Issues with keyword visibility in SmugMug private galleries

by casperOne 17. December 2008 14:06

I've found something disturbing about how SmugMug handles the display of keywords in galleries that you designate as "private".

I have a habit of marking certain galleries as private, and sharing the url of the galleries with people whom I wish to see the images.  I tend to assign my keywords in IPTC and XMP fields and SmugMug will use those to seed their keywords (with their funky processing and all, just give me the option to take my keywords as-is, dammit!) which then show up underneath the image when viewing it.

This works fine and well, but when the gallery is marked as private, it doesn't show the keywords anymore.  I find this frustrating, to say the least.

As a result, I sent an email to SmugMug indicating that I believe this is a bug, and at the least, a feature request, to allow the display of keywords in galleries marked as private.  This is what I received in response from Seamus at SmugMug help:

It isn't a bug, it is a feature of private galleries that keywords aren't visible. This help page refers to it:

See the "gotcha" after the first two paragraphs. If you wish your viewers to see keywords, you will have to make the gallery public. I'm sorry I don't have a better solution for you.

This is what the "gotcha" section currently says:

Gotchas: Only you, as the account owner, will be able to search for any keywords from unlisted or password-protected galleries. We only index the first 15 keywords for each photo.

There isn't any mention of keywords not being visible to the user when viewing the photos in a gallery marked private.

I mention this to the SmugMug help desk, and they indicate that what will most likely happen is that they are going to update the documentation.  Now, I differ from them in the belief that updating the documentation to accurately describe the behavior equates to resolving the issue.

However, I found this interesting post in regards to an issue brought up with SmugMug security that revolves around private galleries.  In it, Don MacAskill (CEO and "Chief Geek" at SmugMug) states the following about privacy (versus security):

First of all, we view security and privacy as two separate, but related, issues. Security is like locking your front door (no-one can get in with out a key) and privacy is like closing your window drapes (no-one can look in from the outside, but you can tell people where you live and they can visit without a key).

He goes on:

At SmugMug, the feature you’re talking about, private galleries, falls under the privacy umbrella, not security. It’s intentionally designed so that you can “tell other people” about your photos (share a URL in an email, embed or hyperlink on your blog or message forum, etc) without having to share something like a password. Only people you’ve shared this URL with can find the gallery and/or photos in question.

Continuing to use Don's analogy of a house, if I told people where I live, and I invite them in, I'm not going to move the furniture around.  There is some room for disagreement here, as one might look at the keywords and consider them "valuables" (which I would hide) whereas another person might not.

Here is the kicker though.  When opting to make a gallery private, it does not remove the option to display the original photo to the user (as a matter of fact, when creating a gallery, from what I have seen, this is the default).

Why is this important?  Well, remember that IPTC and XMP metadata that SmugMug uses to seed their keyword list which I mentioned before?  The original image that is presented back differs in NO way from the original!  So if you never edit the keywords in your photos which are in a private gallery (which is what I do, because I keyword all of my photos using Adobe Bridge), even though the keywords are not visible in the gallery, they are still accessible (or at least the seeds are) through the original photo.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time that a "feature" at SmugMug (and my subsequent experience with their help) has caused me to wonder how much thought they put into how the site integrates into a photographer's workflow.  Admittedly, I am nothing more than a rank amateur when it comes to photography, but my workflow is anything but, in that I have a very well-defined workflow (tag in Bridge, geotag in GeoSetter, convert from NEF to JPG in PhotoShop, categorize by date, etc.) that I apply to every picture that I take.  Allowing users to see what I want in the way that I want is the final step of that and more and more, SmugMug just seems to be getting in the way of that.

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