I suppose there’s a very good reason I majored in sociology in college as I am ever amazed by the dynamics involved in groups. This is twice recently that I’ve had a blog topic spill out of a conversation on an artist forum. This particular topic was  focused on a perceived problem where other people weren’t following the rules. I’m going to let the site in question remain nameless, and as I participate in multiple print on demand sites, I think it’s safe to say you might as well search for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

The particular complaint was that people were abusing the keyword system on a print on demand site. For the uninitiated, keywords are phrases or single words, used to describe an image for the search engines on most art and photography sites. Since they are part of the search, they’re pretty darned important. And every site has different rules on how many you can use to describe your work.

Now, I had a couple of issues with the complaint. First, is it really a problem? Yes, some people will knowingly abuse it and some will go overboard in the hopes of luring in someone who was searching for something else altogether. It happens on every site, but pretty much every site has some sort of mechanism, either automated or informal to handle it when reported. Finding a handful of images miss-categorized is not much different to me than finding results on the first page of your web search engine results that weren’t even close. My suspicion is the average person overlooks a few bad results in their search results in any situation. Heck, in the case of art, they are already mentally striking off the results they didn’t personally like.

Ultimately, my belief on that point remains that surely the site owners are more than capable of looking at their analytics and recognizing if a problem really exists.  I.e. do customers routinely search for a term and leave after a page or two of results. Do visitors on the site routinely get so frustrated they give up quickly. If so, then yes, there is a problem. But it’s not the site owner or admins who are expressing that it’s a problem. It boils down to a few, I suspect disenchanted, people.

The second item was the notion that really only a few keywords are necessary anyway?? Really? I feel like that illustrates an extreme lack of imagination! Not only a lack of imagination but a foolhardy disregard for connecting with potential customers. Let’s take something as simple as a picture of the Eiffel Tower. How can we describe that? Here’s just a selection of keyword/phrases “Eiffel Tower, Tour Eiffel, Paris, Parisian, French, France, French Landmark, Paris Landmark…” I bet you could come up with more! And that’s in only one language on an international site and only described one element of the picture. What if there’s an elderly French couple holding hands in the foreground? A couple kissing? This gets to what I’m saying about your descriptive phrases coming down to your imagination. There could be many ways to describe an artwork. After all aren’t pictures supposed to be worth a thousand words?

I could go into a ton more detail, but the solution offered over and over to this perceived problem was that people should be able to use only one or two phrases to describe their work. In other words, a few people are abusing the system. Rather than targeting them, I’m going to make it harder for people who have more imagination than I do! And if the potential customer was searching for those other terms, too bad!

And this is a scenario I see over and over in our society. I don’t know if it’s an American phenomena or a general human issue, but I’ve seen it happen many times. I’ve seen it in work places. I’ve seen it in clubs, and pretty much any setting I can imagine. If someone breaks a rule, we’ll invent a rule that makes it harder for everyone else, but hey, it stopped the person who was breaking the rule we already had… What happened to just handling the situation? This definitely falls into the camp of cutting off our nose to spite our face or throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Perhaps I am becoming very curmudgeonly, but I find it very hard to suffer in silence while people suggest knee jerk solutions to problems. They may fix one problem but they inevitably come with their own set of bad consequences.

In the end, I think it boils down to a need for control in some people. Like me, they won’t suffer in silence. We have that much in common. But I feel that their fixes boil down to a need to control and bring everyone else into lockstep with what they perceive as being the proper order. And that reaction generally bothers me. If I came up with five phrases to describe my art, and Jane Doe came up with twenty perfectly reasonable terms, well bravo Jane. You might connect with a potential customer I miss. I don’t fault you for that, and I don’t see the need to force you down to my level. I’ll complain if you described a peach as a grape, but that’s clearly wrong and already against the terms of every site of which I’ve been a part. Why should we block Jane in order to punish Bob?

Ah, don’t you love late night rambling?

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