Bib Number Searching Revisited

I wrote a post back in 2012 in which I detailed the three primary problems I have with bib number searching for race photos. I argued that it takes too much time, costs too much, and isn’t precise enough. Much has changed with my race business since then, most notably the introduction of — you guessed it — bib number searching. I’ve had a few customers ask recently whether I’ve changed my mind about it, and the answer is … not really, but for a surprising reason. I’d like to quickly address my three original gripes with this feature before introducing a new one.

While I’d initially complained that this option cost too much in terms of both time and money, that’s no longer the case. I’ve partnered with a small startup company for the past year that handles the process of tagging my photos with bib numbers so the search engine can find them. This company gives my pretty quick turnaround — roughly 24 hours in most cases — and they do it for 1/6 the cost of their primary competitor. So at this point, it’s a little silly to complain too loudly about either the time or money invested in offering an option so many runners want.

With respect to the precision of the tagging, I’m fairly impressed with this new service. It’s entirely software-based and generally does a really good job of catching the numbers. There will always be problems when people wear their bibs improperly (under a layer of clothing, on their backs, on one leg or the other) but as long as the bib is properly displayed, the tagging goes pretty smoothly. Aside from the way people have been wearing bibs lately, there’s one flaw in the system that I haven’t quite found a solution for yet. If someone’s bib isn’t visible, I advise them to search using “none” as the bib number but that only works if NO bib numbers have been recognized in a given photo. So if your bib was obscured but another runner in the photo had theirs displayed correctly, you won’t find that photo by searching for “none.” With time, I’m hopeful that I’ll find a way around this.

So, if the time, money and precision issues have more or less been handled, what’s to complain about? Fun Stuff. The pre- and post-race shots that make up the Fun Stuff galleries are very often the real gems, and since people are searching more than browsing, the Fun Stuff photos get lost in the shuffle. For lots of reasons, I suppose, the bibs aren’t visible (and therefore aren’t seen by the software). Maybe someone put a jacket on after the race, or maybe the bibs are smashed together in a hug. I noticed fairly soon after implementing the bib search that Fun Stuff photos weren’t selling very well, and I just took a close look at my site statistics to confirm the observation. What I found is that page views in the Fun Stuff galleries as a percentage of overall page views for a race have dropped markedly.

Numbers help, right? Back in 2011 and 2012, before bib searching, the Fun Stuff gallery at a typical race accounted for around 10% of the total page views for that race. In 2014, that same race only gets about 2-3% of its page views from the Fun Stuff gallery. Overall page views continue to climb, as do sales, it’s just that those views and sales are the result of searching rather than browsing, and the Fun Stuff photos are just getting a smaller piece of the pie.

So, by all means, keep using the search function if you feel that it saves you time. But please, if you can spare a minute or two, take a quick look through the Fun Stuff … you just might find the shot of the day in there!

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