Flickr: Tags, Groups, Interestingness and Social Networking

Peter B. Lewis Bldg
My #1 photo on Flickr as ranked
by "Interestingness"

Back on January 11th, when I first wrote about using Flickr to archive photos, I promised to follow-up with more information on keywords and groups. These tools serve organizational purposes, help users explore each others work and allow users to interact with one another. In other words, Flickr's easy-to-use photo archiving system also functions as one of the Internet's more popular social networking sites.

Having gone to school when e-mail was the exciting technology of the day, I don't (yet) have the online social networking expertise of the Facebook/MySpace generation, but as a blogger and Flickr user, I have come to rely on this type of collaborative technology. So have many others. According to Alexa Traffic Rankings Flickr is currently the 20th most popular Web site in the U.S.

Why network through photography?

Networking on Flickr makes sense for the most basic reason—users like to share photos with friends and family. Even the earliest online photo sites provided a method to share links with friends. After mom and I went sailing in Maine this fall, all I had to do was upload the photos and send her the link to the Maine 2006 set I'd created. I keep my photos public, but if I'd wanted to restrict them I could also limit access to specific Flickr or Yahoo users.

The fact that I keep my photos public, and use tags (key words) also makes it easier for my other friends and associates to find my photos. Later this fall I took photos at our Halloween party at the Natural History Museum. As a member of the Nature League committee I take photos at most of our parties so that I can share them with other attendees and so that our designer can use them on invitations for future parties. (Speaking of which, our Night Under the Stars party is this Friday. If you are over 21, have at least a passing interest in science, the outdoors or good parties, please join us. Learn more on our site.) After that last party, the committee sent out a link before I'd even sent it to them. My friend Jim had gone to Flickr, done a search on "Nature League" and "Halloween" and found the photos on his own.

Tag, you're it

I add tags in batches as I upload. In the case of an event it is easy to find multiple tags such as "Nature League" that apply to all the photos in a given batch. Thus instead of viewing Nature League events one by one, I can choose to look at all photos with that tag. I can also further customize the images by adding more unique tags to individual photos. For example after uploading the Halloween photos I could select all of the ones of Mary and add a "Mary" tag to them. If I did this every time I added pictures of Mary then in the future I'd be able to look at an "album" of all photos bearing the "Mary" tag. Users can also subscribe to RSS feeds for specific tags.

If your photos are publicly available you should, in most cases, avoid tagging images by the person's full name so as to protect their privacy. If the photos were taken at a public event such as a Nature League party, and the user has given you permission to post this information you may have more leeway. If in doubt either leave off the name or consult an attorney.

Keep track of friends photos via contacts

If you have an interest in photos taken by certain people, you can also choose to make them your contacts. Practically speaking this is rather like bookmarking by photographer, except that it goes two ways. You can see a list of all the people you choose as contacts (those whose photos you want to view) as well as a list of all the people who have chosen you as a contact. My contacts include a few friends, as well as people I may not know, who happen to shoot photos of Cleveland and other topics that interest me. For example, one of these contacts posts intriguing images of signage taken throughout greater Cleveland.

The people who have chosen me as a contact are those same friends, some of my contacts, and a few others who just stumbled upon my photos. If someone makes you a contact you can usually figure out why by looking at their photos or viewing their profile. Often there is a common theme. Others are more ambiguous. One of the people on my list is a fellow from Spain who has only 12 shots on his account. I have yet to understand the connection.

One of my shots from the Case group

Topical photo sharing groups

While it is handy to keep track of contacts with related interests, you can also follow topics by groups. Flickr groups allow multiple users to post images on a certain topic or theme and to talk about issues pertaining to the theme via a group discussion board. There are oodles of different groups, including one for Case Western Reserve University. That group doesn't generate a lot of discussion but it does have 20 members who so far have posted 168 images of the university. Groups provide a good way to share images on a certain topic and to drive traffic to your photos.

I hadn't really paid much attention to groups until I received an e-mail from a fellow in Quebec asking me to upload an image I had taken to his Kansai International Airport group. (Flickr has an internal e-mail system that allows users to communicate with one another without revealing other e-mail addresses or names.) Once I finally got around to joining the group and uploading the image I decided to search for other groups and found the group for Case as well as some for Cleveland and Frank Gehry's architecture. I joined the last one because I've taken far more photos of PBL then anyone could possibly need—there always seems to be a new interesting angle to it. Joining that group made the PBL photo, at the top of this page, my number #1 shot based on "interestingness."

