Converting Your Analog Cassettes to Digital

Cassette Tapes

Convert your old cassette tapes to digital audio files.

I recently went through my collection of old audio cassettes. I found that besides a lot of mixed music tapes, I also had a small cache of personal tapes that are audio records of life’s past events. On one of the tapes were two songs that were sung by my recently deceased Mom and her sister. That was enough for me to consider saving my tapes to a digital file format.

The hard fact about cassette tapes is that in the long run they won’t last forever. Over time the magnetic particles that hold the audio will flake off the thin plastic backing that travels through the shell of the cassette. They wear out after many plays and are prone to breakage. It is also inconvenient and risky to share your cassettes with other people when you have the only copy of your mother singing or something similar.

Before anything catastrophic happens to your cassettes consider converting them to digital audio files. Archiving your old cassettes to a digital format such as MP3 is not very hard.

You need the following to accomplish this task.

  1. Cassette deck or player with output capabilities such as line out jacks on home stereo units or at the very least, a stereo headphone jack on a portable player.
  2. A stereo patch cord that you route from your cassette player to your Mac. While not all computers have them, the 2009 MacBook Pro that I use has an auxiliary input port, which is nice. If you don’t have one, some models will allow the headphone port to also be used as an auxiliary input. If neither is an option one can get an analog to USB dongle such as Griffin Technnology’s iMic to act as a go between with the cassette player and the Mac.
  3. Software: There are probably several software titles that will allow you to “record” your analog program and convert them in your Mac to a digital file. Just remember you are doing this in real time. If the tape lasts 45 minutes per side, it will take you 45 minutes to digitize the analog signal from the cassette to the Mac. The application program I use for recording is Rouge Amoeba’s Audio Hijack (and the earlier Audio Hijack Pro) and Twisted Wave for audio editing.

A digital camera, scanner and/or image editing software while not required is helpful for the creation and editing of your digital audio file’s icon. Having a set of headphones or an external speaker is a good idea for live monitoring and later playback of your audio program.

Without getting overly complicated, here are the steps to follow when converting your analog cassette tape to a digital file.

RECORDING WITH AUDIO HIJACK PRO (also applies to the newer Audio Hijack 3x.). The $50 program is highly recommended if you are doing a lot of audio recording on your Mac.

  1. Load tape into cassette deck or portable player.
  2. Connect a stereo patch cord from the line out or headphone jack to the input port of your Mac (or the iMic device mentioned above).
  3. Launch your recording application on the Mac (Audio Hijack Pro for this discussion).
  4. At this point you want to press the “Hijack” button on Audio Hijack Pro. This tells the Mac that an incoming audio source is being fed to the software.
  5. Press play on your cassette deck and let the program run for a few minutes. Do this to test the sound level of the incoming signal to your Mac. Adjust the volume level on your cassette player (if possible). Set the recording level in Audio Hijack Pro for the incoming signal. Be sure that the incoming audio is not going into the red zone and getting clipped.
  6. Once you get your levels set, rewind the tape to the beginning of the program.
  7. With the “Hijack” button still activated, press the “Record” button and then press play on your cassette deck. The tape will start playing and the computer will record the incoming audio.
  8. Once the cassette program is done stop the tape.
  9. Press the “Record” and “Hijack” buttons again to stop recording on the Mac. Audio Hijack Pro will automatically save the file under a generic name to your music folder. You can check to see if the newly created digital file was satisfactorily recorded by going to the “recording bin” section of Audio Hijack Pro and playing the file back from within the app.

Now it is time to either record the other side of the tape or editing the program you now have. If you want to have both sides of the tape recorded to one audio file, skip step 9 above and while the software is still recording, turn the tape over and play the other side. There will be a blank space in your recording for the time you have stopped the tape and turned it over. The blank space can be cut out during the editing process.

TwistedWave

TwistedWave for Mac OSX is a very good audio editing application.

EDITING WITH TWISTED WAVE: Twisted Wave for the Macintosh is $79. There is a version for iOS @ $10 and an online, web based version that requires a subscription. The scope of this article is limited to the Mac version.

Once audio recording is done you will have an audio file taken from the cassette that is now in a digital format that is ready for listening to on your computer or most portable devices. However if you want the audio file to sound and  “look” professional you may need to do some editing. Here is what you can do and how to do it.

