzNet or Webshots into your site feed, providing extra content for your readers. It’s a great little option and I hope Google keeps it turned on for years to come.

My question for Googlers reading this is simple: where’s Google Photos (PicasaWeb) in that drop-down menu? Isn’t it about time for it to show up there?

Ligia was chosen for YouTube’s Next Chef program!

A little while ago, we heard about a contest Google had announced, called the YouTube Next Chef Program. We immediately thought about Ligia’s cooking show, Ligia’s Kitchen, and what a great fit that would be for the contest. Ligia applied, but didn’t think she’d win, particularly because the field of applicants was global, and the program promised to be exceptionally good in terms of the training and rewards offered. I had a gut feeling about it, I knew we’d put in the hard work needed to produce a quality show and felt we had a really good chance.

The contest winners would receive a 12-week training course in improving the quality and content of their videos, in marketing and promoting their videos and shows, and would also receive a package worth about $15,000 in exposure across YouTube and in new video equipment.

Time passed quickly and last week, we found out to our amazement that she’d been chosen as one of the 16 winners! I couldn’t believe it! For her, it was nothing short of a miracle. For me it was a confirmation of our efforts.

We got in touch with the folks at YouTube to find out the details, and were advised to be ready to receive inquiries from the American media. Sure enough, on Tuesday night around 1 am our time, we were talking with a journalist from the Sun Sentinel, the biggest paper in South Florida, who then wrote about Ligia on his blog. From what we understand, Ligia will also be mentioned or featured in the printed version of the newspaper within a few days.

We couldn’t say anything until yesterday, when the official announcement was made on the YouTube blog. We can’t thank Google enough, and Ligia can’t wait for the courses to begin! I’ll join in on the courses as well and look forward to learning new things.

You can watch all the episodes of our show, Ligia’s Kitchen, here. And if you’re not yet subscribed to Ligia’s channel or her website, let me invite you now to do so.

Do not use iMovie sounds for YouTube videos

Updated 4/24/12: YouTube has greatly improved the copyright claim dispute process in recent weeks, and it seems that even copyright holders have gotten much more responsive and willing to relinquish claims falsely flagged by YouTube’s Copyright ID engine. These are all good steps in the right direction! 

Are you a YouTube Partner? Great! Then don’t use sounds or tracks from the Final Cut Pro/iMovie/iLife library in your YouTube videos, because sooner or later, they’ll be flagged, taking them out of the revenue sharing program.

I’ve touched on this topic in this post and this earlier post as well. Until now, I thought filing a copyright dispute and trying to work within that process on the issue would lead to the correct solution, which would be a rejection of the false claims, but unfortunately that’s not the way the copyright dispute process is structured.

There is no mechanism on YouTube to adequately dispute a copyright claim, because the process is heavily tilted in the favor of the supposed copyright holder. There is a first step, which allows you to raise your hand and say to the alleged copyright holder, “Wait a minute, I’m not using your music, the track I’m using here is royalty-free, here is the iLife SLA, see where it says I’m allowed to use it commercially”, which may lead to the removal of the copyright claim, or not, in which case you can re-dispute but risk jeopardizing the standing of your YouTube account, the removal of your video along with its view count and the possible loss of your Partner status. That can be a terrible situation.

That’s right, beyond that initial “raising of your hand”, there is nothing else you can do. If YouTube staff is nice, they might give you an email address for the supposed copyright holder, and in some rare cases, someone might read your email at those places, respond and actually do something meaningful about your problem, but that chance is slim. The majority of the time, you’re going to be screwed over, and some alleged copyright holder is going to profit from your work.

