Where are all your photos? If you're like most people, they're probably strewn across several different computers, smartphones, social networks, online photo-hosting websites, external hard drives or discs, and maybe even printed and stuffed into a couple of old shoeboxes. "How to organize photos" is one of the most requested topics for this column. Together, we planned to assess her photo disaster, consolidate her archives into a logical and ordered system, and devise a process for handling new photos.
But that's not at all what happened.
What actually happened is what happens to most people. And because Stephanie's story is so common, I think it's worth telling so that we can look at what went right and what went wrong.
Step 1: Define the Goal
The first time we sat down together to discuss the project, I asked Stephanie, "What do you want to be able to do with your photos that you can't do now?"
"I want to be able to find photos easily so and share them," she said. That may sound like a simple question with a simple answer, but precisely defining what you want to get out of any big project is a critical step.
If I had asked, "What is your goal?" Stephanie might have said, "to have more organized photos," which isn't a meaningful goal. It's organization for organization's sake. Asking the right questions and putting your goals into words helps you figure out exactly what you want to achieve and why. If you don't have a goal in mind that you can spell out and that truly matters, you will lose momentum and enthusiasm for the project. If that's the case, you might be wasting your time undertaking the project in the first place.
Step 2: Understand the Problem
Now that I understood her basic desire, I had a follow-up question for Stephanie. I wanted to know how she looks for photos, like if she tends to remember them by date, or the people in the image, or an event happening when the photo was shot.
What this question was really getting at is, "What kind of solution should we design so that it fits your needs?"
Stephanie said she usually remembers her photos roughly by date, such as "in college," but also sometimes by the people in the photo.
The reason I wanted to know how she looks for her photos is so that we could explore some solutions that already match her way of thinking about photos. It would be foolish to use face-tagging, for example, if the majority of her photos were landscape travel pictures. Likewise, if she typically looks for an image because a certain person appears in it, having a solution that primarily organizes photos by date wouldn't be as helpful as one with a really solid face-tagging component.
Step 3: Consider a Few Solutions (But Don't Choose one yet!)
With Stephanie's photo organization makeover, we started to consider solutions that might work for her. She wanted primarily to consolidate her photos into one repository. She also wanted to be able to find photos regardless of whether she's at home or work or a friend's house. She also definitely preferred a free solution over a paid one.
Was she concerned about backing up her images to a non-cloud storage device? "I know I should be, but I'm really not," she said.
That's a valid position to take, and quite frankly, I feel the same way. If my house burned down and I lost all my photos, well, it wouldn't be the end of the world. If I lost all my writing, however, I'd be devastated, so I'm much more careful in how I back it up.
Just as it's important to think through the problem by asking the right questions, it's important to think about whether the solution you choose is going to do what you want and need it to do. Giving a possible solution a test drive before you fully commit to it can help you figure out if it's what you want. Because Stephanie was already using a number of different services and solutions (as you'll see in the next section), she had a good idea about which of them worked best for her. The bulk of her work would be consolidating photos to one of them and adding appropriate tags, captions, and other data to enable her to search for pictures effectively.