Haystack: New Image Search Strategy

Posted on 11/23/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

In an effort to make it easier for art directors to find the right image quickly Haystack has launched a site that lets users search multiple agency sites simultaneously.

Currently they aggregate the images from the following 19 collections: CAIA, DanitaDelimont, 500px, EyeEm, Hero, ImageSource, The Interior Archive, Maskot mauritiusimages, Photoshelter, plainpicture, reuters, robertharding, SciencePhotoLibrary, stockpotimages, StockFood, Stocksy, Stocktrek, waterrights.

Andrew Rowat and technology developer Vache Asatryan created Haystack and call their site the kayak.com for licensing images. They say they will be adding a number of additional agency sites in the near future.

Haystack plans to only work with agencies and does not plan to accept images directly from photographers. In a recent Connie Yu interview Vache Asatryan said, “You can’t replace editorial curation. A lot of companies say that it can all be replaced with AI. But there is a reason why agencies exist and that is to work with the photographers. Photographers don’t always know their best photo, but the agency knows the trends and what buyers want. You can’t replace that. We get asked all the time whether we’re going to work directly with the photographers, but we don’t have the curating skill to bring this kind of content together. We want to support out photo agency partners, keeping them independent and strong so they can continue their art of curation.”

Customers can choose to “Select All” the collections available and review them simultaneously or just review the images in one or more selected collections. If they search for “people” there are currently over 68 million images to choose from.

I chose to search for “apple computer woman office.” While many good images are shown early in the search returns, it is interesting to see how many inappropriate images are delivered in such a search. This is particularly true if Photoshelter is included in the search. While Haystack is not accepting the work of individual photographers directly, Photoshelter is really a group of individual photographer sites and there is no agency curation.

When a customer uses the “Select All” option there seems to be no way currently to determine which agency collection is shown first or how many images from that agency will be shown before the work of the next agency comes up. I did a search for “operating room” and while there were some good pictures shown early none of the images from SciencePhotoLibrary (SPL) were shown in the first 500 images. If the customer knows to choose to only look for SPL images there are some very good options, but chances are most customers will not go deep enough in the more general search to ever see these images.

I also did a more detailed search for “gall bladder surgery.” Some interesting surgery images were shown but I’m not sure most of them had anything to do with gall bladders. By the time we got to the 400th or so image we did begin to see some that were definitely related to gall bladders.

I also did a search for “cannabis” and none of the images from stockpotimages, an agency that specializes in this subject matter, showed up until about the 500th image in the search return.


Photographers are told to be more specific with their keywording, but as the collections get larger the specificity of keywords doesn’t seem to be doing the job of bringing the best images to the top.

In addition, the idea of human curation has almost disappeared in the rush to add more images to most of the major collections. Asatryan’s argument for only accepting images from agencies rather than individual photographers doesn’t hold much water anymore because few agencies do much in the way of curation. The keywording is being done by photographers and in most cases nobody is checking to see if the words really accurately apply to the images.

On the other hand, what customers really need, if they are to work more efficiently, is good curation.

Another organization making the same pitch to customers of one large collection from every conceivable source is Picturengine. Picturengine does accept submissions from photographers. They want to enable photographers to show their work to the broad base of customers without having to be represented by an agency, or share a portion of the fee paid with an agency.

The question is whether the advantages of searching through either of these sites will be enough to cause significant numbers of customers to switch from working directly with their current image supplier.

Copyright © 2016 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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