social software

Flickr Turns 10

Flickr Turns 10: The Rise, Fall and Revival of a Photo-Sharing Community

A well written history of the photo sharing site flickr of which I’ve been a member since 2004, just after it launched.

For me, flickr continues to be a great online community and I’ve made many friends there. And, I started posting images there for embedding here because I was attempting to save bandwidth but now I’m enjoying embedding and sharing other people’s images as well as my own. Few other services in flickr’s category allow this.

While I’m not crazy about Yahoo’s site changes, flickr remains an important part of my online activity and identity.

What Screens Want

What Screens Want

This is a brilliant presentation/essay by designer Frank Chimero on designing for the internet and a lot more. It’s well worth taking the time to read through and best on a device that will allow the various videos to play in line. The design of the presentation/essay is first rate and an example of exactly what Frank is talking about.

[via Shawn Blanc]


This is a brilliant advertising piece by Google that I found embedded in the following article on Medium: Why did Google make an ad for promoting “Search” in India where it has over 97% market share? by Himanshu Gupta.

The gist of the Gupta piece is that Google is all about getting everyone, including mobile users to use browsers for everything, including running apps. This makes sense, they get to serve up ads and control quite a bit of the back end of what we do with browsers. However, on mobile devices people use connected, client apps as well as browsers and Google has no control in this arena.

This is the same struggling going on at Twitter now: Twitter would like to make it tougher for third party client apps to use its service because those apps can filter out ads and Twitter would like to make money serving ads. So, if you use Twitter via a browser or via an “official” Twitter client app, you’ll see ads and Twitter will be happy. Otherwise, no ads and you’ll be happy. Google, Twitter, and Facebook, among others, are struggling with this stuff right now.

The funny caption under the image at the top of the Medium article also caught my eye and it underscores the idea that in mobile, it’s about apps: “Why didn’t you just Skype with me Dumbledore?” Brilliant.

The social network is broken

The Facebook experiment has failed. Let’s go back.

This is a well written essay on deep, structural problems with Facebook by a Medium user named jeswin.

The social internet seems to have tipped into one, large popularity contest and the tools each platform uses to allow users to “like” and/or “recommend” content they like have become too important. It’s certainly understandable that platforms like Facebook, flickr and twitter and others want more users, more posts, more interaction, more action, but is enabling competition for popularly the only way to do this?

This reminds me of a post I wrote in 2007 on flickr explore, flickr’s system of promoting popular photographs. It must be a well known idea among social platform builders that to attract more users, more content, more interaction, the platform should include tools for faving, liking, commenting, and more and a black box to compute which posts, images, comments are the most popular. This, at least as it is now implemented, seems to be both an attractor and a curse.

[via Jon Moss]

Online communities

Online communities

Caterina Fake has written an excellent commentary on the social evolution of online communities. For those who don’t know her, she co-founded flickr and has been involved in a lot of behind the scenes work in many online communities.

I’ve been involved with many online communities over many years as well and am still involved with many, some big, some small collections of people who hang out in comment threads. There’s something about this kind of connection that works for me, even with the issues of trolls and such. The fact that people are connecting is simply astounding to me and I’ve never taken it for granted.

I’m sticking with flickr

One thing that many who are reacting to the big changes in flickr haven’t taken into account is this: flickr is a community, not just a place to post images. Over many years I’ve made hundreds of friends all over the world on flickr, have been involved in some great groups and group discussions, and have used flickr as both a place to host my images but also as a place to hang out.

Flickr was the first large scale social community on the web although not everyone on flickr used or uses it that way, many people do.

What I’ve realized in the past day is that changing the wallpaper does not break those connections, and because I interact with flickr via Reeder, an RSS feed reader, I don’t have to navigate the black mess that is the current user interface as much as many do.

For me, the biggest violation that there is no excuse for is that they did this overnight with no notice to us. Had they rolled this out incrementally and gotten feedback on each change the entire fiasco would have been avoided. For me, the process (the way they did it) was worse than the product (what they ended up with) which is bad enough.

The site is a mess visually but we have to admit that at least some of this is a reaction to a big change in something we used daily for many years. I’m not defending the look or the way they’ve changed it but most of the old functionality is there if we dig for it. It’s not right yet but it’s a web site and it can be changed and I’m pretty sure it will be changed.

The other concern for me was what looked like a price increase for what used to be called “pro” users but in fact, that has changed and our pro accounts will be grandfathered in and the price has actually gone down. Check out your account page if you’re a paid account holder, it’s been changing in the past 24 hours as they’ve listened to feedback.

My pro account was due to expire in May, 2014 and I just bought another two years (for $44.95). They won’t charge my card until May of 2014.

I don’t like the look of the site as it is but I do like flickr and I have a community of friends on it that I’ve known for close to ten years and images embedded here from my flickr account and from other people’s. That’s meaningful to me and I don’t want to give that up.

Flickr Explore

Note: This was first posted in August of 2007 at my old, self-hosted site. It had a long and interesting comment thread on it that I mistakenly left behind when I moved it here. My rant about Explore was a harbinger of things to come with Facebook and other social sites that include tools that favor popularity over quality.

The vast photo-sharing site Flickr has a feature called Explore that has been around for quite some time. It is essentially a popularity contest driven by many factors, some listed below in this blurb from Flickr:

Flickr labs have been hard at work creating a way to show you some of the most awesome photos on Flickr. We like to call it interestingness. Besides being a five syllable word suitable for tongue twisters, it is also an amazing new Flickr Feature.

