PhotoFinder Project

DBSearch Name of Person DBSearch Person DBSearch Rate

DBSearch Dana

DBSearch histogram DBSearch scatterplot

Project Active: 1999-2003. Later work is at

Project Description

In the past two decades, with the emergence of faster computers, the declining cost of memory, the popularity of digital cameras, online archives and even presentation slides, the amount of stored graphical information has skyrocketed. Having the ability to store and manipulate images is becoming more important as images are being incorporated into electronic documents. These digital images are stored and electronically encoded for future retrieval. Hence, there is a growing need for more sophisticated ways of retrieving and browsing images.

Some of the efforts in this project include innovative ways of addressing such tasks as different ways input, cataloging image metadata, searching and browsing for images. We have started with a collection of test beds and a number of image browsing/editing/searching tools.

We held a day-long workshop on 'Personal Photo Libraries: Innovative Designs' on June 1, 2000 with participants from Intel, Kodak, Microsoft, MERL, MIT, and others.

About PhotoFinder

The University of Maryland Human Computer Interaction Laboratory has developed the PhotoFinder prototypes, as part of its research effort on Personal Photo Libraries. We appreciate the major support of Intel Corporation and contributions from Microsoft and IBM.

Our goal was to develop an understanding of user needs, appropriate tasks, and innovative designs for consumer users of digital photos. As digital cameras, scans of existing photos, PhotoCDs, and photos by email become more common, users will have to manage hundreds and then thousands of photos. Their goals are to be to view, explore, locate, reorganize, and then use photos of interest.

PhotoFinder 1.0 (March 2000) was our first prototype. It supports visual browsing only for a library containing 1-10 collections which contain 1-100 photos. If offers a novel technique known as direct annotation to enable personal names to be placed on a photo.

PhotoFinder 2.0 was completed during summer 2000 and the version 2.2 at the end of 2000. It supports larger libraries, offers search capabilities by person, date, location, and description, allows collection combinations, provides richer collection thumbnail manipulations, and other features.

PhotoFinder 3.01 is now available (June 2001). It includes following features and more.

photofinder 3.0

In PhotoFnder3.0, captions can be added at any place on the photo as well as in the textbox below the photo. The contents and the position of captions are automatically saved in database so that they can be used for searching. Rich annotations and captions are the basis for successful story telling among people. The content of a caption can be easily edited by double clicking on the caption. And captions can also be moved or removed by dragging them to another place on the photo or to the trash can. Font, background and foreground color of captions can be chosen in the properties window.

photofinder 3.0  editing tool

An image editing tool has been added in PhotoFinder 3.0. It allows users to resize, flip, rotate photos.  It also enables users to enhance photos with special effects such as mosaic, blur, sharpen, gray, emboss, negative, brightness and contrast. 

story starter

A new feature, called StoryStarter, has been included with PhotoFinder 3.0. StoryStarter allows users to take a collection of photos that have already been annotated and publish web pages using any of the information stored in PhotoFinder.  The web pages are meant to be a starting point for sharing stories with family and friends using digital pictures.  The HTML pages generated by StoryStarter are easy to edit with any HTML editor and can be uploaded to any web directory.  Click here to see a story made with the help of StoryStarter

photofinder help

Other features:

- Task-oriented overlay help supports user learning, providing help in the context of the task, using a minimal amount of the display.
- "Importing other library" function enables to merge several libraries into one, while "exporting the selected collections to other libraries" function makes it possible to copy or move the selected collections to other libraries.
- Collections can be created from the folders in file explorer by dragging the selected folders onto library viewer
- Collections in library viewer and thumbnails in collection viewer can be sorted by the selected attribute such as date, location, title, and so on.

Our research was enhanced by student projects such as:

PhotoFinder Kiosk

The PhotoFinderKiosk version with network support and group annotation we tested at the December 2000 Computer Supported Collaborative Work conference in Philadelphia.  Our three networked laptops enabled attendees to see 2200+ photos from 18 years of HCI conferences.  Support for scanning photos was provided by ACM SIGCHI.  After CSCW2000, we streamlined the user interface, revising features to support first-time users ("zero-trial learning"). We made the captioning and search features more visible and implemented an eye-catching overlay for the help system.

For CHI 2001 (April 3-5, Seattle) we showed 3300 photos from 65 events on a network of 7 machines.  People were very enthusiastic, making comments like "Great! Thanks for the memories!" and "This is addictive."  CHI pioneers and newcomers spent hours browsing and annotating, returning to bring their friends. Visitors added 1000 name annotations plus 400 captions, and attendees brought us 1200 new photos.  Our visual history of CHI and related conferences is available from the ACM SIGCHI website (

Our papers describing the process and interface design issues include:

Picture of Wendy Kellogg, relaxing with PhotoFinder
Wendy Kellogg, relaxing with PhotoFinder.

Picture of Ben Shneiderman, Jakob Nielsen and Nancy Frishberg
Ben Shneiderman, Nancy Frishberg and
Jakob Nielsen, reminiscing.

Picture of PhotoFinder Kiosk demonstration
Justine Cassell, Wendy Kellogg and Ben Shneiderman,
browsing and annotating photos.

