SkyDrive – Still No Proper Support For Tags

Yesterday, Microsoft added some functions to SkyDrive – its online storage service. The additions are described in this blog post by Omar Shahine, a Group Program Manager at  SkyDrive.

Now, some of the additions are worthwhile, but I am still missing something that Microsoft removed back in June 2011: the display and searching of Descriptive Tags (aka Keywords) in photos. Up until that time, you could show the Descriptive Tags that were contained in the metadata of photos uploaded to SkyDrive. Then, Microsoft did a major revamp of the user interface of SkyDrive, and started using HTML5 to drive the interface. In that revamp, something odd happened. Photos that I knew contained Descriptive Tags were suddenly shown as having no Tags, and I was being invited to re-enter Tags into the photos on SkyDrive.

Here’s an example of what I started seeing at the time; this is a screenshot of photos on my PC being displayed in Microsoft’s Windows Live Photo Gallery (now renamed to Photo Gallery), an application running on my PC. One thumbnail has been selected, and you can see the metadata embedded in the photo being displayed in the information panel on the right hand side of Windows Live Photo Gallery (click on the image to see the full-size screenshot):

SkyDrive 1

You can see that the metadata contains both descriptive tags (e.g. carriage and harness horses) as well as technical and copyright information (e.g. date taken, location, camera details, etc.).

This picture was uploaded to a SkyDrive photo album here. When I looked at the picture in SkyDrive, while I saw some (but not all) of the technical information, none of the descriptive tags had been transferred. Indeed, I was invited to add the tags again!

SkyDrive 2

I blogged about this backwards step in November 2011, and had responses from Omar Shahine, and others, to my post. It turned out that the “Tags” label in SkyDrive no longer referred to Descriptive Tags, but People Tags.

I notice that since then, Microsoft has renamed the “Tags” label to “People Tags” – here’s the photo being displayed in SkyDrive today:

SkyDrive Tags 05

However, there is still no sign of any Descriptive Tags being displayed by SkyDrive, even though my photos are all tagged. Yesterday, Omar Shahine and Mona Akmal of the SkyDrive team held an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit. Someone asked about support of tagging on SkyDrive, to which Shahine replied:

Something we’ve talked a lot about on the team, but have nothing to share about this now.

So it’s something that has probably been talked about for the past two years, and we are still apparently no further forward? I have to say that I’m not impressed. If the team are serious about making SkyDrive relevant to photographers, then proper support of tags should be high on their to-do list.

And by “proper support”, I mean that SkyDrive should not just display Descriptive Tags as well as People Tags, but support searching of both types. Currently, they do neither.

I have a test image with a “People Tag” defined. Here it is being displayed in Windows Photo Gallery:

SkyDrive Tags 06

You can see that I have identified the face in the screenshot as being that of British broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, and that the image has a Descriptive Tag of “Screenshot”.

Now here’s the same image being displayed in SkyDrive:

SkyDrive Tags 02

It has lost all evidence of having a Descriptive Tag contained within the image, but at least it is displaying the fact that it has a People Tag, with the content “Melvyn Bragg”. Unfortunately, People Tags, just like Descriptive Tags, are not searchable on SkyDrive. If I search within my SkyDrive files for “Melvyn”, I get the message that nothing is found:

SkyDrive Tags 03

Both People Tags and Descriptive Tags are searchable on my PC – Windows supports searching within photo metadata, so here, the image is found:

SkyDrive Tags 04

But this won’t help someone trying to find something that has been tagged within my public SkyDrive folders, or friends and family looking for something within my shared folders.

So, to summarise:

  • Microsoft removed the display of Descriptive Tags in photo metadata from SkyDrive in June 2011.
  • They replaced it with the display of People Tags in photo metadata.
  • Neither Descriptive Tags nor People Tags are searchable in SkyDrive
  • Two years on, and nothing has changed.

Serious photographers need to look elsewhere.

Update 19th February 2014: Well, today Microsoft has changed the name of SkyDrive to OneDrive, but nothing else has changed. Tag support is still woeful, and searching of tags is still not supported.

Update 10th May 2014: Microsoft has introduced some new features into OneDrive, but unfortunately, the support for Tags is still very much broken.

Update 23rd January 2015: OneDrive has finally introduced support for searching on Tags!

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
This entry was posted in Computers and Internet, Photography. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to SkyDrive – Still No Proper Support For Tags

  1. osm says:

    This is little off topic. I see from one of your screenshots that you organise photos into folders according to date taken. I do the same. A feature that is missing from Windows Photo Gallery and (I think) Windows 8 photos app is the ability to create albums. By albums, I mean a sort of virtual folder that contain (reference) photos that physically exist in different folders, thus albums can contain photos that span multiple events. iPhoto, Picasa, Adobe Photoshop Elements all contain such album features.

    From your blog, I gather that you use Windows photo gallery. Do you not bother with creating albums, or do you use different software for this? If you have a blog post that gives a general overview of how you perosnally approach photo organisation, I’d be very glad if you could point me to it as I have found reading some of your posts on Windows photo software very useful.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Hello osm. Actually, I don’t really bother to create albums at all. That’s because the tags in my photos are what allow me to create any sort of virtual album dynamically according to the tag criteria I assemble when I want to select photos from the collection.

