Photo tagging: Journalism's next social experiment

by Mark S. Luckie

Faces in the crowd are no longer just faces. Photo tagging allows people to identify themselves and others in a photo and the technology is starting to catch on as a tool for journalism. Sites like Facebook and Flickr have offered tagging options for some time, which means many readers already know why and how to use tagging.

So what are the benefits of tagging a photo? has encouraged sports fans to tag themselves in the crowd of a recent baseball game. As mentioned previously, NPR used Flickr to encourage readers to tag attendees in the audience of a Senate hearing.

A high-resolution photograph shot at the Glastonbury Music Festival recently broke the record as the most tagged online image ever, with approximately 7000 concertgoers identifying themselves in the photo.

Photo tagging is also being used to identify faces in a class photo, as in the example below:

Photo tagging allows newsrooms to get an idea of who is in the crowd and possibly connect with those people by allowing readers or viewers to tag themselves in a photo. Tagging also lets readers participate and engage with the newsroom by contributing in a small way to the coverage.

So how do you get started tagging? Many news organizations already have Flickr accounts, so you can use the tool to allow people to tag photos. While some photo hosting tools like Twitpic and Picasa allow for tagging, Flickr is likely the best tool for news media to use.

Flickr already has a built-in user base who are familiar with the technology and those who don’t can catch on quickly. Plus, a basic account is free. Alternatively, you can use proprietary, paid tools like Thinglink to embed a photo on your own site and make it taggable.