Did Flickr Miss the Social Revolution?

Sep 1
Posted on September 1, 2008 0:22 in Photography

Flickr launched in February 2004 and was soon known as one of the great examples of the Web2.0 phenomenon. But four years later it seems like the lack of innovation under Yahoo’s rule has lead to Flickr missing out on the next big phenomenon: the social revolution.

Admittedly, Flickr still has a great community consisting mainly of photography enthusiasts, but us enthusiasts are more often than not noticing that our regular friends and family prefer other tools to share their photos. To most people, the photos of a birthday or christmas party are not photos they want to show off to the world, but photos they want to share with their friends and family, who are in the photos.

And this is where sites like Facebook come in and do so much more of a social service than Flickr does. On Facebook you can share your photos with friends just like on Flickr, but you can also tag people inside the photos, allowing people to browse profiles through photos. Who hasn’t ever “faved” a photo of themselves on Flickr simply because there is no other way to keep track of the photos that you are in? Flickr desperately needs features like Facebook’s to stay on par.

Example of tagging people in photos

But not all hope is lost for Flickr. At the core Facebook is not a photo sharing site, while Flickr clearly is with over 2 billion hosted photos. It will take some proper innovation though to convince the regular photographer to see the use of Flickr. Here are some of the new tricks Flickr could learn itself to enable their social revolution.

  • Remixing – Currently I can post my photos in sets, collections and groups; I can even edit them using their integrated Picnik tool. So why can’t I do all of this with somebody else’s photos? The web has become more and more about remixing, and admittedly Flickr has a great API that will allow you to remix outside of their site, but why can’t we do any remixes within Flickr? I can already make up a few mixes to start of with: a set with all photos of me made by other people, a set of the top 500 best panoramas on Flickr (according to me), and that photo by John that was released under a Creative Commons license that I edited to a smaller crop and black and white.
  • People Tagging – As I said, people tagging in photos is one of the main reasons people use Facebook to share photos. Flickr already has a good tagging system setup, and people tagging could probably be easily achieved by some machine tags (triples) representing the Flickr UserID and the position in the photo. If they could build a nice interface around it, it will be the most used feature in no-time.
  • Contact Groups – Flickr allows you to tag your contacts as just a contact, a friend, family, or friend and family. This was pretty cool when it came out, but since then surpassed in functionality by many a social network. Where for example do I put my colleagues in this system? It is clear that if Flickr wants to go social, it needs to provide people a bit more granularity on who they want to share what photo with.
  • Better integration with other social services – Flickr, like most other popular Web2.0 services, has a great API that will allow other services to integrate Flickr with them. But like most Web2.0 services with an API, they often fail to treat other services as they expect to be treated themselves. One of the good examples is their so-called integration with Upcoming.org. To link photos to an Upcoming event, I can go to Upcoming, find the event, get the machine tag, go back to Flickr, and add the tag. Why can’t Flickr know what my most recent Upcoming events were and give me a nice drop down list on Flickr? This should be fairly easy as both Upcoming.org and Flickr are owned by Yahoo and require a Yahoo login. Now imagine the possibilities with other non Yahoo services.
These are just some of my suggestions of what could make Flickr more social, and I predict that you can come up with quite a few more suggestions of your own. Let me know in the comments.
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  • http://brevity.org/ Neil Kandalgaonkar

    Hi there. As of last week I just left Upcoming.org (in good hands, I think) and started work on Flickr. So, you’re a double whammy on my Alerts. I think some of your ideas are interesting, but I can speak most directly on the Upcoming/Flickr question.

    There is a greasemonkey script that does more or less what you want.

    But I’m not sure it makes any sense to have an Upcoming.org widget for every Flickr user — why not Dopplr or Eventful or anything else. Our idea was always to improve the tagging interface on the Upcoming side instead — if you’re looking at an event, you should be able to pop open a widget that shows the photos taken around the same time on Flickr. There are a few non-obvious hurdles there so it’s been on the back burner for ages.

  • http://brevity.org/ Neil Kandalgaonkar

    Hi there. As of last week I just left Upcoming.org (in good hands, I think) and started work on Flickr. So, you’re a double whammy on my Alerts. I think some of your ideas are interesting, but I can speak most directly on the Upcoming/Flickr question.

    There is a greasemonkey script that does more or less what you want.

