One of the big problems in the journalism and blogging worlds is image attribution. Content creators, whether photographers or videographers, deserve credit for their work. Professionals demand payment, while millions of others license their media on Creative Commons. Yet other content creators in the social media space create visual content that go viral, only to find their credit lost in a maelstrom of sharing. The new app Tagg.ly hopes to change the game for social media users and citizen journalists, helping them get credit where credit is due.
Created over the last year by app developers Isaac Phillips, Tim Pool (full disclosure: Tim is a VICE reporter), and Krutika Harale, Tagg.ly is a photo and video app that allows users to add their name, website, logo, and time and location data to the photos and video they create. Some of this is already possible with other imaging apps, such as iWatermark, Marksta, and Text on Pictures, but users have to navigate through multiple menus to pull that off. Tagg.ly simplifies the watermarking process. Users set metadata stamps upon opening the app, so that when they want to use Tagg.ly they're able to simply shoot photographs or video, certain that their creative credit is assured.
Nearly a week into Tagg.ly's soft launch, Phillips took some time to speak about the beginnings of app—what motivated its creation, and how the team hopes the app will be used. He also said that people who might require secrecy, such as protestors or rebels, can easily turn name, time, and location metadata off.
What were the beginnings of Tagg.ly?
I met Tim Pool last summer when we were introduced by a close mutual friend. I'd been developing apps for about five years, mostly apps for media like radio stations and television. Tim and I started talking about applications, and when we came up with Tagg.ly my concern was that it was such a simple app that it wouldn't have much value. But, as we started exploring other options for people to add stamps to their photos or videos, we realized that all of the other apps had somewhere between eight to twelve clicks before you could share a photo on Twitter.
With Tagg.ly, the goal was really to do one-touch framing. So, the first thing you see when you've set up the app with the metadata stamps is the camera. So, you take a photo and Tagg.ly automatically adds the metadata both to the photo and to the access data.
Tagg.ly camera screen
Right, and as a result Tagg.ly is minimal but powerful as far as content or media creation.
Yeah, when you download the app, you'll find that it's very simple. There are no frills, no extra features, and there are only about three pages in the application. This was done on purpose for people on the go who need to create content quickly and still retain their rights to the content. A lot of developers try to put too many features and complicated user interfaces into their apps. We have to work with a lot of different people. It could be a protestor in Istanbul, or a person who likes taking photos of Volkswagens. So, the UI is simple and I think it looks great.
The social internet is all about sharing. And that might even define viral media: something is shared once and then it's retweeted, posted on a blog, or put on Tumblr. That's the great thing about the internet, but from the content creator's perspective it's a problem when you don't receive credit. We wanted to end the questions people ask like, "Who took this photo? Where was it taken? When was it taken?" That's the entire goal of this application.
Let's say that someone wanted to use an image taken with Tagg.ly. As long as the user's logo and metadata stamps are on the image, others are free to use the image, correct?
Yes. Right now there is no mechanism for people to be paid for their photos or video. More and more people are becoming journalists. Not professional journalists, but user-generated content journalists. This content is permeating news organizations, especially for breaking news. Today, whoever happens to be close to an event becomes the most important journalist.
Is Creative Commons licensing part of Tagg.ly?
That's certainly one of our values—the way that it allows people to easily share their media across the internet and still receive credit. But, we haven't integrated that licensing yet, though it's definitely something we're considering.
Location, time, and name metadata would be problematic in areas experiencing civil unrest or open revolution. Was this a consideration in developing the app?
People are using Tagg.ly in protests in Istanbul right now. What's in the application is actually a very simple setting where you can toggle location and time on and off. If you're taking a photo as part of a covert mission in Damascus, then you won't want to include time and exact location, because that could reveal who you are.
On the other hand, in Syria I've seen the same photo being used with one group saying, "This is Assad attacking refugee children," and Assad's media saying, "No, this is a terrorist attacking children in Damascus." Well, who took this photo, and when was it taken? We want to create solutions to these problems. If you don't want to display your name, you can can delete the text in Settings. The text field can be used for any text: could be a website, name, or an anonymous Twitter handle.
Tagg.ly Settings menu, where users can set name, website, time, location, and logo data
You noted the app is already being used in Istanbul.
Yeah, we soft-released it on Monday, so it's by no means is it a finalized product. We just wanted to get it out there to start changing media. The reaction so far has been phenomenal. We're receiving a lot of downloads, and if you look on Twitter there is a fair amount of talk, especially among citizen journalists.
Tagg.ly isn't a platform for sharing images like Instagram or Facebook. Was that by design?
Yes. We don't have our platform for sharing photos. You create them on Tagg.ly and then you can share them on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. Our goal is really to be cross-platform. We don't want to be hosting the world's photos. We just wanted to make sure content creators receive credit.
This also sounds like a good option for protesters and rebels who might run up against a Twitter blockade, such as in Turkey. Tagg.ly users have a quick end-around where they can blast images or video out via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook using the app.
Exactly. Also, if I send a photo out on Twitter, the photo's metadata is there, and I can add location data to the tweet. The problem arises when someone takes my Twitter photo and posts it on Reddit, or someone shares my Facebook photo on their Instagram account—the metadata is lost in the process. With Tagg.ly, that metadata is going to be visible even if it's shared on multiple platforms.
Any first impressions one week into the soft launch?
We're very excited, and we want to make a difference. We're not concerned with making money right now, although we hope to do that in the future. But, the first step is to make a difference and provide a tool that social media influencers will use. I think this is a space that both Tim and I are interested in and committed to long-term, so we're going to be building out this app into a suite for the mobile media of tomorrow. Right now Tagg.ly is only on iPhone, but an Android app is in the works.