The really annoying part in this whole screwing-over business is there’s no middle ground. Your video’s either in the revenue sharing program or it isn’t. YouTube has chosen to ignore the whole video aspect of this altogether, meaning that when a copyright claim is filed for the music in a video, even though you have a video which is wholly yours, and only the music might belong to someone else (but it doesn’t when you use sounds from iMovie, because they’re royalty-free), they pull the video out of revenue sharing altogether, as if there’s no video, only audio. Shouldn’t they allow you to continue to make some money on that video? After all, you shot it and edited it! Your only “fault” (if we could even call it that) was using royalty-free tracks from Apple to score it. In a logical world, that’s what would happen, but we don’t live in a logical world. We live in a world where YouTube chooses to obey the demands of alleged copyright owners without standing up for its YouTube Partners. All these supposed owners have to do is to upload sound-alike tracks to their YouTube catalog and they’re set. YouTube’s Content ID engine will start identifying videos that are using similar-sounding tracks and flagging them, leading to a lot of frustration on our part. I know this sounds harsh and I love Google and YouTube, but this is so frustrating for me that I’m not sure how else to put it.

Things have gotten so bad that now the copyright trolls have started to make music that sounds like the tracks from the iLife Library, for the express purpose of cashing in on YouTube. See this thread in the YouTube forums. And for a bit of background on the issue, see this thread as well. The problem’s existed for years, not months. YouTube likely knows about it. Privately, they’re likely tweaking the copyright engine algorithm and they’re trying to address the problem, but publicly, all I’m seeing is people getting screwed over by the copyright trolls.

You can’t even rely on the initial copyright warning anymore. In the past, you’d upload a video to YouTube, and within a few minutes, you’d get a warning saying the video matches content from such and such entity. Fine. I’d pull it down and re-edit it, using other sounds, even though the sounds I’d used were also from Apple’s royalty-free library. But now, you upload the video, everything’s fine, and months down the road, after the video’s been seen by thousands of people or more, and it’s been linked to, etc., you get the dreaded copyright warning. What are you going to do then? Pull it down? As you can see from the thread I linked to in the paragraph above, the copyright trolls are going through popular YouTube videos, identifying the music used in those videos, and then profiting from this loophole. We, the YouTube Partners, who do the hard work to create the videos that make YouTube a popular website are the ones getting screwed over. When is YouTube going to stand up for us?

To be fair, I think the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of both Google and Apple on this matter.

What Apple should have done, years ago, was to sign up for the Content ID program and upload all of the tracks in the iMovie/iLife Library (you know, the ones they keep saying are royalty-free). Then, they should have indicated to YouTube that whenever a video uploaded to the platform matches one of the tracks in their library, YouTube should do absolutely nothing about it, because it’s perfectly okay, they’re royalty-free tracks. If they had done that, we wouldn’t be in this mess now, would we?

YouTube is to blame as well. The copyright dispute process does not work. It puts all the balance of power in the hands of those who file the copyright claim, and because no person at Google reviews our disputes, the trolls have all the say in the matter. (I understand the sheer amount of work it would take if YouTube staff would have to review every dispute filed for false claims, but at least they could do it for their YouTube Partners, there aren’t that many of us.)

Instead our copyright disputes only get seen by the staff at the various copyright holding groups, who have an interest in maintaining their claims, since there’s no recourse from Google/YouTube for wrongly identified videos, and of course, let’s not forget the copyright trolls, who hang onto every claim they make no matter what one says in a dispute.

I make that distinction above because there are some groups within the music industry who aren’t copyright trolls. For example, I’ve had copyright disputes reviewed by staff at the GoDigital Media Group and the Warner Music Group, and they’ve ultimately agreed with me and retracted their copyright claims. So there are some good guys around, there just aren’t enough of them.

So my advice to you, as stated at the start of this post, is do not use music from the Final Cut Pro/iMovie/iLife Library at all if you’re a YouTube Partner. You’re better off using music from independent artists and licensing it directly from them, or getting it from websites like MusOpen — or scoring your videos yourself, with original music.

Perhaps Apple and Google will fix this at some point. Until then, do yourself a favor and follow my advice. You’ll be able to sleep better for it.