11. Conclusions

twinIsles.dev >> Photography on the Web

A critical review of contemporary web development issues has been made and a prototype website developed to provide a practical demonstration of the application of many of those issues.

11.1 The e-business
The all-pervasive nature of the web is already impacting on the world of business and its influence is set to continue growing for the foreseeable future. For those businesses that can meet the challenges of the e-economy unparalleled opportunities exist. In particular three major factors affecting the e-business were identified:

  • The non-commercial origins of the 'net have created an ethos in which valuable content is made freely available. Sites hoping to attract and retain visitors would do well to embrace this philosophy.
  • Intelligent agent software (e.g. shopbots and pricebots) is likely to make profit from artificially inflated prices infeasible. Instead market share must be earned through differentiation by the provision of some form of added value.
  • Traditional business concepts such as long-term planning and managed teams may no longer be applicable in the e-economy.

11.2 The Online Photographic Library
A number of existing online stock image libraries were critically analysed and surveys of image users and photographers were conducted. As a result of the research the following areas were identified as being those in which improvements could be made:

  • Free content and added value e.g. allowing royalty free usage of some images (possibly with the requirement than an acknowledgement of the source is made), online news and magazines.
  • An emphasis on usability, i.e. clear and simple navigation and search facilities.
  • Improved search mechanisms together with the facility for searching across a number of collections (i.e. portals)
  • A greater exploitation of the web's potential as a virtual community i.e. facilitating the coming together of those with common or complementary interests.

11.3 Usability
Casual surfing of the web reveals that, despite the ever-increasing sophistication of sites, usability often continues to be overlooked or given insufficient consideration. The work of leading human-computer interaction experts was reviewed and some key principles for the design of usable web sites identified.

The characteristics and needs of the user should always be foremost in the developer's mind. The interface should not present a challenge to the user (unless such a challenge is part of the site's purpose), instead it should enable them to move swiftly and easily toward their goal.

Navigational controls should be consistently placed and should describe their purpose clearly and unambiguously. Web features such as rollover effects should be exploited to further emphasise the meaning of controls.

Feedback should be employed as a means of aiding the user to build an accurate and meaningful conceptual model of the system. Such feedback includes notifying the user of their current location within a site and of system status e.g. indicating what is happening during a download.

11.4 Tools
A number of tools designed to extend the capabilities of HTML were critically reviewed.

It was encouraging to find many powerful technologies (e.g. the Java Development platform, Perl interpreters, ASP/VBScript, Apache and Windows web servers) available for free or bundled with popular operating systems. It was also encouraging to find vast repositories of pre-written scripts also available for free or for provision of a link to the originating site.

All of the tools were found to be useful when employed appropriately. The biggest criticism of the use of these tools in practice is that they are frequently used gratuitously, without adding anything to the core purpose of the site. In such cases they often serve to detract from the site's usefulness by forcing users to endure lengthy downloads and often diminishing usability by presenting a confusing interface.

11.5 Search and Retrieval
The need to catalogue and search images in the prototype web site was considered in parallel with the issue of retrieving documents from the World Wide Web. A enormous variety of information is now available to a huge and global audience, however the sheer volume and diversity of this immense data bank introduces the problem of information overload. Current efforts to circumvent this problem are discussed, including the standardisation of metadata and the use of thesauri to bridge vocabulary differences.

11.6 Further Research
The project has highlighted a number of questions which could provide starting
points for further research, a few of which are listed below.

  • e-commerce. Why have some e-businesses been hugely successful, while others have failed spectacularly? What do consumers look for before entrusting their custom to a cyber enterprise? What measures can be taken to improve security and increase consumer trust?
  • Usability. Which design features and which technologies contribute positively to the user experience? Which are likely to encourage repeat visits and sales?
  • Information Retrieval. How should the search mechanism be designed to produce the highest quality results for a diverse user set? How best should multimedia resources such as images best be indexed for efficient and accurate retrieval? To what extent can content based retrieval be used to retrieve multimedia resources such as images? How can thesauri best be designed and incorporated into the search process? How may research in the field of artificial intelligence be incorporated into information retrieval, e.g. the identification of likely phrases in a query string, the use of natural language to receive queries and request further clarification from the searcher.

11.7 Future Development of the Prototype
The web is a rapidly changing environment in which any individual offering needs to evolve in order to continue to attract new and repeat visitors. As twinIsles develops it is hoped that, in addition to a growing stock of images, its breadth of content will expand to offer one or more of the following:

  • online tutorials;
  • an online magazine;
  • online photographic competitions, in which the winners were chosen by site visitors;
  • a one-stop search feature enabling visitors to locate images from numerous
    sources across the web
  • the facility for users to purchase images online, i.e. secure server technology and the capacity to accept credit card payments.

It is further hoped that the site will evolve in response to the wishes of its users.

11.7.1 Revenue Generation
Despite its altruistic ethos twinIsles will eventually need to generate revenue to perpetuate its existence.

The most likely source of revenue will be from the sale of higher resolution versions of stock images. It is anticipated that these will be offered on a non-exclusive royalty-free basis. This means purchasers would receive the right to use the image in any way and as many times as they choose, but also that images may be sold many times. Given the ease of reproduction offered by digital technology it is felt that royalty-free licensing is the most appropriate means of marketing twinIsles' product.

Another potential revenue source would be for twinIsles' to act as a "shop widow" for other photographers work. The simplest means of operating such a scheme would be for all images to be marketed under the same terms with a commission being deducted from monies arising from the sale of other photographer's work. This would have the advantage of providing a unified purchasing process for the user. Alternatively, requests for other photographers' work could be directed to the photographer concerned. However, this would complicate the user experience.

In addition to being made available for publication purposes, images from the collection could be offered for sale in the form of high quality photographic prints e.g. for room decoration.

If twinIsles is able to build a reputation as a site offering valuable free content, and to capitalise upon this in the form of high traffic levels, a further form of revenue could be obtained from advertising. twinIsles may be attractive to advertisers due its well-defined user groups, i.e. photographers and image users.

Finally, it is envisaged that twinIsles will stand as a living advertisement to my web development abilities. Visitors who may require advice and assistance in developing their own web site will be invited to contact me in this respect.

twinIsles.dev >> Photography on the Web

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