  1. First thing is to make a back-up copy of your new audio file. Save it to the cloud or another hard drive. This is because you are going to work on it in Twisted Wave. In case you do something wrong you can go back and retrieve a copy from your back-up.
  2. Launch Twisted Wave and load the audio file into the application through it’s open file command or just dragging and dropping the audio file onto the program’s icon.
  3. Twisted Wave’s pane includes 4 major sections. A tool bar at the top, an overview window of your audio’s waveform file, a larger more detailed editing window of your waveform below that, and stereo level meters to the right hand side.
  4. You will do most of your editing work in the main window which can show compressed or magnified views of your audio waveform. Note that softer sections of your waveform will have a shorter blue pattern whereas louder sections will show a taller wave both above and below the level, flat line. Areas of no sound will show no wave at all.
  5. Within this window you can cut out unwanted sounds and silent sections, create fade ins and fade outs, and even cut and paste the audio to rearrange them in a different order. You can also bring in audio from another file and paste it into the one you are working on. If you recorded one large audio file and want to break it up into smaller sections you can cut or copy selected sections of your file and create a new audio program just for that segment. A good example is if you recorded an entire cassette tape album of music and wanted to break each track into its own digital file. Twisted Wave will allow you to do that.
  6. Also from the Twisted Wave app, you can modify and edit your audio file’s “meta data“. To do that with the Mac application just hit up on the round “!”icon in the upper right corner. A pop up information window will display the file’s attributes such as track title, artist, album title, genre, track number and a place to include a photo for use as the track’s icon. All of the attributes can be edited. This is where having a camera or a scanned image file comes in handy. If you have image editing software you can edit your image file so that it creates at least a 400 X 400 pixel square image. If for example, the audio recording is of yourself speaking or singing, you can take a selfie, edit it in an image editing application and paste it into your Twisted Wave information window. After your audio file is saved, the image will become that file’s standard icon and will show up on your Mac, iPhone and other portable player just like the music files you bought from Apple or Amazon.com.

Nice huh?

The instructions for TwistedWave are online.

Be sure to save your audio file after you complete the editing process. Giving the file a meaningful name like “Mom’s Song” or whatever is recommended over the generic, numerical name Audio Hijack Pro assigns to files.

The above processes can be applied to the recording of any analog audio source including vinyl records, TV audio, radio, and live recording. Audio Hijack will also record sound from websites and other digital sources.

Now that I have Mom’s songs preserved and converted to digital, I can share them online at a variety of venues including SoundCloud, YouTube (with digital video conversion), Facebook and more.

Digitizing your old audio tapes is highly recommended if you want to keep and share those memories.

Posted in Applications, MacBook Pro, Music, Technology, Tips | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Into the Lens

This article is ported over from my Friday 5 Answers blog, in which participants answer weekly questions posted to the Friday 5 blog. Since this week’s topic dealt with cameras, photography, technology and Apple devices, it is also being posted here.

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“Hello, and welcome to this week’s Friday 5!  Please copy these questions to your webspace.  Answer the questions there; then leave a comment below so we’ll all know where to check out your responses.

Please don’t forget to link us from your website!

If Janelle answers these, I have a feeling you’ll want to see her responses as a reminder of how old you are!  And Mel, who inspired the theme, could probably write ten pages in response to each question!”

1. What was your first camera like?

The first camera I had was part of a Sears’ Superspy Attache Case that I got for Christmas in 1967. The camera was built into the attache case. It had a plastic fixed focus lens, used one of the case’s folding latches as a viewfinder and took 127 roll film. I think I shot about 2 rolls with the thing. The pictures were about as good as what you can get from a plastic Holga camera today.

Moving into the 1970s I had a Kodak X-35 Instamatic camera that took 126 cartridge film. My first 35mm camera was a black Yashica MG1 rangefinder. It died about 25 years ago. My first SLR camera was a used Minolta SRT-101 which I got for $70 in 1978. I have that camera today and it still works.

My first digital camera was a Sony Cybershot P50 point and shoot that cost me $400 in 2001. I bought it from Comp USA.

Minolta SRT101//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

My Minolta SRT101 shown with an old school 70-210mm zoom lens.

2. What kinds of accessories have you purchased for a camera?

Oh boy… yes, this could be ten pages long. Do you want a book or an abridged list? I think I will go with a short list.

