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People love iStock. They love the quality, variety, and diversity of our images. But there’s always room for improvement, and one of the places we need to take a look at is how our files are tagged. Currently, there are a lot of files that are tagged inaccurately, whether by accident or in hope of getting more hits, and they are making the search function harder to use. This impacts everyone on the site; if a buyer can’t find what he or she is looking for, no images get bought and the buyer’s business goes elsewhere.

The implementation of the Controlled Vocabulary takes great steps to help reduce inappropriate tagging, and to ease translation into any of the 12 languages now offered on iStock, by categorizing the search terms into a huge vocabulary tree.

When you enter a new tag to a file, the Controlled Vocabulary will first determine if your word is ambiguous &mdash does it have more than one meaning within our library? If it does, the CV gives you the chance to choose the closest meaning for your word from a list of possible matches. The list of matches is displayed, along with the category to which each matching term belongs. So if one of your tags is “orange”, the system will give you two term options: orange (citrus fruit) and orange (descriptive color). Since both terms fit the fruit, you can choose both options. If you were describing a traffic cone, though, only the second would apply.

As you can imagine, the Controlled Vocabulary, and how terms are sorted within it, is a very sophisticated, proprietary system, and in order to protect it, we have to limit the amount of information users of the site are given. So contributors are only allowed to see the category one level above their ambiguous term.

Adding tags and terms requires one more step during the upload process than in the past. Here's how it works:

Tagging New Uploads

1. Upload your image like you always did.
2. Enter the appropriate tags in the "Keywords" box, separated by commas. You need to add between 5 and 50 tags. Click 'add.'
3. Here's where it gets different. You will now see all the possible terms that are attached to each of the tags you chose. A term is a specific meaning for a tag that could be defined several different ways. Check the boxes beside the appropriate terms. You can remove a term by clicking the minus box in the left hand column if none of the provided meanings are what you really had in mind.

Each tag must have at least one term attached to be searchable. If the term you want isn't given as a possible meaning, try to think of another word that more accurately describes what your image conveys. If you strongly feel that we are missing something from the Controlled Vocabulary, you can contact me (keywords at istockphoto dot com).

Disambiguating Old Images

We've been throwing this funny-looking word around for the last month now. During our switch over to the Controlled Vocabulary, the engine made a lot of assumptions about the meaning of your keywords, based on how that word is generally used, and the Categories you had attached as well. 'Disambiguating' means choosing the right term for a tag in the event that the engine made the wrong decision, or defaulted to all the possible terms.



1. Go to the Edit File Information page for the image.
2. Check or uncheck the boxes for the appropriate terms.
3. Remove tags with the minus box on the left, or add new ones in the Keywords box below.
4. When you are satisfied with the terms for your image, be sure to click 'Save".