As I discussed in another article, Steve Rosenbaum’s Curation Nation is very striking to me because its major theme of the importance of human input in Web curation is so similar to what I’ve written about on this blog. Extending the parallel between Rosenbaum’s thought and mine is the background of our work.

The experience that’s especially sensitized me to the importance of human input in curation has been my work to improve the discoverability of medical pictures in Hardin MD, as I discussed in the first two articles in this blog. In the process of doing this, I learned how much more difficult it is to make pictures findable on the Web than it is for text, which is its own search handle.

With my background of working with pictures, I can’t help but notice that Rosenbaum’s background is in video — We’ve both been sensitized to the importance of human curation, I suspect, by working with non-text media. As difficult as I’ve learned it is to curate pictures, it’s certainly even more difficult for the MOVING pictures of video. As an example of this, it’s difficult to tweak pictures in Hardin MD so they can be found in Google or Google Image search, but there’s not even anything comparable to Google Image search for video.

As difficult as it is to make video findable, it’s not surprising that Rosenbaum sees the future Web being so heavily dependent on curation over Search. I’d guess this is what gives him the many valuable insights about curation that he discusses in the book. And as the mix of media on the Web grows, the need for human curators will certainly grow with it. Good news for humans!

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

I’m reading Steve Rosenbaum’s new book, Curation Nation — He talks interestingly about social media like Twitter as being tools for curation, which he says are often better than Google in helping people find what they’re looking for.

As a prime example of why he thinks curation is the wave of the future and “search is broken (p 252),” he talks about googling his name (steve rosenbaum) in Google Image Search, and getting many false hits, including pictures of women and a pomeranian dog. His use of Google Image Search here rather than the standard googling tool Google Web search is puzzling — I guess he does it to prove his claim that “search is broken” — In Google Web search, though, searching for steve rosenbaum works just fine — All of the top 10 results are for Steve the book author.

So I think Rosenbaum is confused when he asserts that “search is broken” or “search is dead” (see below*) based upon his experience in searching Google Image search. But in bringing pictures into the discussion, he IS on to something important, which goes along with the book’s “curation” theme, and which I’ve hit upon frequently in this blog. As Rosenbaum discusses repeatedly, an important element of “curation” is that it’s done by human beings, as opposed to automated tools like search engines. This very much echoes a major theme of Seeing the Picture — starting with the very first article — which is the idea that pictures require a large amount of human input, on many levels, starting with the process of “curating” them so they can be found.

I’m finding Rosenbaum’s book especially interesting because, in addition to pictures, he also touches on other curatorial themes that I’ve discussed here:

Twitter – As mentioned above, he mentions Twitter prominently as an example of curation, and I’ve written about tweets being superb curatorial tools to focus the eyeballs of the Twitterverse on valuable information nuggets.

Wikipedia – At its tenth anniversary in January, I wrote about Wikipedia in very much the same vein as Rosenbaum, contrasting it as a tool for human curation in contrast to the machine-mind of Google. When I wrote this article, I was surprised to find that Wikipedia is not often discussed as an example of curation, so I was glad to see that Rosenbaum does.

*In Rosenbaum’s talk at TOC 2011, he goes over the same story of googling his name in Google Image search, to show the problems with Search — In the talk he says search is “dead” instead “broken,” as he says in the book.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

I don’t have a Kindle device, but I’ve recently been learning about the advantages of using the Kindle apps for PC, Mac, and iPod Touch. A great weakness of the Kindle device is that it doesn’t display color, so color pictures on the Kindle apps open up a whole new world.

All Kindle books have a free sample that can be downloaded to the device and to the apps. I’ve downloaded samples for several books that seemed likely to have pictures, and have found that the sample is often from a portion of the book that has only text. I’ve found some cases, however, in which the sample does have pictures, in the list below. To look at these free samples, sign in with an Amazon account, download the appropriate Kindle app, follow the links below, and view samples.

Kindle Books with Color Pictures:

In searching for books with color pictures, I found some that have only black and white. Here are a few for comparison …

Kindle Books with black & white pictures:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

Internet Archive (IA) has long had an excellent “thumbnail view” of book pages, in the DjVu format, which I described two years ago as being arguably superior to Google Books for viewing books with a lot of illustrations. In April of this year, IA announced an additional thumbnail view, as part of their BookReader format, which I think is even better than the DjVu format. As with the DjVu format, however, getting to the BookReader thumbnail view is a bit tricky for the user. The steps are shown in the graphic below, starting at left on the IA book home/details page. The first step is to click “Read Online” at the top of the list of formats (some books in IA don’t currently have a BookReader version, in which case the “Read Online” link doesn’t appear). The next step, in the middle shot, is to click the rather inconspicuous grid-shaped icon in the top menu bar to view thumbnails.

