Incense

by Bart Arondson

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Let's say you attend a marathon where participants wear bibs with their race number. You take hundreds or (cough) thousands of pictures and would like to upload them to share them (for free) with racers.

Rather than simply upload them to (for example) Picasa Web, give the link to people and say "here, go browse several thousand pictures and try find yourself," I'm looking for clever workflow and/or tools that might help.

I can think of two main high level options:

  1. Photographer tags before they upload. They view each picture, enter the bib number(s) they see in each picture (how is TBD), then upload them somewhere.
  2. Photographer uploads all pictures, then asks participants to tag them (again, how is TBD) while they are viewing them.

Option #2 is preferred because, well, the photographer has done enough and wants to get on with their life.

With either option, a requirement is that users be able to search for their bib number and have a list of applicable pictures returned.

So this is a multi-part question:

  1. What sort of techniques/tools do professional websites (e.g. ASI) use for large races? Do they use automation (e.g. OCR of bib numbers?) or is it manual (e.g. each individual photographer (or centralized resources) tags and uploads pictures using custom and/or off-the-shelf software?)

  2. Is it possible to simulate what those sites do using software/workflow/an online service (preferably free for the online service part)?

A friend and I chipped away at doing this with Picasa Web but we couldn't quite pull it off.

A not-particularly elegant alternative we considered was a simple google spreadsheet with a column containing the name of each picture (in order). People (or the photographer) could simply populate the second column with bib numbers as they browsed through the pictures and then people could search the spreadsheet to find pictures of interest.

Any thoughts?

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Hi, I'm a developer, this seems like a fun project. Give me a day or two to play around with this. Is your photo set up somewhere (public album on picasa?) for me to work with? –  preinheimer Apr 13 '11 at 23:43
    
You're gonna be in Boston on Monday, I take it. :) –  mattdm Apr 13 '11 at 23:51
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I hate to bring this up, but you should also google "photocrazy patent" before you get too far into this. IANAL, TINLA. –  cabbey Apr 14 '11 at 0:04
    
'I hate to bring this up, but you should also google "photocrazy patent"'. I agree. That guy is law-suit happy, and this question would walk right into the domain he claims his "patents" cover. I don't know if he's had them revoked yet, but there were people trying. –  Greg Apr 14 '11 at 4:53
    
This is Sportsshooter.com's thread about the guy. At the time he was sending cease and desist letters to any photographer who had event photos on their site claiming it was a patent violation. Since I'd written all my own processing code and wasn't using anything like his system I laughed him off, but, from the thread, you can see some big companies got involved. –  Greg Apr 14 '11 at 5:01

6 Answers 6

It wouldn't be free, and you might have a bit of work to set it up, but my wife has in the past done Amazon Mechanical Turk work units that was basically that... type the list of bib numbers from race pics into the form. They really didn't pay very well, like maybe 5¢ per work unit, which had 10 images or so.

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+1. I was going to suggest the same thing. If it's good enough for spammers solving captchas, it's good enough for this. :-) –  coneslayer Apr 13 '11 at 23:55
    
+1. The OP didn't say where the photos would be taken, finish line or during the race. The RFID solution is only really applicable at the finish line. If the photos are taken elsewhere then your Amazon Mechanical Turk suggestion would seem to be the best. –  labnut Apr 20 '11 at 7:34

OK, up front this is outside of my area of expertise, but since I was given a 'tour' of a pro race system last year, here's what I know...

With regards to your first question, the half-marathon that goes on in my hometown every year has been using a RFID solution with tags embedded into the bibs for the last few years. When the runner crosses the start line their start time is automatically recorded, and then at the finish line the RFID tag is again used to automatically record the finishing time of the runner, snap pictures of them crossing the finish line from several cameras at the same time (for providing multiple views of a runners big finish, and to provide some redundancy, I suppose), tag those pictures with their registration information and upload them to the race website so the runner can go find themselves (and purchase prints if they so desire) later on. As it was explained to me, no human intervention necessary with any part of this system.

The management of this particular race is actually handed over to a company which sets up the system they use. According to the person who gave me the tour, the company they use charges the race organizers a small flat fee (which I believe covers travel and shipping expenses for the staff needed to set up and run this system), and that any profit made is as a result of advertising revenue and selling photographs to runners at a profit. Although I don't know for sure, I would be very surprised if there weren't multiple companies that ran this sort of business and would be available to events that were 'big enough to turn a profit' (whatever size that happens to be) I'd also be very surprised if this wasn't similar (if not exactly) what most reasonably well-known race events do...

