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Greetings, Cranky Users! Today we'll talk a bit about the new Daily Kos Image Uploader and Library. I am NOT here to explain in detail how it is used, because a very good job has already been done on that. You must go to this wonderful Help Desk document, and view the TWO videos that are provided, which will take under 15 minutes to watch and will give you a very clear explanation of how to use the library and uploader (currently limited to subscribers of Daily Kos). This diary by Kaili Joy Gray contains excellent written instructions, and also embeds the two videos.

So why am I here, then? Now that some people have started using the image library, an issue is developing that impacts a specific group of differently-abled readers of this and other internet sites, and I've been asked to talk about that. It's important, and I'll be brief, so let's slide past the squiggle and discuss what's going on.

When you open a draft diary, you now see, to the right under the Welcome Back box, the Image Queue box shown here. Daily Kos Image QueueThis queue contains the images available to this particular diary, not necessarily limited to those as yet used in the diary. You can add images to this queue either by uploading them or by going to the image library and adding them to the queue from there; then, you can embed images that are in the queue into the diary. The videos and Kaili Joy Gray's diary explain this process. Suffice to say that this queue is THE entry point where you can add new images from your computer to the image library.

When you upload an image, you have an opportunity to add some "metadata" that will ride around with the image. You can give attribution for the picture, and specify whether only you can use it, anyone can use it but only on Daily Kos, or anyone can use it anywhere. But today we're concerned with the description.

Daily Kos Image Queue with descriptionThe description, like the tags, is very important to making the image library work properly, in much the same way intelligent use of tags makes your diaries accessible. The number of images in the library is already pretty big, and it will ultimately be huge. If you are looking for an image to use in a specific diary, you probably won't be able to just browse the entire library for it. You'll need to search. So, to make your image findable by other searchers, you need to think like a searcher. Image search can look anywhere in the metadata to find the search terms used. So, you'll want a good description of what's in the picture, plus tags that will bring the picture up in relevant searches. For instance, that picture of the Golden Gate Bridge in the video could correctly be tagged water, bridges, California, and San Francisco, among others.

But there's more about the description, something that makes it even more vital that you take the time to supply one and make it actually descriptive, and here's where the Kosability angle comes in. When you embed the image in a diary, one element in the HTML code that is generated for it is the alt attribute in the <img> tag. The value given to alt= in a library image is the description you gave it in the library. And the alt attribute has a special use. Web browsers called screen readers, available to sight-impaired users, read the text of a web page aloud. When they come to an image that has no alt attribute, what they say aloud is "image". As this article describes it,

When a screen reader comes across a graphic, it says "image". If a page uses many images for its content, all the blind user would hear would be "image, image, image, image…"
But there is a solution: supplying a useful description in turn supplies a useful alt tag.
Designers can put an "alt" tag in every image used to provide a text alternative to the image. In the alt tag, the designer can provide a brief description of the image. If the image is used as a link, the designer can specify in the alt tag where the link goes. Then instead of hearing "image" or "link" a blind user would hear "picture of a blue shirt" or "link to home page". Coombs said that the simple act of adding alt tags to images would make a huge difference for blind users. The addition of an alt tag only takes about 10 seconds and most web design software makes it easy to add the tags.
So there's our problem. Most of the photo websites use the filename of your picture in the alt code they form, and the filename is so often something like "100-5678", we've been trained to see alt as useless junk. But if, instead of "100-5678", it said, "Golden Gate Bridge" or "My sister in 1962" or "six cute puppies"... why, then we'd have something very useful indeed.

If you need an extra reason to use good descriptions, the article I'm quoting has an interesting conclusion: that consistent use of good image descriptions in alt= would become what they call an "electronic curbcut". Curbcuts, those ramps at the corners of sidewalks, were originally put there for wheelchair use, but are now used for strollers, bicycles, and all manner of wheeled devices, because they're there. If images were consistently labeled, screen reader technology would become useful not only to those who require them to access the web, but to anyone with a temporary need to hear a web page read aloud, because their eyes are engaged elsewhere. Their general utility could develop in response to their availability.

So there is your mission, whether you are a Cranky User or a Kosability reader. Here it is, as articulated by Markos himself, in a private email I have been given leave to quote:

We're having a hard time getting people to use the description meta tag in the image uploader/library. That description isn't a caption -- it's used for search AND just as importantly, it's pulled into the alt= tag which is critical for the sight impaired browsing the web. I think it would help if the Kosability people wrote about the importance of that tag to web browsing, so others understand that there are reasons we are asking for that information. [...] Seriously, accessibility is the most important reason to properly fill out the description field, so this will be hugely helpful.
So please, go forth and spread the word. AND do not forget to do this for your own images, including any you may already have uploaded. You can go into the library and edit their metadata at any time, not just when you're writing a diary!

Late update: User texaslucy comments below:

My husband uses a screen reader and I can vouch for the fact that when he hits a page with a lot of undescribed pictures the damned thing saying image image image repeatedly will drive you flipping crazy. Thanks for encouraging the use of image descriptions that actually tell users what the image is. I bet  there are many more users using screen readers than we would imagine.
Thank you for joining me today! As always, please bring your questions and observations about the site to the comment thread, but please be kind to your fellow Cranky Users. We are all Cranky in our own way.


☀ For more stuff sort of like this, the Cranky Users group.

☀ For lots of official detail about the site and its workings, the DK4 FAQ (frequently-asked questions).  The main Daily Kos FAQ is still here. Here is information about how to use the Image Library/Uploader.

☀ For help with bugs and technical problems, the fabulous new HELP DESK! You can search for others who have already reported the same issue, post the issue yourself, submit it privately, or even answer questions posted by other users. And, you can check out the "knowledge base" for information both general and specific.

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Our thanks to kos, the development team, and the Dkosopedia contributors for their vigorous efforts to deliver a site that works well and to help us know how to work it!


Originally posted to Cranky Users on Sun Jul 22, 2012 at 09:28 AM PDT.

Also republished by KosAbility, J Town, KosBusters!, and New Diarists.

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