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CIO Today

Google Will Make Life Photo Archive Searchable

Google Will Make Life Photo Archive Searchable
November 19, 2008 1:53PM

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Google will make Life magazine's archive of more than 10 million historic images online and searchable through Google Image Search. Time Warner says more than 97 percent of the Life photos dating back to the 1750s have never been seen by the public. Google has no revenue stream from the Life images, but has improved Google Image Search.

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Google on Tuesday announced a deal with Life magazine to bring more than 10 million of its archived photos online in a public display. The mix of iconic and never-before-seen photos is searchable through Google Image Search.

The archives include famous images and films, including the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination, The Mansell Collection from London, Dahlstrom glass plates of New York and environs from the 1880s, and the entire works left to the collection from Life photographers Alfred Eisenstaedt, Gjon Mili, and Nina Leen.

"This effort to bring offline images online was inspired by our mission to organize all the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," Google software engineer Paco Galanes wrote on the company's blog. "This collection of newly digitized images includes photos and etchings produced and owned by Life dating all the way back to the 1750s."

Never-Before-Seen Images

According to Time Warner, 97 percent of the photographs have never been seen by the public. They've been sitting in dusty archives in the form of negatives, slides, glass plates, etchings and prints.

"We're digitizing them so that everyone can easily experience these fascinating moments in time," Galanes said. "Today about 20 percent of the collection is online; during the next few months, we will be adding the entire Life archive -- about 10 million photos."

All keywords are translated into 16 different languages. Life's photo archive will be scanned and available on Google Image Search free for personal and research purposes. The copyright and ownership of all images will remain with Time.

"For 70 years, Life has been about one thing, and that's the power of photography to tell a story," said Andy Blau, Life's president. "Life will now reach a broader audience and engage them online with the incredible depth and breadth of the Life photo archive from serious world events to Hollywood celebrities to whimsical photographs."

Exploring the Archive

The archive offers more than thumbnails. Google is making it possible for users to view a full-size, full-screen version of each image by clicking on the picture in the results page. Searchers who want to purchase an image as a high-quality print can click a button to buy it.

"Life exposes a lot of images that otherwise might not be exposed. If you are a commercial entity, you still have to license it," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. "It's not a huge risk for Time-Warner and they may get some sales out of it."

What about Google? There are no ads served against the images -- at least not yet -- and no revenue-sharing agreement was announced. So it's not clear if Google stands to benefit financially from the arrangement. Google does add some coveted images to its library, though, and has learned from the experience.

"In processing this archive over the course of a year, Google has figured out how to make some improvements to Google Image Search overall," Sterling said. "Google has created more structure here that the company says it's going to take into image search in general."

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