There are lots of things that make a photo ‘interesting’ (or not) in the Flickr. Where the clickthroughs are coming from; who comments on it and when; who marks it as a favorite; its tags and many more things which are constantly changing. Interestingness changes over time, as more and more fantastic photos and stories are added to Flickr.

Granted that there are enough photographers (many millions) with enough photographs on Flickr that finding the “interesting” images among the less interesting images can be tough so this is one of Flickr’s many social tools to help those of us who use it. I’ve found some excellent photography through exploring Explore and some of those photographers have become friends over time. Explore can be useful.

If one is new to Flickr and wants his or her photography to be seen, using Flickr’s social tools: tags, groups, comments, discussions and more to bring people to one’s photography is a good thing. It’s the mixture of these web-based social tools with competition that makes me uneasy about Explore.

Flickr is a social site where the content is contributed by users: photographs, threaded discussions, groups and whole sub-cultures. With no users, Flickr would just be a bunch of tools with nothing to show for them. So, it’s in Flickr’s best interest to build tools that collect more users and encourage them to post more photographs. Tools like Explore, while questionable in terms of a photographer’s creative development are very useful for Flickr as they drive more use.

Gaming the system
Explore can be looked at not just as a tool for exploration but also as a popularity contest driven by: views, favs, comments, tags, and other ingredients Flickr labs cooks up.

Once looked at this way Explore can be “gamed;” a Flickr user can find ways to have a photograph listed on Explore by taking direct action rather than passively hoping that it will become popular. A few techniques for this are garnering comments or quid pro quo commenting (I comment on you if you comment on me), comment groups where the rules are that if you want a comment on your image you have to comment on 5 others, and so on; putting the right tags on the image, and more. I know there are many more ways to game Explore and the more technically sophisticated Flickr users have come up with ways that are both ingenious and fascinating and maybe sick at the same time (how far will people go to become popular?).

Flickr Scout and trophy walls
And, lest you think this is some small detail that a half dozen Flickr addicts are concerned with, the web site Flickr Toys uses people’s fascination and concern with Explore to drive advertising revenue. With Flickr Scout any flickr user can enter their user name and come up with a beautiful array of thumbnails of each of their images on Flickr that has made Explore. Many Flickr users concerned with Explore build these arrays and then post them in their Flickr streams like a wall of trophies.

People newer to Flickr get excited when they get their first “trophy” and sometimes post one of these arrays with a single photograph in it. Others post these arrays at intervals with more and more images in them and it’s implicit in this that large arrays are better than small arrays.

Competition and creativity
Even without Explore there are many instances of popularity driving the kinds of images photographers take and share. One of my favorite Flickr photographers who happens to have world-class skills and a great eye for composition, found one particular image that his fans went wild over and he repeated that theme through dozens of photographs seemingly to drive his popularity. Variation on a theme is one thing but this was obviously pandering to fans to drive popularity, his creative process was shut down and he seemed to be focussed on popularity, not photography.

My biggest concern with Explore is that many Flickr users change the way they take and then process pictures on their computers in order to become more popular.

If you follow the most popular images on Flickr you’ll notice that most of them have increased color saturation, contrast, and sharpening, to the point where some almost look unnatural. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting with this stuff but when experimentation is driven by concern with popularity that bothers me and it leads to a pervasive look on Flickr of over saturated images.

Also, and this is extremely important, if I’m trying to drive my own popularity I’m less likely to take chances with my photography and in fact, I might take fewer pictures or post fewer pictures, only saving and posting the ones that seem like they might become popular.

This idea of trying to find someone else’s formula (short cut) for success and then trying to mimic it is everywhere today and by having a social tool like Explore the folks at Flickr are enabling a part of human nature: competitiveness, that in creative arts like photography, doesn’t lead to more or better work, just work that is aimed at being popular.

If you’re Flickr, Explore is a great way to drive more use. if you’re a Flickr user it’s important to be clear about any affects your interest in Explore is having on your photography.

In case you think this post is driven by sour grapes because my photography hasn’t made Explore I should tell you that I’ve been listed there more than most. And, I’ve noticed that there is no coincidence between what many would agree is my best work and my work that has become popular. Maybe because I’m older and a bit more secure than the mean Flickr user who my guess is in their mid twenties, this stuff has never had any influence on the types of pictures I take or the ones I choose to share on the web. I’m happy when others like my work and comment on it but I would never want that attention to drive my creative process.

Reset the Web

Reset the Web

Midway through a project, a client of ours recently said “One thing I’m learning is that it’s ok to give up on the desktop experience once it stops making sense”. This wasn’t an isolated incident. In fact, i’m beginning to think desktop web sites stopped making sense quite a while ago. We’ve just had nothing viable to replace them with. Mobile apps have given us a glimpse, but I think they’re merely a glimpse into something bigger.

Mobile isn’t merely a new stage in the evolution of the web, it’s not even merely a new context, it’s the very early stages of an entirely new system. A system that has already started to shape our environment, affect the way we live, how we choose to connect with others, and how we’re able to spend our time. A system that is also slowly unravelling our assumptions and causing us to question the very reason we build web sites, why people visit them, and where the true value of the web actually lies.

This is an excellent presentation done by Stephanie Rieger at Breaking Development in Orlando, Florida on April 17, 2012.

[via Michaela Hackner]