content, tagging and community on flickr

As some of you will know, I’m a big flickr user. I’ve been thinking recently about the way I use it, what works and what doesn’t work.

At the time of writing, I’d uploaded 6,380 photos to flickr over about 18 months, but 2195 photos a minute were being uploaded by other flickr members. Many of my photos are licensed under the creative commons. I have no idea how many photographs there are in total, but there are tens of millions licensed under the creative commons, so it’s fair to say that my photos represent a vanishing small proportion of them.

A number of my photos, however, have been well received and reused. My image of a marble Caduceus of Hermes in Ephesus, Turkey was reused by wired magazine for a recent article. It isn’t the best possible picture of a Cadeceus, but it’s a reasonable picture, with a clear subject, and perhaps more importantly, it’s clearly licensed under the creative commons. Being free of people also helps reuse of images, since many countries have laws about the use of images of people.
Caduceus of Hermes

Other frequently reused images of mine include a photo of a burning bull at new year’s eve in Edinburgh, Scotland; a photo of sunset behind wind turbines in Palmerston North, New Zealand; and flower fields in Keukenhof, The Netherlands. All three of these images have been viewed on flickr more than a thousand times (and flickr appears to have a stricter definition of what a view is compared to some websites). None of these photographs is likely to win an award any time soon. One has the subject unnecessarily cropped and neither straight nor centred; one is blurred by virtue of being a hand-held long exposure; one is blighted by powerlines crossing the landscape; and last has a foreground full of muddy colours.

What these images all have in common is that I’ve never met the reusers, and as far as I know, have never met or communicated with most of the thousand viewers (there is no list of viewers to browse so I’ll probably never know, but a small number may have been friends and family). If I am part of the same community as the reusers, it is only in the loosest possible sense. This isn’t a victory for the fabled web 2.0 community building.

If anything, this is a victory for tagging. Each of these photos is tagged with at least a dozen tags and the tags are largely descriptive of the image. Most are also in a small number of ontologically-related sets. These is no way of knowing how people are finding these photos, but the tags and the sets seem the likely candidates.

This is not to say that tagging and licensing is enough. I have thousands of well tagged, CC licensed, photographs which get almost no views and no obvious reuse.

I’m also not trying to suggest that community has no place on the web or in flickr. I’m benefited on several occasions from technical photographic advice in flickr communities.

It seems to me that if content is going to be reused, it needs to be good enough and easy enough to find.

An interesting side note: flickr just shut down a tool to game their ranking system.

One thought on “content, tagging and community on flickr

  1. Ross Gardler

    “It seems to me that if content is going to be reused, it needs to be good enough and easy enough to find.”

    This is an interesting statement. I completely agree with it and feel it applies to all content, not just photographs.

    I would like to emphasise the good enough part. For me the big advantage of community, that is the part of flikr that Stuart feels he has “benefited on several occasions from technical photographic advice”, is that they can take something that is “good enough” and make it even better.

    For example, consider Stuarts photo that is “blighted by powerlines crossing the landscape”. Any community member could take this photo and retouch it to remove the power lines.

    All too often our outputs sit hidden away because they are only “good enough” rather than “perfect”.

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