What is interestingness?

Interestingness is the way Flickr ranks photos based on how many times they've been viewed, who has viewed them, how they are tagged, and other parameters. Flickr has a page in which they showcase the most interesting photos from all users, but you can also see rankings for your own photos.

This system perplexed me at first because for a long time my highest ranked photo was a rather "uninteresting" shot of 2 people sitting on a rock. At the time 14 people had viewed the photo and one had marked it as a favorite (you can make an image a favorite in the same way you can bookmark a Web page). After I joined the Gehry group and uploaded some shots of PBL, one of those moved to the top of the list. It has now been viewed 35 times, 3 people have marked it as a favorite, and one person has left a comment (you can also comment on photos just as you would comment to a blog entry). The system now seems more logical. Initially there wasn't sufficient data to rank my photos effectively. I needed to drive more traffic to the site for the parameters to work properly.

Yeah, yeah, this is all well and good but how does any of it impact my life at Case or my online presence?

It may not, especially if you don't take many photos. But if you do, you may be able to use Flickr's networking tools to share images with others (fellow researchers sharing pics of amoebas, members of the campus curling club, etc.). You can also use Flickr to drive traffic to your site.

By posting images on topic X to group X, leaving comments on images and making contacts, you will bring people to your Flickr page. If they want to find out more about you they can visit your profile page—on which you can include the link to your Web site on topic X. You can also drive traffic to your site by posting useful comments and links on the appropriate group discussion boards. If your hobby or research interest is one that can be represented through photographs, then you too can network through photography.

If not, your Aunt Polly in Tulsa would probably still very much like to see the photos of your new puppy and your vacation in the Catskills.

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  1. Interestingly enough a fellow Case staffer added me as a Flickr contact within 45 minutes of my posting this entry. Were this a static Web page rather than a blog page that wouldn't have happened so swiftly. It seems to me that is a pretty good example of the power of these interactive technologies.

    Comment by Heidi Cool — February 27, 2007 @5:19 pm

  2. I find that I can spend hours on flickr just looking at peoples photos. I don't normally comment on them, but it really sparks creativity and thoughts about how to improve my own photography. I find myself always asking, "how can this light be achieved?" or "is this photoshopped?" For those reasons alone, flickr is worth the small yearly fee, but of course flickr also is a great place to share and store my photos.

    Comment by Photub — March 27, 2007 @8:57 pm

  3. The problem I have is related to privacy issues. When one posts on Flickr or elsewhere one wrongly assumes that you can take the photos down anytime. But, with the way the Internet works, there will be so many copies and archives created of everything that you might live to regret your decision of posting pictures online. Just a thought.

    Comment by Ajeet — April 5, 2007 @11:17 am

  4. Flickr is a great way to get into social networking if you're into photography. I underestimated it effectiveness of it, but rest assured I really enjoy Flickr now.

    Comment by HDR Photography — April 22, 2007 @4:59 am

  5. I'm a recently user of Flickr and just now I've started to learn the potential of this site. One great thing that flickr has associated is the creative commons licenses. If you are looking for any kind of picture for your website, you can always find it here, and as long as you give attribution you're not infringing any copyright laws. Just my thoughts on one of the less useful features of flickr.

    Comment by A Marques — May 11, 2007 @7:44 pm

  6. A. Marques makes an interesting point. Flickr can be a great resource for finding photos that you can use for your own project, if the photos in question have the appropriate Creative Commons license. Photographers who have granted such license will have their photos attributed accordingly. If you are interested in using a photo you see on Flickr, click on the image then look under "Additional Information" on the right. This is where you will see what rights have been given. My photos say "All Rights Reserved," meaning that users* must ask my permission to use the images. Others, using Creative Commons, licensing may say "Some rights reserved." If you click on that phrase you will be taken to a page that indicates what the permissions are for that image. Flickr also allows you to search within licensing categories. For example, view all of the photos using the Creative Commons Attribution License that are tagged Wolf. *I usually grant permission to use my photos for non-commercial, and sometimes commercial, purposes. Also members of the Case Western Reserve community are granted permission to use any of my Case photos for university marketing, promotional, educational and editorial uses.

