Gathering feedback on the image annotation tool?

Subject: Gathering feedback on the image annotation tool?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Alex Masycheff <alexm -at- fototagger -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 09 Oct 2006 15:43:02 -0400

Alex Masycheff wonders: <<I would like to ask your help. Our company has developed a product, called FotoTagger that enables users to annotate digital images, including photos, screenshots, or drawings. I would like to gather feedback from technical writers, like you, in order to understand whether this product could satisfy the needs of specialists involved in developing technical documentation and/or identify additional features that might be useful.>>

Sounds like a great product in principle--you're not really doing anything that couldn't be done in Photoshop with a bit more work, but there's always room for special utilities that do the job more elegantly. I'd be happy to provide feedback except for one teeny, tiny problem: your product appears to run only on PCs. That's a shame, as your description makes it sound like exactly the kind of product I could really use right about now for a book I'm working on.

<rant> It's not rocket science to develop products that will run on both Macs and PCs. Really. Write it in Java if you have to.</rant>

That being said, a few thoughts without being able to actually use the product: <<- Placing textual comments (annotations) that relate to specific objects directly on an image.>>

For things like text, I have a strong recommendation: allow authors to create the text in an external file (ideally XML) and use pointers of some sort to refer to the text in that file. Why? Because translators and localizers around the world will bless you and your children and your children's children. <g> Keeping the text in a standard, easily word processor-compatible file makes translation enormously easier (i.e., translators can use translation memories and machine translation on the files) than if the text is embedded in some kind of proprietary file format.

Talk to some localization companies to find out about the tools they use and how your product could integrate with those tools. Then you can go to the tool vendors and offer them a sweet deal if they bundle your product with theirs.

<<- Exporting annotations to an XML file and importing them back onto the image.>>

Given that you're already thinking of adding XML export, it shouldn't be too hard to adopt my previous suggestion.

<<FotoTagger works with JPEG files and stores annotations along with positioning information in the metadata section of the JPEG file.>>

That's a cool thought, but if you want to dramatically increase your market size, add other formats too. Graphics folk live in Photoshop, so adding direct import of .psd files gives you something they can adopt immediately. Make it a plug-in and that's even better. For people who do serious print publishing, it would be helpful to annotate TIFF files in this manner; for people who do screenshots, PNG or GIF support would be nice.

The trick is to abstract the graphical content in such a way that you can separate it from the original file format and from the text: you should be able to import any graphics format, convert that into a bitmap or other raster format that allows you to define (x,y) coordinates, and attach the text to a series of coordinates defined using your software. That's not programming rocket science either.

<<1. Can you use it for recording notes (e.g. on a product photo or drawing) while interviewing programmers/engineers? 2. Can programmers/ engineers in your organization use it for recording important information (e.g. explaining GUI) that should be delivered to technical writers?>>

Make this run in real-time over the Web (hint: see my suggestion above about programming in Java), and you can allow people to collaborate remotely. For example, programmers in India could work (by conversing in a separate chat or instant messaging window) with technical writers in North America and update an annotated graphic in real-time. Macintosh-based graphic designers at advertising agencies on the west coast could collaborate with PC-based clients on the east coast to modify graphic layouts in real time.

Now _that's_ a killer app!

Oh... one last thing. Sell it for closer to US$25-50 than $250-$500. If you're first into the market, you don't want to give your competitors room to undercut you on price. Sell if for $500 and you can bet all the shareware authors in the world will be drooling, that Corel will have a competing product for $100 in about 1 month, and that most of the people who could benefit from your product will stick with Photoshop, Corel, and PaintShop Pro. Make it an impulse buy, not something that has to be budgeted for a year in advance.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca

(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)

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Gathering feedback on the image annotation tool: From: Alex Masycheff

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