      My primary tool for managing my photos is Photo Supreme (the follow-up program to IDimager, which is no longer available). The way I organise my photos is given in these posts. Hope this helps. Oh, and Photo Supreme (unlike Windows Photo Gallery) does have support for albums. I just haven’t bothered with that feature.

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  3. cory fitzpatrick says:

    Thank you for this summary. I believe I have come across this same issue which is frustrating since I have spent that last several weeks organizing the 10,000 or so photos that I have. Since I have four computers all running Windows 8.1, I decided to embrace skydrive and photo gallery to help me with my growing photo collection. I have added several descriptive tags to a lot of my photos and I can organize them well on the computer that I used to add the tags. I have all of my photos on the Skydrive. My hope was that if I wanted to view the photos on another computer, My MS Surface Pro, I could fire up the Photo gallery and sort by my descriptive tags. I find that the tags do not show up. I’m curious if you have found out any more information regarding this subject or if you or anyone else knows where the descriptive tag information is kept since it doesn’t show up on the skydrive.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Cory, I think that what you are experiencing is the fact that the SkyDrive placeholder files on your Surface Pro do NOT always contain photo metadata. It seems to be time-related, i.e. there’s a process running in the background in the SkyDrive service that discovers image metadata and adds it to the placeholder files. Give it time.

      Files that are available offline on your Surface Pro should be exact copies of what is in the SkyDrive cloud, image metadata and all. These should be immediately searchable in WPG and Windows Explorer.

      • cory fitzpatrick says:

        Hmmm… thanks you very much for your reply. So what I have done is add the descriptive tags on a computer that keeps the files for offline use. I do not have the files set up for offline use on the Surface Pro. I do notice that several of the picture folders on the Skydrive on the computer I used to make the tags continue to show that they are syncing. I’m seeing the little circular arrows on a couple of the folders so I assume that’s what it is. Are you saying that the descriptive tags will be synced and available to see on the Surface in time?

        • Geoff Coupe says:

          OK, let me try and describe what is going on. Suppose you have a Desktop PC (DPC) and a Surface Pro (SP). Both of them use SkyDrive, so you have a SkyDrive icon in the Navigation pane of Windows Explorer on both, with the SkyDrive folders that you have created showing beneath the icon.

          You place image files into one of the SkyDrive folders on DPC. You will then see the folder icon show the syncing icon (the circular arrows). Now what’s happening is that the images are being synced to the folder in the SkyDrive cloud. At the same time, once in the cloud, image files are being synced to SP. However, here, what are being created are placeholder files, not exact copies of the original files. These placeholder files contain the image thumbnails, but initially not much else – usually not the metadata such as descriptive tags. You’ll see that the files on the DPC are shown in Windows Explorer as “Available offline” – because that’s where they originated. On the SP, the same files will be shown as “Online only” to indicate that they are placeholder files, not full copies of the originals. If you edit an image (or use WPG to add a tag) on the SP, then the full file will automatically be fetched down to the SP, and you’ll see it change to “Available offline” in Windows Explorer. Now you have full copies of that file on both devices, and a change to one (including metadata changes) will be synced immediately to both the cloud and the other device.

          The syncing of image metadata to placeholder files is a separate process that runs in the SkyDrive cloud. As I understand it, the process will first deal with images that arrive in SkyDrive in the Camera Roll folder. After that, it will walk through your other folders (rather like a web spider does with web sites). In my experience, it seems to be very slow at doing this, so I’m afraid that it does seem to take an inordinate amount of time before the metadata finally shows up in the placeholder files. I think some feedback to Microsoft is called for… The only guaranteed way to get all the metadata available quickly on the SP would be to mark the Skydrive folders to be available offline, then all the files will be made exact copies of the files on the DPC. This of course rather defeats the object of having placeholder files to save space on the SP, but that’s where we seem to be at the moment…

          • cory fitzpatrick says:

            Wow! Thanks for the info! I’ll wait and see what happens. I did read that other article and it does say that the metadata should be there like you say. I love the idea of the SkyDrive and plan to use it a lot, but I think Microsoft needs to work on some of these issues to make it better. I also find that sometimes when I save a file to the SkyDrive, it takes quite a while for it to show up on my other computers. I wish that could be faster.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      BTW, this post is primarily about searching in the SkyDrive service online. See also this post:
      It gives more background on your scenario – using PCs and other devices in conjunction with images stored online in the SkyDrive cloud.

  4. cory fitzpatrick says:

    Have you happened to see of any more news regarding this subject? So far, none of the tags that I have added to my photos come through on the Skydrive and for a week it just shows the little blue arrows on most of me files.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      I’m surprised that you are still seeing sync indicators (the blue arrows) on your files and folders. They should certainly have gone after a week. However, it is also true that tags seem to come through very slowly. I’m seeing tags appear in some of my placeholder files, but many are still empty of tag metadata. For example, in one folder of 60 photo placeholder files, just one is showing tags, while they should all be doing so.

      BTW, if you switch to the “details” view in a folder of photos, you should have a “tags” column (if not, you can add it in). That’s then an easy way to see which of your photo placeholders contain tags.

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