    But I’m not sure it makes any sense to have an Upcoming.org widget for every Flickr user — why not Dopplr or Eventful or anything else. Our idea was always to improve the tagging interface on the Upcoming side instead — if you’re looking at an event, you should be able to pop open a widget that shows the photos taken around the same time on Flickr. There are a few non-obvious hurdles there so it’s been on the back burner for ages.

  • http://cristianobetta.com Cristiano Betta

    Hi Neil,

    Thanx for answering this in person. It is really appreciated.

    On the Greasymonkey script: I run Safari so this is not an option for me (nor is it for all the people running Opera/IE/Camino/Chrome/etc).

    I got 2 comments on your Upcoming/Flickr reply.

    First, I agree that we don’t need to give everyone a Upcoming widget but I think there are ways to do this which are non obtrusive to non-Upcoming users. Why can’t I say somewhere in the Flickr backend that this is my Upcoming account, that’s my Twitter account, and my Dopplr account is over there…?

    Secondly I find it odd that you do think it is “ok” to give a nice interface on the Upcoming side of things. Why not also give a Zooomr integration there, or a Photobucket? It is the same argument you just made.

    In the end my point is though that Yahoo/Flickr has always been an exceptional leader with the introduction and promotion of machine tags, but they have failed (in my eyes) to make it so easy that it transcends the geek-realm.

  • http://cristianobetta.com Cristiano Betta

    Hi Neil,

    Thanx for answering this in person. It is really appreciated.

    On the Greasymonkey script: I run Safari so this is not an option for me (nor is it for all the people running Opera/IE/Camino/Chrome/etc).

    I got 2 comments on your Upcoming/Flickr reply.

    First, I agree that we don’t need to give everyone a Upcoming widget but I think there are ways to do this which are non obtrusive to non-Upcoming users. Why can’t I say somewhere in the Flickr backend that this is my Upcoming account, that’s my Twitter account, and my Dopplr account is over there…?

    Secondly I find it odd that you do think it is “ok” to give a nice interface on the Upcoming side of things. Why not also give a Zooomr integration there, or a Photobucket? It is the same argument you just made.

    In the end my point is though that Yahoo/Flickr has always been an exceptional leader with the introduction and promotion of machine tags, but they have failed (in my eyes) to make it so easy that it transcends the geek-realm.

  • http://www.mountaindwellervews.blogspot.com cedric

    Some random comments:

    I tend to agree with you: Flickr is a webcommunity that has to evolve or remain niche/disappear. It is currently half way through and there is a need to rejuvenate their innovation scheme.

    They got acquired by Yahoo because of their tagging technology which is a brilliant asset in light of contextual search (or so called search 3.0) but what else. Geotagging is pretty cool too and loads of mash up have done great thing with the Flickr feeds… Yet there should be more.

    Regarding your point on contacts though, I disagree. I appreciate that through Flickr I can grant access to different level of “service”. In Facebook, I do have several groups, but cannot do anything with it. I cannot restrict my profile access to the various groups…

    Final point, to conquer with your point about Flickr not being mainsteam, I was recently informed that the number one photo sharing site was not flickr, picasa or kodak gallery… It’s hotmail. People still share more photos through emails than through dedicated website.

  • http://www.mountaindwellervews.blogspot.com cedric

    Some random comments:

    I tend to agree with you: Flickr is a webcommunity that has to evolve or remain niche/disappear. It is currently half way through and there is a need to rejuvenate their innovation scheme.

    They got acquired by Yahoo because of their tagging technology which is a brilliant asset in light of contextual search (or so called search 3.0) but what else. Geotagging is pretty cool too and loads of mash up have done great thing with the Flickr feeds… Yet there should be more.

    Regarding your point on contacts though, I disagree. I appreciate that through Flickr I can grant access to different level of “service”. In Facebook, I do have several groups, but cannot do anything with it. I cannot restrict my profile access to the various groups…

    Final point, to conquer with your point about Flickr not being mainsteam, I was recently informed that the number one photo sharing site was not flickr, picasa or kodak gallery… It’s hotmail. People still share more photos through emails than through dedicated website.

  • http://cristianobetta.com Cristiano Betta

    @cedric interesting fact about hotmail. got any references to that? it’s so hard to believe!

  • http://cristianobetta.com Cristiano Betta

    @cedric interesting fact about hotmail. got any references to that? it’s so hard to believe!