I'm afraid I don't really have any light I can shed with regards to your second question, however.

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My son's Scout Troop does some volunteering at running races, and every once in a while I end up helping around the start-finish line. Hooking into the ID system they're using to track the runners would definitely be the way to go here, if you can manage it. –  D. Lambert Apr 14 '11 at 3:04
    
What's this management company called? –  kefeizhou Sep 13 '12 at 11:16

You can use a combination of options 1 & 2. All the marathoners have a shoe tag that record their timing at certain interval. Based on that information, you can make an approximate guess as to the time at which a runner might have come into your frame. Put in a fudge factor of few minutes. This way you'll get multiple buckets of photographs, and you'll be giving fewer pictures to the runners to sift through and tag themselves later. Should not take more than 30 minutes to come up with a script to do this.

This method is definitely not accurate, but is something you can fairly easily implement quickly.

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I shoot a lot of road races and triathlons and tagging photos is a pain in the butt. Over the years I have come up with several options based on OCR or syncing up the bib numberss with the finishing time and my camera's date/time stamp. I have gotten a few things to work somewhat, but the effort required to fix the errors ends up no better than manual tagging. I paid an offshore programmer to write a program two years ago that actually worked pretty well, but it required me to FTP the images to him, he never gave me the software and disappeared after he got my last payment. There are services that will tag your photos and they are pretty accurate, but you have to mail or FTP the images to them. This adds an extra step and more time to the process and the price per image eats up half your profit.

A few things:

  1. For the major marathons, some of the big boys use a proprietary system that's integrated with the finish line equipment and some of them do manual tagging as well, but they have more resources to throw at it.

  2. If someone develops software, I am not sure how much profit could be made per customer, because most road race photographers are not making a lot of money and manual tagging does not cost them much money, mostly just time and effort. Although, I guess you could make a profit if enough RR photographers are interested. I am a member of a large sports photographer’s group, I would be willing to test the waters for someone who develops a program.

  3. My finish line camera system would actually work if I could get the finish line timers and my camera equipment to extend the results out to 10th of a second like to do in track & field. Both of these things are doable, but i have kind of stopped working on this project because this is my busy season.

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I am not sure, but I am guessing that adding your own email address in to the answer is not allowed here. –  dpollitt Nov 26 '11 at 4:40
    

I don't believe the ideal system of tagging the bib numbers in a photograph has yet been supplied for photographers to utilize.

The software which should exist would allow tagging of bib numbers utilizing new research in computer vision. Just like picasa can tag photographs by facial recognition, a program should be able to intelligently pull out bib numbers from the photograph and tag the photo with the IPTC/EXIF keywords.

I've been developing software which I believe solves the problem you're having. This is software specifically targeted at automatic bib numer recognition.

Take a look and watch the 2 min demo to determine if this product solves your needs.

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Hi @Rob and welcome to the site! Answers really need to contain a full description of the answer and not just a link to an external site. Can you flesh out the answer? –  rfusca Mar 6 '12 at 16:20
    
Thanks for the edit, Rob! :) Definitely a better answer now. We also appreciate being open about your relationship to the product. –  jrista Mar 8 '12 at 18:33

I recently came across Bibtagger. From the reddit post where it was announced:

As a runner for many years I have always been bothered by the cost and quality of professional race photos. I decided to do something to fix it. Introducing www.bibtagger.com

Bibtagger is a platform for crowd sourcing race photos. Its completely community driven, meaning anyone can upload and athletes will have access to any and all the photos they are in. Best of all, photos will always be free. You can share them, download them, send them to Aunt Judy, whatever you’d like.

By uploading photos from many sources, our community can cover more of the event than the professional photo companies. Anyone in the community can tag any athlete using their bib number. As you’d imagine this is a huge task, so we’d love your help tagging fellow athletes.

If you would like to see if you are tagged in a photo, go to any races you have done and add your bib number. We’ll let you know if you are tagged. Also if you are tagged in the future, we’ll send you an email so you can get your new photos.

Chances are, lots of you have photos from past races, so please upload them. I’m sure the athletes in the photos would love to get their picture from you.

One last thing. Bibtagger is a community. So if you have a way to make it better, something that bugs you, or want to contribute, please reach out by messaging me or using the contact form on the site. Thanks!

-Peter Sidoriak Founder of Bibtagger www.bibtagger.com

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