National Geographic Taps IBM

Photo archives owner looks to Big Blue for rock-solid technology with intuitive search on B2B site.

National Geographic is going digital – at least its stock photography department is.

IBM announced today that the National Geographic Society is digitizing more than 10,000 of its hallmark images and making them available to corporate clients via a business-to-business Web site, using IBMs technology.

National Geographic Society has been in the stock photography business – selling images to advertising agencies, corporate marketing departments and publishers – for quite some time. Officials there realized about two years ago, however, that to stay among the top three providers, theyd have to move at least part of their business to an e-commerce model, according to Maura Molvihill, National Geographics vice president of image collection.

Fully prepared to build a B2B site in-house from the ground up, Molvihills group began looking around at various software vendors that could assist.

"We were prepared to build out our systems and then our technical guy said IBM had a product to meet our needs," said Molvihill, in Washington.

In terms of functionality, Molvihills group was looking for a fairly sophisticated search engine that could be intuitive as well as logical. At the same time, they required a pricing algorithm that would allow them to price on a usage basis with additional parameters thrown in.

The cornerstone of the National Geographic site is WebSphere Commerce for Digital Media, software that allows customers to easily search a photo archive and purchase photos over the Internet. In addition, National Geographic is using Big Blues Content Manager and DB2 database software as its repository.

"Whats required to sell images is a little different than selling, say, plumbing parts over the Web," said Molvihill. "There is a different view point. An art director will call and say, We want an image that says competitive edge, or tranquility or family security, And conceptually, they have to be cataloged like that [with the ability] to be searched intuitively. It requires a degree of creativity and a browser mentality."

As National Geographic moves towards offering low-resolution images for search on their site (they currently offer only high-resolution images), theyll look to employ additional software. It will install IBMs digital asset management system for publishing, and its Networked Interactive Content access software for future digitization projects.

Molvihill looked at a lot of different packages from companies – including some smaller companies that offered only part of the solution. She found IBM had the fullest package. They offered research capabilities, a search interface, pricing, delivery, and a certain security of knowing IBM "wont be here today, gone tomorrow," said Molvihill.

Initially the site will house more than 10,000 photographs. National Geographic anticipates adding as many as 3,000 new images each year.