It would be to the benefit of the Internet Archive project to make their excellent thumbnail views — DjVu and now BookReader thumbnails — easier to find. As I reported recently, Google IS finding IA versions of books, along with its own Google Books versions. And significantly, Google is often choosing to link to the DjVu format, out of the many different formats available in IA. I suspect this is because Google “has a nose for” anything that smells like it’s related to pictures (which I’ve experienced with Hardin MD picture searching for many years).

So, in closing, I’d suggest that the people at Internet Archive do some creative Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which the IA’s Peter Brantley suggested eloquently for libraries a couple of years ago — A bit of tweaking of IA pages might help Google to “find the (graphic) jewels” that they contain — The thumbnail views and formats that the world is looking for!

Finally, I can’t resist adding a BookReader thumbnail example from an elegant 19th century series of botanical prints — Click the screenshot to feast your eyes on more:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

Last evening, one day after the tragic earthquake in Haiti, I searched on my iPod Touch for mobile-friendly picture galleries of the quake, using Google Web, G-News, G-Images, and G-Blogs. I found a few traditional news sources with picture galleries (e.g. BBC, CNN), but they were not optimized for mobile, and were difficult/impossible on an iTouch (CNN employs Flash, so it’s unusable). Global Toronto, the second example below, is typical of the appearance of the traditional news sites. The Big Picture, in the third example below, does do a good job with mobile-friendly pictures, but like the Hyderabad News that’s in the first example, the Big Picture is a unique hybrid of traditional news and new,shifted media.

I had been noticing recently how good a job WordPress blogs often do with pictures. They’re especially notable because they adjust very smoothly to portrait-landscape change, resizing the picture to use screen space efficiently. So it wasn’t too surprising to find WordPress sites in my Haiti quake search. The top example below is from the Hyderabad (India) News, which seems to be a news-blog hybrid (definitely not a traditional news source, which is what I’m referring to in the title of this article). It displays pictures with smooth elegance, in typical WordPress fashion. Another WordPress source I found is the environmental blog, which has just a few pictures, which do look good on an iTouch.

Hyderabad (India) News


Global Toronto


The Big Picture from


Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

An earlier article, Color Pictures in Google Books, discussed a few examples of color pictures in full-view books in GBS. Below are more examples in the areas of botany, medical botany, and dermatology.

Google Books titles with color pictures – Botany, Medical Botany

[Examples below link to screenshots in Flickr of Overview : Selected Pages in GBS; links in Flickr go to actual GBS page.]

The Botanical Magazine, Or, Flower-garden Displayed
By William Curtis, vol 9, 1795, Harvard Univ

Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, Or, Flower-garden Displayed
By John Sims, vol 41, 1815, Harvard Univ

The Family Herbal
By John Hill, 1812, Oxford Univ

Flora Medica
By George Spratt, 1830, Oxford Univ

Vegetable Materia Medica of the United States, Or, Medical Botany
By William Paul Crillon Barton, 1818, Oxford Univ

Medicinal Plants (vol 2)
By Robert Bentley, Henry Trimen, David Blair, 1880, Harvard Univ

Medicinal Plants (vol 4)
By Robert Bentley, Henry Trimen, David Blair, 1880, Harvard Univ

Paxton’s Magazine of Botany, and Register of Flowering Plants (vol 1)
By Joseph Paxton, 1836, Oxford Univ

Strasburger’s Text-book of Botany
By Eduard Strasburger, Hans Fitting, Ludwig Jost, William Henry Lang, Heinrich Schenck, George Karsten, 1921, Univ California

Google Books titles with color pictures – Dermatology

Atlas and Epitome of Diseases of the Skin
By Franz Mraček, 1905, Stanford Univ

Atlas Der Hautkrankheiten, Mit Einschluss Der Wichtigsten Venerischen
By Eduard Jacobi, 1906, Stanford Univ

Atlas of Diseases of the Skin
By Franz Mraček, Henry Weightman Stelwagon, 1899, Stanford Univ

Illustrated Skin Diseases
By William Samuel Gottheil, 1902, Harvard Univ

An Introduction to Dermatology
By Norman Purvis Walker, 1906, Stanford Univ

On Diseases of the Skin
By Erasmus Wilson, 1865, Harvard Univ

Portfolio of Dermochromes (vol 2)
By Jerome Kingsbury, Eduard Jacobi, John James Pringle, William Gaynor States, 1913, Harvard Univ

Skin Diseases
By Melford Eugene Douglass, 1900, Univ Michigan

If you know of other areas that have books in Google Books with color pictures, please send comments.

The recently announced addition of thumbnail navigation to Google Book Search is, unfortunately, only available for full-view. But all magazines in GBS are full-view, so thumbnails are especially useful for them, since [because] they have so many pictures. To use thumnails, go to Read this Magazine (or Book), and click the 4-square grid in the top row of icons (shaded below).