Stuff I bought for film cameras: Tripod, lenses (wide, normal, zoom, telephoto), motor drive, auto winder, trip cable, PC cord, external camera flashes of all types, camera bags, batteries, recharger, lens tissue, cleaning brushes, film, film, film, and still more film, and more camera bodies. When I had access to a darkroom I bought film developers, print developers, and photographic paper. I also bought negative holders and sleeves to keep those things organized. Oh yeah, binders, photo albums and picture frames.

By 1992 I had to upgrade my computer from a Mac Plus to a Mac IIsi so that I could look at my scanned photos in color on the computer… and of course I had to buy a scanner to scan in all of those old and current prints (at the time) I was getting.

I used to have tons of floppy discs just to back-up those scanned images and to also share them… In the bad old days of 56 baud or less modems, it was a pain to share images online… so you’d use floppies, and later SyQuest discs and Zip discs to send your pictures to friends, relatives, clients and service bureaus.

I haven’t even gone into digital yet. And you know what I’ll stop here except to say that if you get seriously into photography as either a hobbyist / enthusiast or professional, it is more than likely you will get the following disease: Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). Make sure you have space in your home for all of the stuff!

3. When did you last shoot photos on film, and how many rolls of unshot film do you have in your house?

Um… let me think… about 2 weeks ago. I finished off a roll that was in my Canon AE-1 Program camera. This turned out to be my last Kodak black and white CN400 film. This type of film can be processed with C41 chemistry, the same stuff that is used for common color print film. When you don’t have access to a darkroom, C41 color development is cheaper than going the Kodak Tri-X route because the one place I take my film for processing does that by hand and costs more. They still use a machine to do C41.

As for rolls of unshot film… I think I have one roll of 620 film in a box somewhere, another roll of Seattle FilmWorks 35mm film in its cannister. I also have the following cameras loaded with rolls in progress: Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash (620 color); Minolta Autocord TLR (120 TriX); Swimways plastic camera (35mm color); Minolta XD11 (35mm TriX) and Minolta X700 (35mm Fujicolor).

Through most of my SLR film days, I’ve been solid in the more affordable Minolta camp than with the leaders Canon or Nikon.

By the way you can still get films at many camera places online or if you live in a city, at stores specializing in film. My place to go online is the Film Photography Project store (they have a goofy but informative podcast). Locally (in Honolulu) I go to Rainbow Photo & Video or to Treehouse.

4. Digital photography has all kinds of advantages over film photography, but what’s better about shooting on film and having to get it developed and printed?

That is a hard one to answer… certainly there is something about film that is “magical”, and I guess more so when I used to have access to a darkroom and spent many hours developing film and making prints. It was like magic to see the image you shot being projected down in the print enlarger, editing it, then pulling out the paper and making the exposure for a few seconds. The process of putting the blank piece of photographic paper into the tray developer (usually D76) and watching the image slowly but surely become visible to your eyes. Then of course quickly moving it to the stop bath and then fixer before some idiot walked into the darkroom and turned on the regular light!

Developing the actual film in the darkroom was more anxiety vs. intrigue since nearly everything had to be done in total darkness vs. being able to use a red safelight during the printing phase.

The “thrill of the hunt” or better said, the process of developing and converting the image you shot into a beautiful print was / is most appealing of going to film.

It is not the same when you send your film out for processing and printing, though the anticipation of wondering what will come back and actually turn out is always intriguing…. and often costly!

Today of course you have the option to simply scan your film, look at the results and then decide if you want to print anything.

5. How do you manage your digital photos?

Short answer: With difficulty.

Long answer: 

1. Take photo(s) with camera.
2. Remove memory card.
3. Save directly to designated, external hard drive in appropriate folder.
4. The folders are arranged by year – month – day/date/subject of the photo or series.
5. Back up to another hard drive or media.
6. Back up also to Google Photos (since mid 2015).
7. I used to back up to DVD or CD but don’t anymore.
8. I make sure at least one backup hard drive is stored away from my home (at sister’s place and/or bank safe deposit box).

I also use Flickr and Facebook to back up selected, low level megapixel photos for public display.

My way of saving and backing up photos is to simply use the Mac’s finder interface. This means when I insert the memory card into the reader, I just drag copies of the image files from the memory card to the designated folder on the hard drive.

I do not use any photo management app (such as Apple’s iPhoto or Photos now) as my primary source of storage. I don’t like the large files these apps create. Plus I refuse to use the newer Apple Photos because the darn thing is aimed more at saving your photos to the costly Apple iCloud service which I don’t use. I prefer Google Photos since it is free. I also have Google Drive to save a copies of some high quality (over 16 megapixels each) images to.

