My school is honoring its retiring headmaster who has been the school’s leader for the last 29 years. Last week, our archivist walked into my office with an interesting challenge. She needed to collect as many pictures of the headmaster for several different tributes that were being worked on.

Oy! Ordinarily, this would be a daunting task. We have digital cameras in every classroom and have been generating so many pictures that we needed to move several years worth of photos off the server to an external hard drive, just to make room for the photos that were coming in. Given my busy schedule a a middle school administrator, I was not going to sift through this image by image to find the right pictures.

Enter Picasa. Not the photo sharing site that Google runs, but its desktop-based application. Somehow the whizzes at Google have figured out how identify the presence of a face in a picture and then allow you to tag the picture with someone’s identity. After looking at the unidentified faces that Picasa had found, I tagged several pictures with our headmaster’s name and was in business. Within a few minutes, I had found dozens of images that included our headmaster, including a few where he was just in the background.

With thousands of images for Picasa to look at, this may take me a while, but at least I can be pretty passive in the process. The only moments that my intervention is needed is to confirm that Picasa is identifying the right faces as our headmaster. When it’s done, I’ll be able to create an album of the pictures, burn it to CD, and hand it to our archivist.

We have also started using Picasa to look for people that we do not want in pictures, such as students for whom we did not receive consent from their parents to use their image for marketing purposes. By “teaching” Picasa to identify their faces, we now know which pictures are off limits for publicity purposes.

Picasa is not perfect. While it offers some great features beyond face recognition, such as a light weight photo editor, it really is meant for a home user. In our server-based environment, my Picasa installation does not speak to our marketing coordinator’s version of Picasa on his desktop. It will scan network drives, but its database is kept locally. It also does not offer an easy way to archive your tagging, so that you do not lose the database if your computer is re-imaged.

Despite these liabilities, Picasa seems to be working to help us identify who we are taking pictures of. With its low price (did I mention that it is free?), it has been pretty easy to install throughout the school. I’m curious, though, if there is another product that would work better in a network environment so that we can share the burden of identifying who is in our pictures.

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