Flickr for Photo Workflow

Many higher ed institutions use Flickr to share photos with their constituents. We launched DU’s Flickr site this summer. We also set up an “internal” Flickr account for our overworked photographer Wayne. It was meant to cut down on his daily grunt work and, I’m happy to report, it has. Here are some of the efficiencies it has garnered for him since its inception:

  • Fewer in-person client reviews: Wayne is hired by various departments for photo shoots. After a gig, he used to schedule an in-person meeting with his client to review and choose the final photos that the client would ultimately take away with them. With the introduction of Flickr, he now uploads all the photos from the shoot into a Flickr set and gives the client access to it. The client then goes through and chooses the photos they wish to keep and deletes everything else. Our photographer saves himself an average of half a work day per week which frees him time to shoot other jobs, time to post process a client’s final selections and time to take care of non-billable, house cleaning tasks.
  • Fewer photo searches: Wayne, as the sole photographer for the university, continually receives photo requests for use in various materials (marketing collateral, website, banners, etc.). Each request required him to go through his archives and ferret out an appropriate sampling of photos. Clients would either come to him in person to review or he would burn a CD with images and send it to them. With Flickr, he is now able to send people to an online archive of photos (in this case, he sends them to either the internal account or the public one). Once there, clients can download high res versions of anything they find and know that whatever they come across is approved for usage.
  • Fewer variable costs: While not a huge area of servings, Wayne is able to cut down his use of CDs, jump drives, etc. because he now uses Flickr as a delivery method instead of physical media

Current Workflow

To make this work for Wayne, we plugged Flickr into his existing workflow so that his routine wouldn’t be overly disrupted. That process goes something like this:

  1. He downloads photos from his cameras into Lightroom
  2. He does a first pass through the raw files and throws out any obviously problematic photos
  3. He uploads the photos into a Flickr set using Jeffrey Friedl’s “Export to Flickr” Lightroom plugin
  4. If the set is uploaded to the public account, the set is marked as private and an automatic Twitter message is sent to one of our editors for title, description, and other metadata inclusion before being marked to public
  5. If the set is uploaded to the internal account, he gives his client access to the page and waits for them to choose the final shots they want

Truth be told, the above ideas are still being tweaked as the dust settles. Even so, Wayne has saved himself a good deal of work while our department has better served our internal clients as well as expanded our content offering to our various audiences (through direct hits to Flickr as well as embedding content into our core website- our annual report site is a good example of that).

Opportunities and Problems

One other workflow idea we’re working to incorporate now is to include the university’s archive team. The holy grail here is to have Wayne send his photos to archives for inclusion into their storage system and then pull the images we want to show in our public Flickr account from their database. The benefit gained is that Wayne has to send his work to archives anyway (per university policy) and, since the archive team appends a consistent set of metadata fields to each image, we can skip the step of using up an editor’s time to do the metadata work on the Flickr site.

Another idea we may try is based on an idea from Brad Ward. The jist is to use some fun gadgets to auto upload images in real-time from Wayne’s camera while he covers an event live.

One issue we’ve encountered is whether or not to make the internal account private or not. We didn’t, for example, want to post hundreds and hundreds of photos of any single event for public consumption, but Wayne has found that managing client credentials needed in order to access the private account was becoming more work than it was worth. So at the moment, all the photos are public, but not promoted in any way.

Other little issues have cropped up, but nothing that can’t be solved. We’ve reaped a lot of benefits from this move and are happy we did it.

Health Care Bill(s) & (Many) Higher Ed Websites

Some random connections:

  • Similar in that the “solutions” don’t account for the real audience that matters: patients / students
  • Similar in that those with ultimate decision making authority are swayed too much by lobbyists and insiders
  • Similar in that those in positions of power tend to be too insular in their thinking and don’t go out of their way to listen to their constituents
  • Similar in that opponents to change, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative change, use fear tactics as a mechanism to stop it (death panels / uncontrolled blog commenting)
  • The end product is, at best, a grand compromise that makes everyone, even the most important people it targets, suffer in needless ways
  • The old choice of “make it fast, cheap, or well- pick two” is turned into “make it fast, cheap, or well- pick all three” only to end up as “make it fast, cheap, or well- pick none.”

I’m sure there are others, but I’m already depressed having gotten this far.

Entropy and the Web

Websites want to be chaotic. They don’t like order, hierarchy, or staying on brand. Your efforts to tame it or control it are largely futile. The best you can do is point it in the right direction and then keep on eye on it. Turn your head for just a minute and suffer the consequences: broken links, inconsistent messages, oddball layouts, one time exceptions, and so on.

We usually clammer for more people, more money and more tools as salvation. They’re not. Those things will solve today’s problems, but new ones will arrive tomorrow. No set of widgets, plug-ins or third party add-ons will stop the inevitable. No workflow, processes or project manager from heaven stands a chance. Can you think of any CMS so good that it doesn’t let anything through the cracks? I can’t. Can we supersize it to an EMS and lick the problem? That’ll probably make it worse.

I bring all this up because after two days of great information and conversations at the AMA Higher Ed Symposium, It’s clear that higher ed is lurching forward in fits and starts to leverage all the wondrous new tools and services appearing daily on the Web. But in all the excitement and drama lies the everyday needs of everyone’s website. You’ve gotta remember to take care of the small, non-glamorous details that keep your site alive and well. Don’t lose sight of the daily grind because entropy is always there with you.

Is there hope? Well… just about the only thing any of us can muster in defense is vigilance. Stay attentive, be nimble and don’t let small problems fester into big ones. Keep the daily grunt work moving along efficiently, but also keep an eye on what’s coming up ahead. If the new thing on the horizon goes unchecked until it’s too late to deal with effectively, you lose. It’ll turn your hard work and good intentions into chaos and doubt. Don’t let it get to that.

Use link titles as a check on your architecture decisions

Recently at work, there was a discussion about link titles, their utility, when to use them, when not to and so forth. Link titles are those attributes you insert into a link tag that helps set expectations for users of where a link will take them. Conceptually, they’re easy to understand and rationalize. The hard part is actually writing them. I’m certainly guilty of writing banal descriptions that would make you wonder why I included one at all. But since no one ever calls you on them, it’s easy to let them slide. But over the years, I’ve come to realize that the seeming chore of title tags is actually an excellent check on your site’s information architecture. Let me explain.

Since title tags are an exercise in telling people what they’ll find behind a link before they actually go there, the act of writing it requires you to justify the relevance of the link in the first place. If you’re at Apple’s website on the Macbook page, you might see a link to their Macbook Pro page. Makes logical sense, right? If you’re interested in a Macbook, you might be interested in stepping up to a Pro model. A title tag might say “Step up to a Macbook Pro for added performance, storage, memory and more.” The sentence establishes relevance and a reason why you should click or not click. Job done, move on.

Let’s take another example, however. Let’s say you’re on a university’s annual report site, on any page. There’s a global link to the chancellor’s site. You write a link title that says… what? “Go to the website for Chancellor so and so.” No, that’s too obvious. “Get information about Chancellor so and so.” No, that’s not relevant to the annual report as a whole. “Get Chancellor so and so’s impressions on the year’s events.” No, if that information existed, it would be part of the annual report site itself.

The above reasoning hints at the utility of link titles. Writing them forces you to double check your architecture. Why does a link exist on this particular page or in the global nav? Is it relevant to include here versus over there? How does the inclusion of this link in this area on this page help the visitor accomplish their goals or further their aims?

All of these questions should have been asked early in the process, but things slip through or circumstances change. Writing link titles help verify that your user experience goals are kept intact and on track. Try it, it works.