For photo editing I continue to use iPhoto (with Mac OSX 10.6.8, yes I love “Snow Leopard“). I also use Adobe Photoshop Elements, Pixelmator and Fotor for special effects and collages.

Mobile Digital: I also have an older iPod Touch that I back up through Apple’s Image Capture software. The app allows me to store those iPod Touch images to designated folders like I do with my regular cameras and computer.

I also have an Android cell device that allows me to go straight to the Apple finder with a USB connection and drag photo images to designated folders on the hard drive. The Android device is running the Gingerbread version of the OS. I don’t know how it works on the newer systems such as Lollipop and Marshmellow.

Scanned Film and Prints: For these the process is the same as digital after the images go into the computer.

Mac OSX folders Organize_Photos_2

I prefer to store photos of one image each into designated folders vs. having an app like iPhoto keeping them all in a huge, single file bundle or worst, defaulting like Apple Photos to the expensive iCloud service that I don’t use. Key is to have back-ups stored offsite cheaply and easily. An external hard drive stored off-campus is one answer and so is the free to use Google Photos online.

Posted in Apple, Applications, Commentary, Google, Photography, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Beatles Set To Stream

The Beatles in 1965

The Beatles music will start streaming on music services Dec. 24.

The Beatles music is set to start streaming on various music services starting on December 24. This is good news for Beatles fans who don’t have all of their recordings on various analog or digital medias. Starting tomorrow just go to your favorite streaming service and look for and listen to The Beatles there.

The Fab Four’s music will stream on all of the leading services including Apple Music, SpotifyAmazon Prime, Google Play, Tidal, Slacker, Rhapsody, Deezer and Microsoft Groove.

Beatles music has for the longest of time streamed for free on the “Internet Radio” tab of Apple’s iTunes music application as well as on iHeart Radio.

Beatles Radio on iTunes

Beatles radio stations as well as other music sources on the iTunes
internet radio tab have been streaming the Fab Four’s music for years.

 

Posted in Internet, iTunes, Music, News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Apple Products I’m Not Getting This Christmas

Apple's iMac Line

Except for the very low end model, all of the iMacs feature a “Retina Display”.

Once again my annual list of Apple products I am not getting this Christmas. This year we go from #1 to #10.

1. Apple iMac with 5K Retina display. Yes, this is the top of the line iMac and it comes with a 27 inch display that is second to none. More than likely my next Mac OS computer will be an iMac since they are the still have the built in gigabit networking, 4 USB 3 ports, 2 thunderbolt ports and an built in SD card reader. All of these features are backward compatible to the my MacBook Pros that I use on a daily basis. The iMacs can be custom built to accept up to 16 to 32 GB of RAM and can be configured to use a 1TB flash storage drive. The only downside for me is the fact that the iMacs no longer have built in DVD-R drives. However external options are available. Prices for the 27 inch 5K Retina iMac start at $1799 and can quickly soar depending on how you configure it.

2. Apple iMac with 4K Retina display. This is a good compromise Mac on the high end as they feature a 21 inch display screen and most of the ports and options that are also available to the higher end 27 inch model. The processor is not as fast as the 27 inch model and the RAM and storage options are somewhat less. Nevertheless you can still get a flash drive, 16 GB of ram and the same USB, thunderbolt and SD ports as the 27 inch model. Price for the 21 inch Retina display iMac starts at $1499. I would avoid the lower priced, non-Retina display iMacs that sell for a base price of either $1099 or $1299.

3. OSX “El Capitan”: The latest version of Apple’s OSX system software for Macintosh is a huge free download and is backward compatible to many Intel flavored Macs. It is a recommended upgrade that you should get, especially when early bugs are worked out an dot 2 and higher version upgrades become available over the next 12 months. Download one copy, learn how to make a boot installer on a USB stick. After that is done my recommendation is to always 1. back-up your Mac and 2. Erase your hard drive and 3. Install a “clean copy” of your OSX operating system onto your Mac. You will never regret it because the clean install is like getting a brand new Mac in your present hardware. Be sure to check the technical specifications to make sure your Intel Mac is eligible for this update.

MacBook Pro 2015 2 up

Apple’s MacBook Pro comes in 13″ and 15″ models.

