How PopSugar Manages Photo Assets for a Global Audience of 100 Million

Solving the logistical nightmare of asset management and making a more unique site in the process

Ask any web editor and they’ll tell you: stock photos are the worst.

Those generic and trite, easy-to-download pics are pilloried as absurd. They’re pilloried as sexist. They’re pilloried as the ridiculous, cartoon version of humanity. In fact, stock photos are so maligned that if you simply google “stock photos suck”, you’ll find an entire secondary market devoted to fighting traditional stock photo cliches.

Long story short: it’s hard for a web site to be unique when the photography is generic.

Which is exactly why PopSugar, one of the leading entertainment sites on the web, decided to differentiate themselves by investing in original photography.

“The editors and photographers shoot close to a terabyte of new images every year,” says Bjorn Pave, Senior Director of IT at PopSugar.

That expenditure means, of course, that there’s a tight focus on managing the files. And not just for bottom line purposes. If an editor can’t find an original image, Bjorn says, there’s a chance they may choose a sub-standard image, or re-buy an image from a stock site.

“So we use metadata to organize thousands of images across numerous internal departments, from marketing to editorial to design,” says Bjorn.

Metadata is a fancy way of saying that PopSugar’s staff tags descriptive words to each image file, making that image searchable (which is, basically, how something like Google’s image search works). “By adding metadata for publication rights, locations, and brands, each department can quickly and easily find the assets they’re looking for, regardless of who uploaded them.”

Those images are all managed in the cloud, and the tagging is done by staffers; Bjorn’s team wrote a custom tagging interface to make the process go more smoothly.

On the editorial side, that process translates to a more unique publication. Editors can pick and choose images from PopSugar’s custom library. Previously, editors might have to track down original photos in their inbox, contact the photo editors to find an image, or buy stock photography off the web.

Now, editors have the confidence that they have rights to use the images on file — and that they’ll never see the same image on another web site.

“All that reduces risk,” says Bjorn. “It fosters accessibility. It maintains good data structure.”

And hey, nobody has to look at boring stock photography anymore. That’s a win-win.

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