Technical Description (PhotoFinder Kiosk 1.0)

PhotoFinder Kiosk was built atop a client/server architecture. PhotoFinder server is designed to receive all the requests from the clients directly, process them, update Database, and broadcast updates to all the connected clients. The reason of inserting an additional PhotoFinder server layer instead of allowing direct communication between clients and MS SQL server is that all the connected clients need to be updated synchronously in real time whenever any changes is detected in database. PhotoFinder Kiosk has been implemented with Microsoft DCOM(Distributed Component Object Model) to enable the communication between the client and the server that are located at different machines. Each client has a local cache of necessary database tables for fast and efficient browsing and searching to reduce the load of PhotoFinder server.

PhotoFinder Web

After collecting annotations and captions from CHI 2001 attendees, we developed PhotoFinder Web to build A Photo History of SIGCHI for the ACM. This site is a public archive for the SIGCHI community, for historians, and for interested surfers who just want to see the people who are working hard to create better interfaces and happier user experiences.

Screenshot of PhotoFinder Web

The three photo libraries in the Photo History of SIGCHI are:

PhotoFinder Web lets viewers browse libraries, conferences (collections) and individual pictures. Viewers can also search by name or search the names, captions and other metadata in the database. It optimizes the layout of thumbnails to the browser window size, and automatically adjusts when the user resizes a window. This differs from most web-based tools by helping to accommodate a wide range of screen sizes.

PhotoFinder Web is implemented using Java Server Pages (JSP), a mySQL database, and the Apache Tomcat server. The database used by Web Site Starter has the same schema as PhotoFinder.

The paper Web-siteStarter: Exporting photo library to the web evaluates several other web based photo libraries and describes PhotoFinder Web in detail.


The PhotoFinder project showed the importance of the use of semantics in managing the personal photo library and suggested ways to use semantics for searching and browsing. The PhotoFinder has been extended to the MediaFinder, which enables users to explore and manage common types of personal media data such as images, audio clips, voice mail, videos, web pages, and emails. Personal media data are difficult to explore and manage because the tools for users are inflexible and driven mostly by storage and distribution models, not user's mental models. A file system provides only a single-inheritance structure. Personal media items can only be in one place at a time, and so can occupy only one spot in the semantic structure.

MediaFinder project introduces Semantic Regions, an innovative way for users to construct mental models by drawing regions on 2D space and specifying the semantics for each region. Then users can apply personal ontologies to personal media data using the fling-and-flock metaphor. This allows photos (or other personal media) to be dragged to the display and automatically grouped according to time, geography, family trees, groups of friends, or other conceptual maps. The concept of Semantic Regions is based on a major hypothesis: Spatially organized information based on the semantics of personal media and the users� mental models for managing personal media will greatly improve task performance as well as user satisfaction.

MediaFinder is a prototype interactive tool built to investigate the use of Semantic Regions for personal media management and exploration. MediaFinder provides a working environment for Semantic Regions construction and operation. MediaFinder users can construct the mental models they need for their data and personal media management tasks such as organization, meaning extraction, search, navigation, indexing, and distribution. Without MediaFinder, such tasks would be difficult and time-consuming to achieve.

friend group mental model A friend group mental model: Each region represents a person and contains all the photos annotated with the name defined in it. The regions are grouped into 5 clusters to represent different friend groups (UMD friends, high school friends, graduate school friends, college friends, and UMCP friends). Each group has its own color to represent the different group of friends.
combined model Three mental models, friend groups, quarter year calendar, and US map (clockwise from the top region) are combined together. The regions in the My Friend region are grouped into 5 clusters to represent different friends groups (high school friends, college friends, graduate school friends, UMD CS friends, and MD friends). Each region in the Calendar group represents a quarter year from 2000 to 2003.

Papers on Semantic Regions and MediaFinder:


The PhotoFinder project is led by Ben Shneiderman, Catherine Plaisant and Ben Bederson. Graduate student Hyunmo Kang has been the lead programmer and produced the Visual Basic software and the User Manual, with help from Manav Kher during 1999.  Bill Kules was the project manager for preparing our conference installations and developing PhotoFinder Web. Undergraduates Todd Carlough, John Jung, Nabby Cheung built the sample data collections and databases. Richesh Ruchir developed the Java Server Pages for PhotoFinder Web. Support from other HCIL members and students is greatly appreciated.

Faculty and Staff

Graduate Students

Undergraduate Students

Individual Photos



The executable (PhotoFinder runs on Windows 95/98/ME, Windows NT/2000. PhotoFinder does not run on Apple Macintosh.) of PhotoFinder3.02  is available for download. (The size of the installation file is about 13MB.) HCIL sample library is also downloadable separately. (The size of the sample library file is about 25MB)

Technical Description (PhotoFinder 3.02)

Please read the licensing terms carefully and register first. This will lead you to the download area.
The user manual of PhotoFinder2 is also available at

DownLoad PhotoFinder

The successor to PhotoFinder is PhotoMesa which is freely available at (



Downloadable MP4 (11 MB)


A listing of HCIL and other photolibrary-related publications

Commercial Software

Commercial Web Sites

Here are some reviews on various image browsing software packages.

Our Lab Tools

Sponsors and Partners

The Photo Library Project was initally supported by Intel Corporation.  Additional support came from Microsoft and IBM.  ACM SIGCHI supported the scanning of photos and Ricoh supplied cameras for our CHI2001 installation.

Related Sites

See the HCIL PhotoMesa project.

Project Active: 1999-2003. Later work is at

Last updated Feb 1, 2004
�Copyright University of Maryland 2002, HCIL PhotoLibrary Group

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