4. Apple MacBook Pro series: I still recommend the MacBook Pro models for anyone who does high end work such as video and photo editing on the go. All of the MacBook Pro models now feature either a 13″ or 15″ retina display. The 13″ model comes with 8 GB of RAM which is upgradable at time of purchase to 16 GB. The larger model comes with 16GB straight out of the box. All have flash memory storage and include 2 thunderbolt, 2 USB 3 ports, HDMI output and an SD XC card slot. Unfortunately no wired ethernet port unless you attach an adaptor to one of the thunderbolt ports.

5. Apple MacBook Air series: It is kind of hard for me to recommend the MacBook Air. It is one of Apple’s most affordable laptops. It is a nice, sleek high quality laptop that is great for someone who can use it as a primary platform if their computing needs are not too demanding. Otherwise it is a great secondary computer for someone who already owns a higher end Mac. Like the MacBook Pro all of the MacBook air laptops come with standard flash memory storage, 2 thunderbolt slots, and 2 USB 3 ports. None have a retina display but that is not a deal breaker. The standard Mac display is nice enough. The downside is that there are no wired ethernet ports unless you dongle up an adapter to thunderbolt. Still that is also not a deal breaker as I think most MacBook Airs are used in a wireless environment.

The one thing that would force me to choose the 13 inch model over the more affordable 11 inch model is that the 13″ Air is the only one in the series that has an SD XC card slot. This slot is important for photographers who shoot a lot of pictures and need somewhere to offload them. Surely an SD card reader can be bought for the lower end Mac, but that defeats having a portable computer without having to carry around external stuff.

The funny thing is that for a lot less money, I can get a Google Chromebook of many different sizes including an 11 inch model that features a built in SD XC card slot for a lot less money. Both the MacBook Air and Chromebook are somewhat similar. I would consider the MacBook Air as a high end Chromebook. If I got a MacBook Air, I’d use it like a Chromebook where only my apps would on the local drive and all my documents including music, video and photos be stored in the cloud. When I talk about the cloud, I mean the Google Cloud… Google Docs, Gmail and Google Photos. All three have generous storage options at a free price vs. Apple iCloud offering which I cannot recommend since it is costly and has a somewhat clunky interface.

Other alternatives to the MacBook Air include Wintel laptops, Android tablets and Apple’s own iPad.

Other Macintosh Models: The new MacBook, Mac Mini and the Mac Pro are models that are not on my wish list for a number of reasons. The new MacBook is too new and is the only Mac that has a USB C port and no other ports. The Mac Mini is nice but for some reason I have not been a Mac Mini type of person. Lastly while I liked the old tower versions of the Mac Pro, the new cylindrical design of that expensive, high end computer is a turn off since all the other components have to be plugged into the thing to get any kind of expanded use from it.  Surely it is a high end computer, but frankly I don’t need it. Plus it is expensive.

Apple's iPod Touch

Apple’s iPod Touch

6. Apple iPod Touch: One of the most under-appreciated devices coming out of Apple is the iPod Touch. To me the 6th generation iPod Touch is my most wanted mobile device from Apple. The new version introduced in July is a huge update for the device. It now comes with Apple’s own A8 processor chip, 4 inch Retina display screen, storage capacities of 16, 32, 64 and 128GB, 8 megapixel iSight camera with 1080p HD video capability, 1.2MB Facetime camera for video calls and selfies, 802.11 a/b/c/n/ac wifi, bluetooth 4.1 and Apple’s iOS9 which includes Siri, Airplay, AirDrop and a number of other technologies that make the iPod Touch practical and fun to use. Granted you are anchored to wifi to get the most use out of it, but on the other hand, you pay for the device once and never have to pay monthly telecom access fees because this is not an iPhone.

I love it.

I have been an iPod Touch owner (4th generation) since 2010 and the device is extremely useful in helping me keep notes, manage my contact lists, calendar, and is great for streaming music, news, podcasts and video whenever I am on the go. I use it to also send and receive emails and SMS text files. With the Google Voice app the iPod Touch can be used to send SMS text messages to your cell phone toting friends as well as a dialer for unlimited long distance phone calls throughout the U.S. The upgraded iPod Touch has a better still and video camera which makes it a great take anywhere photographic and video recording tool. It also does audio recording and plays most if not all of the current iOS games that can be run on the iPhone.

Again the iPod Touch is like an iPhone without the annoying phone part and the expensive monthly bill. What is not to like about the Touch?

iPad2015

Is the Apple iPad the ultimate tablet?

