Hey, you got your photos in my map

It seems I accidentally tripped over something new at Google Maps this morning: I happened to be looking at the houses for sale in our area — a recreational pursuit of mine — and when I mapped an address using Google Maps, all of a sudden thumbnail photos started popping up here and there. Then a little while later I saw a Twitter message from Steve Rubel about Google Maps adding photos, and it all made sense. The site is apparently integrating both Picasa and Panoramio photos, as well as videos from YouTube and user-created maps.

Adding geo-tagged or otherwise location-oriented photos to Google Maps has been an option for some time under the “My Maps” tab — which also allows you to do things like calculate distances between two points, or see the weather for a specific location. But now Google is apparently adding the photo feature as a default. It’s not clear to me whether it’s only photos that have been geo-tagged, or whether it also includes photos that have specific keywords in them.

I think this is an interesting feature (although there’s obviously lots of potential for abuse as well, which I’m sure Google is aware of). And it also seems as though this could be either a competitive issue or a potential partnership opportunity for companies like PlanetEye.com, where my friend and fellow mesh organizer Mark Evans works. If Panoramio is already integrated into Google Maps, then presumably other companies could as well. (Note: I didn’t realize that Panoramio was owned by Google until I read MG Siegler’s post; I agree that it would be good if Google Maps could integrate photos from other services as well).

Ze Frank project: Young me, now me

Ze Frank, the creator of the legendary Web-video feature known simply as “the show,” has a new project I just found out about called “Young Me, Now Me” — the idea being that you take a photo of yourself in the same pose as a picture of yourself from when you were young, and submit it to Ze. Some of the shots are pretty funny. As with many of Ze’s projects, including the recent Twitter “color wars,” there’s no obvious goal for the contest, which ends today. Will people get to vote on the best? It’s not clear. That’s half of the fun of Ze’s ideas — the fact that there’s no obvious purpose other than to do something interesting. The photos remind me of this video by Vimeo founder and former CEO Jakob Lodwick.

Flickr Commons: A great idea, but…

Let me make this clear right off the bat: I think the idea of Flickr and the U.S. Library of Congress collaborating on a project to display historical photos is a fantastic idea. As described by Read/Write Web and by the Library itself (and by Flickr), it involves thousands of old pictures that are free from copyright being made available through Flickr. Great idea. The more people who get to see images from their cultural history, the better.

The other aspect of the project — the part where the Library of Congress asks people to add tags to the photos to help classify them — I’m not so crazy about. Don’t get me wrong, I think “crowdsourcing” of information can be a very powerful thing, since it lets companies make use of expertise that may be located in hard-to-reach or undiscovered places. And if the Library and Flickr were specifically asking old people or photographers to tag the photos, I would be a lot more interested.

The problem with letting anyone tag a photo is that their ability to do so properly is completely unknown. To take one example from the Flickr page, there’s a shot of a guy wearing old automobile goggles, behind the wheel of an old car — and people have tagged it “goggles,” “wheel” and “man.” So far, so good. However, the photo is identified as “Burman,” and someone has tagged it “burnam.” That’s not only unhelpful, it’s wrong. Is someone going to go through and check all the tags?

It’s possible that only people with a real interest in old photos will be bothered to cruise the Library collections and tag them, in which case this might be a self-regulating problem. I hope so. As you can see if you read the comments here — some from people whose opinions I respect — they seem to think I’m off-base, and that the data collected from those user-submitted tags will be worthwhile from a number of perspectives. But it seems I’m not the only one wondering about its utility.

A Flickr-powered screensaver? Incredible

I don’t want to turn this into a Dave Winer *thing,* (and I don’t want to contribute to a “bitchmeme”) but I have to say that the release of his newest software tool — a Mac-only screensaver/RSS widget called FlickrFan — fills me with, well… a sense of underwhelmingness. I mean, Marshall Kirkpatrick tries hard to make it sound like the best thing since bread came sliced, and so does Robert Scoble, but still fails to stir much interest (at least in me). And not just because this software is just for Apples, either.

When you get right down to it (which doesn’t take long) it’s a screensaver for Macs that lets you subscribe to people’s photo feeds from Flickr. Is that really a huge development? I find that hard to believe. I’ve been using a Windows screensaver called Slickr for some time now that does pretty much the same thing, and my friend Rob points out that he’s been using his computer as a photo and media server for years.

I’m not saying that Dave’s software is useless, or that showing Flickr photos on your computer isn’t a worthwhile thing to do. Far from it. In fact, just the opposite — I think it’s a great idea. But I don’t really think it’s anything revolutionary. Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins over at Mashable doesn’t think it’s much to write home about either, apparently, and says Yahoo Go does pretty much the same thing, but better. Michael Gartenberg at Forrester says that it “totally changes the game,” but that’s a pretty hype-ish thing to say, as Ian Betteridge notes at Technovia.

TechCrunch gets it right on Hartwell

Erick Schonfeld is right about the debate that has been sparked by photographer Lane Hartwell and her decision to file a DMCA takedown notice against YouTube, in order to have a video removed that had a photo of hers in it (for less than a second), a debate that I think I helped in some small way to spark — for better or worse — with this post, which got almost 100 comments, and a more recent follow-up.

In his post at TechCrunch, Erick makes the point that this is not just about what Lane did, or whether the guys in the band Richter Scales should have been a little nicer when she asked them to remove her photo. Lane seems like a nice person — she should, after all, since she’s Canadian 🙂 But the principle of fair use continues to be tested in cases just like this, and they are just going to keep on coming.

So what if Richter Scales had to remove the photo, you might say. Big deal. And so what if they had to remove a bunch of the other photos, which the photographers involved are also pissed about, according to a recent post at PDNPulse. And so what if Lane and some of those other artists ask Richter Scales to pay them for the use of their work. So a stupid video mashup from some unknown band ceases to exist.

The problem is that the ability to blend media of all kinds — text, photos, video — is one of the most powerful things that the Internet and new media have brought us. Yes, the Richter Scales is just a goofy sendup of the Valley. But what about other videos for other purposes? The principle of fair use for artistic purposes and the purposes of commentary is being chipped away gradually, and each time a DMCA takedown is issued another chip falls.

In the comments on my post and those elsewhere, you can see supporters of Ms. Hartwell — and of the artists’ apparently inalienable right to control every speck of their creation no matter where it appears or for what purpose — slicing and dicing fair use until it barely exists at all. Richter Scales’ work wasn’t a direct parody of her photo, so it doesn’t qualify; it’s the whole photo, so it doesn’t qualify (how do you use an excerpt of a photo?); it was made for a band, who might one day sell a CD, so it doesn’t qualify.

And now, Ms. Hartwell tells CNET that she doesn’t want to say how much she has invoiced the band for, but she used a popular photo-management tool called FotoQuote, and priced it based on “usage, the market where the photograph is to be used and various other factors.” So how much does less than a single second worth of looking at a photo cost? I don’t have FotoQuote, so I don’t know. The mind boggles.