    Comment by Heidi Cool — May 14, 2007 @11:47 am

  7. I love Flickr. The ease of use and the accessability is amazing. I love sharing photos and searching for photos on there.

    Comment by Bill Springer — June 18, 2007 @10:49 am

  8. Same for me Flickr is very useful, highly recommend to everyone

    Comment by WD-NYC designer — June 18, 2007 @9:54 pm

  9. This is an excellnet way of sharing images in international yacht classes. Take something like the Dragons as an example. With 1000's of sailors world wide and even more interested followers, Flickr is an easy way to share images from racing around the world to the comunity of Dragon sailors. im looking in to this at the moment to see how this could be spread and used in other ways amoung clubs that have limited amount of memebers in each place but are large globaly. Thx for reading! :)

    Comment by classicyachting — July 3, 2007 @6:38 pm

  10. Flickr would be an excellent way for Dragon racers to share their photos, and learn more about the different locales in which these boats are raced. You could do this for any number of racing classes or other sailing categories. Right now there are over 1,000 groups on Flickr that have some relation to sailing. Some might be small, perhaps composed of just the crew of one particular boat, while other might have a broader scope, such as which has 61 members. Any Flickr member can start a group and invite others to participate. As groups have discussion boards, members could discuss sailing photography, but could also submit posts looking for crew in certain locations, discuss past races, class rules, etc. While sailing is one example, any topic, event or subject that has a common thread can form the basis of a group. A few weeks ago I took photos at Cleveland's "Parade the Circle." Once I had posted them I searched Flickr looking for others who had done the same. Within 24 hours another photographer had created the Parade the Circle group and invited me to join. This group now has 16 members whose one common interest is that we attended the same event and took pictures. As this is an annual event I expect that the group will grow with each passing year.

    Comment by Heidi Cool — July 3, 2007 @7:34 pm

  11. As the owner of a photography web site and blog I find it interesting to observe the evolution of people's attitude towards Flickr. For quite a while I was a little reticent to park any of my images unprotected in such a public and searchable place. I do however see it now as an inevitable part of modern photography. Photo blogs and Flickr have completely revolutionized the way we use our photos and all in the space of a couple of years... Where will we be in a decade?

    Comment by Andy — July 30, 2007 @8:24 pm

  12. Speaking of Flickr, I have a Scuba Diving site and I'd love to feature scuba related photos from Flickr on the site. Anyone know of a way to show scuba images from Flickr without leaving my site? Thanks!

    Comment by ScubaDiving — September 4, 2007 @10:26 am

  13. Yes, there are a variety of ways to do this. I provided a few samples in my last entry about Flickr. The Pictobrowser is particularly easy to use.

    Comment by Heidi Cool — September 4, 2007 @3:23 pm

  14. Ajeet makes an excellent point. When you upload a file of any type to the Internet (including a photo), you must assume that it will be around for years to come in one place or another and that it will be accessible to anyone and everyone. Once something is out there in cyberspace, it's virtually impossible to pull it back.

    Comment by Rick Rouse — December 27, 2007 @10:26 am

  15. I have to admit, I'm not totally up to speed on the whole social networking thing either. MySpace seems too disorganized to me, and I feel a little too old to be using Facebook. But I like this idea of using Flickr as a way to network with friends and family. I take a lot of photos, and it seems a much more interactive way to share them than just sending by e-mail.

    Comment by Faceman — January 19, 2008 @2:39 pm

  16. Nice photo of Guggenheim I understand it is ranked #1. Flickr is great way to share photos both with professionals and amateurs. Sites like Flickr and other free photo sharing sites are ruining the business model from sites like Getty Images.

    Comment by Spain Fan — February 25, 2008 @7:17 am

  17. Surely flickr is doing a great job in terms of providing a good place for people to share thei pictures with their community. I love flickr and also thanks for giving us such informative article!

    Comment by Abi — March 1, 2008 @1:52 am

  18. i want to ask u something, can we use image in website from flicker site?

    Comment by michael — April 23, 2008 @1:25 am

  19. Absolutely agree. Websites that provides photo sharing services like flickr, photobucket etc, are really useful to people who want to share their photo with friends and family especially for those stay far away from home or abroad. Very handy and fast.

    Comment by Joe — October 23, 2008 @10:16 pm

  20. I read how to design a social networking website and it was interesting. This will help even more networking.

    Comment by franso — July 8, 2009 @3:57 pm

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