7. Apple iPad: If your computing needs are not very demanding or if you need a secondary device that is not another MacBook or PC laptop, then perhaps the iPad is for you. I have never owned an iPad because instead of that I opted to buy a Chromebook. The iPad can do everything the iPhone (except phone calls) and iPod Touch can do because they all run on Apple’s iOS9. That said, for me to get an iPad is kind of like duplicating the capabilities of the iPod Touch, except that the iPads are bigger and more expensive depending on configuration. The most compelling reason for me to get an iPad is to use it as an eBook reader since it is bigger than the iPod Touch  and more convenient as a reader over my Chromebook or any of my Macs. However if a reader is all that I really want, it may make more sense to buy a cheaper device like a Kindle from Amazon.

8. Apple TV: This one a device among a sea of plenty aimed squarely at “cord cutters”. It turns your TV to a media center and allows you to stream content from various services such as NetFlix, YouTube and Apple’s own iTunes which includes both video (movies, TV) and audio content (music, podcasts). The new version costs more than the old version. There are other alternatives out there that are cheaper: Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV and more. Be careful when deciding on what streaming TV device to get.

9. Apple iPhone: The single most popular phone on the planet is the Apple iPhone. The device has certainly made its mark on the industry. Since its introduction as one of the first all touch smartphones, the iPhone has spawned a huge worldwide industry that range from service providers to app developers to wanna-be smartphone manufacturers. Thanks to Google’s Android OS which is a competitor to Apple’s iOS that powers all iPhones, the smartphone market is saturated with these devices that people can hardly find a basic cell phone that does only phone calls and text. The phone carriers prefer to push the more expensive smart phones and their related calling/data plans from which they make more money.

I am not a fan of cell phones and until recently never owned one. I opted for another type of phone based mainly on the plan that was offered. The best way to buy a phone is to look at how expensive the monthly bill will be and then make your purchase accordingly. In my case the iPhone was not an option, and is still not.

From what I hear about those with iPhones is that the calling / data plans cost at least $99 a month. Too expensive. The cost can be considerably lower if you stick to the basics – calling and text.

AppleWatch-03

Is the Apple Watch really needed?

10. Apple Watch – Why anyone would want to buy an expensive watch tied into an iPhone or any other smart phone is beyond me. For the most part the watch is a redundant device that runs many of the same apps as those on the iPhone and iPad. Plus your watch has to be tied into the iPhone. Not a good idea to me. There have been reports that the time does not even show on the watch face as a default. Duh? Prices for the Apple Watch start at $349 and soar into unreasonable heights of $10,000 or more.

I don’t think the Watch will hold its value in the long term because the technology will continue to change. If you want an expensive high end watch you’d be better off buying a traditional Rolex. If you need to just tell the time that is already on your cell phone. If you need a cheap wrist watch and not worry about it, you can get one for under $25 at your local WalMart.

So, there you have it. My top 10 list of Apple devices I won’t get this Christmas.

Posted in Apple, Commentary, iMac, iPad, iPhone, iPod, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, MacPro, Music, Technology, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When a Sunrise is a Sunset

Flickr’s New Auto Tags Are Wrong and Unwanted

By Melvin Ah Ching

Sunrise From Hawaii

This is one of many sunrise pictures I have posted on Flickr.

I have a love-hate relationship with Flickr.

I’ve been using the Flickr photo sharing service since 2004. I think this was some years before Flickr was sold to Yahoo. Back in those days Flickr users were a happy bunch of photographers. The interface was simple, uncluttered, nice and a pleasure to work with.

By 2010 things changed. Yahoo bought Flickr and big changes to their user interface and presentation were implemented. Many Flickr photographers, who I believe include a large group of crusty older people who love familiarity in how things are done, got upset.

Implemented changes to Flickr’s presentation, user interface and features have often been met with stiff opposition from long time users. Complaints were made in numerous public posts to the Flickr Help Forum.  Users asked Flickr to return the user interface to how it was. Most if not all requests to have Flickr rescind new features or allow the old timers to use the old interface as an option fell on deaf ears.

On May 7 Flickr implemented a new “Auto Tag” feature that retroactively applied automatic tag links to not only newly uploaded photos but to all photographs in every user’s library. For many users we are talking about hundreds if not thousands of photos.

Here is how Flickr explains Auto Tags:

“Tags play a key role in how you organize and search for photos on Flickr and today, we’re happy to share some changes that make tags more powerful.

