Friday, October 05, 2007

Snapshot-less photography

Snapshot-less photography:
The simple question I asked Phil was “what does Digital Photography mean to you now?” Phil’s answer was that the explosive growth and future of photography is in the combination of personal, community, and professional content that is professionally fulfilled. For Phil, the photography part of “digital photography” is where change is happening now. It’s a new creative medium, not just a way to capture a snapshot. I can see that.
Photography is not about stacks of 4x6's, I wholeheartedly agree. Photos for most people are simply artifacts from our life experience, and we use them, along with other information artifacts (from friends, references, commercial sources) to construct the stories of our lives. It is in these life stories where personal value lies, and photography products should be looking to help enrich those stories. One specific example: GPS sensors should be embedded in all cameras so we can add a location to each photo that is taken.

Why GPS, and not some other feature? One would be misguided to answer that with, "So I can plot my photos on Google Maps." GPS is the most important feature because location does more to support storytelling than any other feature you can add to a camera. True to its box-maker heritage, HP traditionally focuses on technical features like red-eye removal or image sharpening -- features which only improve the quality of the individual artifact-- while investing almost nothing in where the greater value of the photo lies: in the story behind it. Location, on the other hand, is a link. It provides context that leads to more information than the camera could ever record, and ultimately to richer stories.

I could continue on this subject for a looong time. My friends and colleagues will attest to that! I gave this talk many times inside HP while trying to move our digital photography businesses from the old mind set of "print 4x6 photos" to one that is more informed by why people take photographs. I gave it repeatedly at O'Reilly's first Where 2.0 conference at the Where Fair. And I finally gave up on this work two years ago, after pursuing it with no upper management support for five years. Yahoo! and Flickr are now the standard bearers for this kind of work, HP has no place in it -- pun intended :-).

The irony, of course, is that my work was all done under the org chart of the one who now says, "I can see that." My last two years have been devoted to incubating something much bigger, a digital publishing project, which has a similar lack of upper management support. I hope for our customers' sake that we can break through the typical HP barriers to bring this to you now (before Christmas!), and not 3-4 years from now when our execs finally understand what we are doing.

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