There are relatively few public-domain, full-view books with pictures in GBS, but thumbnail view is valuable for them, to get a quick overview of the proportion and nature of the pictures, as shown in the example below.

Poking around in Google Similar Images, I’ve found examples that give indications of how the system works. I’ve put several of these together in a Flickr set, from which the example below is taken.

The top image in each of the pairs below (“Full size image”) is a choice from the initial search in GSI (“blackbird” in the example below). Clicking “Similar images” for this choice goes to a set of refined images, represented by the bottom row of images in the pair. The blackbird example here shows some of the strengths and weaknesses of GSI. It often seems to do best with color photographs, but not so well with monocolor pictures. In the first instance, the red spot on the wing and the greenish background likely are clues used by GSI, to good effect. The lack of color clues in the second case is likely a problem for GSI. It also shows pretty clearly that GSI is getting clues from words associated with images, in this case causing it to confuse the blackbird with the US Air Force plane that has the same name.

The importance of color clues for GSI that’s shown in the example above occurs in several additional examples in the Flickr set — B/W line drawings especially cause problems for GSI. Here are some other observations from the Flickr examples:

  • One notable example shows how GSI has a tendency to give too much weight to a word associated with a picture, as in the blackbird example — In a search for “george“, the “similar images” for a non-famous person named George are dominated by pictures of the recently prominent George Bush!
  • GSI does best when the image is focused clearly on one subject; it doesn’t do well when there are multiple subjects, especially when they are unusual subject combinations, that don’t typically occur together.
  • It does poorly with abstract or stylized, non-realistic images.
  • Strongly featured text sometimes “pulls the attention” of GSI away from the “picture content” of the image.

Despite the problems described here, I think GSI is a true advance in the technology of image search. In general, it does a surprisingly good job of detecting similarity. So, kudos to Google engineers!

Interesting thought by Mike Shatzkin on the unlikeliness of pictures in eBooks anytime soon (bold added):

The proliferation of formats, devices, screen sizes, and delivery channels means that the idea of “output one epub file and let the intermediaries take it from there” is an unworkable strategy. [Here’s one reason why:] … Epub can “reflow” text, making adjustments for screen size. But there is no way to do for that for illustrations or many charts or graphs without human intervention (for a long while, at least.) Even if you could program so that art would automatically resize for the screen size, you wouldn’t know whether the art would look any good or be legible in the different size. A human would have to look and be sure.

Mike is talking here about the issue I wrote about in the foundational article for Seeing the Picture — Pictures are in many ways an intractable problem for automation — In many situations, the best use of pictures requires intelligent human input.

A couple of recent commentaries, excerpted below, suggest that the best sort of books for eBooks are ones that are intended to be read linearly, navigating through pages consecutively (i.e. most notably fiction). Both observers say that books whose usability is increased by flipping back and forth from one section to another do not make good eBooks.

Writing about the Kindle, Jakob Nielsen notes the problem with non-linear content:

The usability problem with non-linear content is crucial because it indicates a deeper issue: Kindle’s user experience is dominated by the book metaphor. The idea that you’d want to start on a section’s first page makes sense for a book because most are based on linear exposition. Unfortunately, this is untrue for many other content collections, including newspapers, magazines, and even some non-fiction books such as travel guides, encyclopedias, and cookbooks … The design decisions that make Kindle good for reading novels (and linear non-fiction) make it a bad device for reading non-linear content.

Later in the review, Nielsen broadens his comments to eBooks more generally. In addition to the issue of linearity, he also mentions that books that depend on pictures are problematic:

11 years ago, I wrote that electronic books were a bad idea. Has Kindle 2 changed my mind?– Yes — I now think there’s some benefit to having an information appliance that’s specialized for reading fiction and linear non-fiction books that don’t depend on illustrations and don’t require readers to refer back and forth between sections.

Paul Biba, in comments on using a cookbook on the Kindle, says:

The concept doesn’t work. This is not the Kindle’s fault, but the fact that some things are just not meant for an ebook format. When using a cookbook one likes to flip through it browsing for recipes. You look at one, go back and compare it to another … see if you can’t combine the ingredients of [recipes] … You simply can’t do this flipping back and forth with an ebook … Going back and forth from the table of contents to the index is a time-consuming process. The ergonomics of the whole thing is just not set up for cooking and recipe browsing.

This is really the first time I have come across a complete failure of the ebook medium. I can’t see how it is possible to make any change in the hardware that would alleviate the problem. There is simply no substitute for flipping pages and marking them with bookmarks … The ebook format is, by its nature, linear and this linearity is not adaptable to serious cooking.