What’s changing?
Starting this morning, in addition to any tags that you add to your photos, you’ll notice that Flickr may also add tags to help make them more discoverable in search. This is thanks to Flickr’s image recognition technology, which recognizes patterns in photos. For instance, when our technology recognizes patterns commonly found in car photos, it will label the image “car” and when it finds patterns commonly found in cat photos, it will label the image “cat.”

You’ll notice that tags added by Flickr will appear in an outlined box to make them visually distinct from the ones you add (which appear in a gray box). As the photo’s owner, you can delete any tags you don’t want or tags that are inaccurate.

Inaccurate tags
While we are very proud of this advanced image recognition technology, we’re the first to admit there will be mistakes and we will constantly be working to improve the experience. Usually, you can tell why a mistake was made (sometimes a bike looks like a motorcycle), but occasionally, it may be baffling (no, your grandma doesn’t look like a cat!). But the good news is that if you delete an incorrect tag, our algorithm learns from that mistake and will perform better in the future.

The tagging process is completely automated — no human will ever view your photos to tag them. And, as always, Flickr treats privacy very seriously by respecting your settings. You maintain complete control over which photos are visible to others and which are available for search.

Why change?
As we’ve redesigned Flickr, we’ve tried to make it the one place where you upload every photo and video you take, and then easily find, organize, edit, and share them. This requires powerful image search, and to deliver that, we need to be able to identify the content in each photo, whether you add tags and descriptive titles or not. Before, our search could only rely on text, date, and location (when available), but now visual patterns in the images can help us identify and surface the best results in your searches. Many of the improvements to search results you’ve seen over the past several months are the result of these tags.

These tags also provide the opportunity to bring you lots of innovative features that we’re incredibly excited about. The new “Magic View” on Camera Roll is the first of these powerful new innovations — we hope you love it.

What’s next for tags?
We will continue working to constantly improve this feature. Flickr’s tags may evolve as the image recognition technology becomes more accurate and as the algorithm learns to recognize additional concepts. We also want to bring more control to you, so we plan to add tools soon to allow you to batch edit these new tags.”

Getting Past The Hype

First of all in the quoted statement above, Flickr tells users that it “treats privacy very seriously by respecting your settings.” Wrong. They forced a default setting upon the users by implementing Auto Tag as a standard feature and not an option. Users should be able to OPT IN on the tagging and many other features that Flickr has implemented.

Flickr updated their post to state that batch removal of Auto Tags are coming. Hopefully that will be implemented soon and that there will be a permanent opt out from the Auto Tagging process.

Meanwhile many photos are tagged wrong. All of my Sunrise photos are auto tagged as “sunset” while my manual tags are correctly stated as “sunrise”.

Auto Tag Graphic

Manually tagged as “sunrise”; Flickr bot tags it as “sunset”. Not good!

As an end user, I want complete control of my Flickr photo experience. This includes how my photos are tagged. The gray tags are user generated while the white tags are auto inserted by Flickr.

Here is what other users are saying about the Auto Tag:

The guidelines specifically state “We don’t tolerate spam, deceptive tagging or other abusive means to generate revenue and traffic.” Since tagging is only for the purposes of generating traffic, then blind auto-tagging definitely generates deceptive tags. For example the Flickr tag category of “bird” has been put on many of my photos that do NOT contain a single bird, but rather lions, whales, dogs, kangaroos and people. Since I have over 4,600 photos, I don’t think it is right that I should go through them all and eliminate all the deceptive tags. The person(s) or system(s) that added them should have to remove them, all of them.

Another user writes:

The Tag-Bot is supposed to respect our privacy settings. Mine is set so only I can add tags, but that dumb Tag-Bot adds tags anyway. Thanks Flickr for not respecting my privacy settings and adding a bunch of idiotic meaningless tags to my images.

Numerous complaints have come in about incorrectly tagged photos. Bird tags where there are no birds in the photo. Ships tagged as cars. Sunrises tagged as sunsets.

Bottom line is that many Flickr users don’t like the Auto Tag as well as other interface enhancements (Camera Roll, Wall Art, Layout, etc.) made recently and over the last 5 years. 

Time to go back to how Flickr was, before Yahoo, when it looked like this and functioned in a more simplistic way:

The Old Flickr display

The old way that Flickr displayed photos and albums was better.

 A sunrise is a sunrise. It will never be a sunset.

 

 

Posted in Commentary, Photography, World Wide Web, Yahoo | Tagged , , , , , , , ,