As hosts move toward ImageMagick, millions of websites become metadata friendly
We may be seeing a long longed-for trend toward WordPress hosting providers enabling the ImageMagick imaging library by default. That causes their customers’ sites to respect embedded metadata on images. Preserving metadata means preserving rights information and powering rights-driven features like Google Images’ “Image Credit” and “Licensable”. Which makes life better for honest people all over the web. When hosts turn on ImageMagick for all of their customers, millions of sites at a time switch to honoring metadata. If indeed we’re seeing a trend, this is really good news.
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you know a lot about metadata but you may not live and breathe CMSes or imaging libraries. Let’s look at some background.
Nowadays, database-driven content management systems power most websites. As opposed to servers dealing out the static HTML pages of the early days of the web. This allows blogs to post new content, shopping sites to list millions of items to buy, and news sites to display current stories, all without developers having to write code by hand for each and every page.
WordPress is an Open Source project and by far the biggest player in the CMS market. It powers over 35% of the entire web. It’s slightly more popular with big sites, racking up a slightly higher percentage of the 100,000 or so most popular sites. If we want to improve the lot of metadata on the web, it stands to reason that we should focus on the biggest prize first. Thus, WordPress.
Full disclosure: This site runs on WordPress. Last I checked, it was not one of the 100,000 most popular sites on the web. I like to think we have the best readers, not the most readers. 🙂
Content management systems make “renditions” – copies of photographs in varying sizes. Thus, they can serve pictures efficiently. If a browser needs a big image to stretch all the way across a desktop or a tiny thumbnail version of the picture for use on a phone, the server provides the right size file. Imaging libraries create those various-size copies of photos.
Let’s say a website operator uploads a photo to his or her site and that the photo includes proper metadata. The imaging library makes the copies. Eventually, the images end up “in the wild”. If the image retains its metadata, that’s good. If not, that’s bad. If the imaging library preserves metadata when it first makes those copies – we’re golden. Web users who stumble on the photo and want to use it will be able to know to whom the image belongs. Otherwise, we have a problem.
As it happens, ImageMagick does indeed preserve metadata. If ImageMagick is available and enabled on a server, WordPress, by default, will use it. And the website in question becomes one that respects metadata.
WordPress website owners individually can choose to use ImageMagick and thereby put their sites in the good guy column. (Photographers may also be interested in a purported quality boost.) It’s easy and costs nothing – neither money nor site performance. All you have to do is contact your host’s customer support team and ask to have ImageMagick enabled for your site. Then you should be good to go. (All good hosts have ImageMagick available.) I imagine most readers of this blog, if they have a WordPress-based website, have already done this. If not, well, today would be good. Encourage your friends to make the move, too.
ImageMagick for all?
One website at a time, it would take approximately forever and then some to transform the web. On the other hand, if hosting companies enable ImageMagick for their customers, en masse, we bound towards a better, honest-person-friendly web leaps at a time.
(There’s even more going on here. The “other” imaging alternative for WordPress users is an imaging library called GD. GD doesn’t currently support metadata. But GD’s lead developer says that his project will soon start work on support. Taken together, GD and ImageMagick totally dominate the market for CMS imaging – for all CMSes, not just WordPress. So, the day when they both preserve metadata will be a historic leap forward for the whole web.)
Back to the plot: Yes!
Web practitioners who use WordPress gather at regional volunteer-run conferences called WordCamps. The bigger WordCamps have a trade show component for vendors. I have attended Miami’s WordCamp for several years now.
Each year, at WordCamp Miami, I make the rounds of hosting companies. I ask if they enable ImageMagick by default and make my pitch about why preserving metadata is a good thing.
Before this year, those who responded “no” handily outnumbered the “yeses”. This year, five of the eight companies present said “yes”!
The hosts who told me at WordCamp Miami this year that they enable ImageMagick by default are:
(Note that we could actually be talking about six of eight. I haven’t heard back from one of the hosts. I’ll update this post as more precincts are counted.)
This is enormous news. This is the first time the majority of the companies at this conference have said they enable ImageMagick by default. If this sample is representative, that means there is a groundswell of support out there. To be sure, there could be many reasons why ImageMagick is becoming more popular. It would be beyond presumptuous to claim that love for metadata and artists’ rights was the only driver here. But hey, we’ll take it any way we can!
Readers of this blog tend to be critical thinking sorts. So, you may wonder if this tiny sample, out of the hundreds of hosting companies out there, is at all representative. Yeah, you’re right. In terms of raw statistics, this group may just be a self-selected blip. But this is a self-selected sample. The hosts who attend (and sponsor) these conferences are the big kids. They span the spectrum of product line offerings, from the simplest shared services to the fanciest self-scaling managed accounts for enterprises. But they have in common that they are among the elite in their industry. Where these companies lead, I’d wager the rest of the industry will follow.
I can’t overstate how huge this news could be. We should take a moment to celebrate. And then go back to making sure our own assets are marked up for the future, making sure that our own websites honor metadata, and encouraging our friends and neighbors to do the same. Are you excited? Speak out in the comments.