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Hunter and Clark use Picnam to manage scanned invoices and timesheets.
"What a great program! I've been goofing off for months with other programs and this is the easiest to use and simple to boot."
Picnam contains features to make working with scanned documents easier.
Picnam is ideal for making notes about scanned documents and photos for family history or genealogy.
Digital photography makes it easy to take lots of photos, but they are very easily lost. What can you do to make sure your photos survive for years to come?
The most common question people ask about Picnam is "Why did you choose to use text files for comments?"
Commonly information about digital photos is stored in EXIF or IPTC metadata. However there are a few disadvantages to using metadata for everyday photos. IPTC metadata was designed for use by press photographers and it is tailored fairly specifically for their use. If you want to do something different it is not particularly flexible. EXIF is designed to record information about the photo at the time it was taken.
Text files on the other hand are very flexible. You can record a large amount of information in them. If you want to record information about all the competitions you entered a photo in and the judges comments, you can. If you want to tell a ten page story of what happened when you took the photo, you can.
The Problems with Metadata
Metadata is recorded inside the photo file itself. This means that it won't be accidentally separated from the photo. However, it has the disadvantage that you can't easily see that it's there without opening the file in a program that recognises metadata. It is in effect, hidden information. Storing text inside photos may make sense to computer programmers, but for most people it is not particularly intuitive. It is also easy to accidentally remove it if you edit the photo, and because you can't easily see it you may not even realize it's gone. There are many examples on the Internet of people asking how to restore the metadata that they accidentally deleted - the answer is, you can't, unless you have a backup of the photo.
Hidden information has a history of causing trouble in computing. It has a tendency to be forgotten and distributed to people who shouldn't receive it. Microsoft Word files are a classic example. There have been many examples of Word documents being distributed by people who are not aware that they can contain information about the author, deleted text from old drafts etc. Often this is from people who should know better - it has happened to government security agencies for example. Similar problems have occurred with photos. A TV newsreader published a head shot of herself on a web page. Unfortunately, she had cropped the image from a larger photo, and she didn't realise that the format she used contained the whole photo but only showed the cropped area. People were able to remove the crop from the photo to reveal that in the original image she was topless.
Comments in metadata should probably be removed before an image is put up on the Internet. I am sure that large news organisations do this as a matter of course, but it may not be something that your average person would think of. It might be an interesting exercise to see what information was contained in a selection of images from the Internet. If you didn't find anything, would it mean that everyone had diligently removed it, or that no-one was using it? The other problem with removing the metadata is that you then have 2 sets of images to maintain - one with the data and one without.
The Advantages of Text Files
The primary advantage of text files is that they are easy to understand and easy to use. If you receive a photo with an accompanying text file, it is reasonably obvious that you should open the text file to see what it contains. A text file can be opened and read on almost any platform - you don't need to go searching for a program to read it. On the other hand, if you receive a photo containing IPTC metadata, how likely is it that you would even realize the information is there?
It is easy to use the image and include or exclude the text information as necessary. If you are emailing the image, the text file is right there so you can attach it at the same time. If you don't want to include the text information, it is easy to leave it off.
Text files are very flexible. They can be any length, and you can lay out your information in any way you like. Picnam allows you to base the text files on templates. This allows you to set up headings etc. to prompt you to record particular information, or to add particular text to every file.
Text files can be edited and saved independently of the image. This is especially useful if you use any sort of incremental or differential backup scheme. Metadata means that any change to the text requires the whole image to be saved and backed up again. Text files mean that only the text file needs to be backed up again. It also means that you can restore the text file independently of any changes you may have made to the image.
Text files are easy to read. You can easily create a program to read their contents to generate a web page. Metadata is somewhat difficult to extract, and much more difficult to add or modify.
Keeping Things in Sync
The major disadvantage of text files is that you need to keep them together with the image. If you rename one you need to rename the other, if you move one you need to move the other etc. Picnam has been designed as a tool you can use to do that. When you perform actions on the image, the text file is also processed.
I believe in keeping things simple, and I think that text files are a simple solution better suited to most users than metadata.