In recent years, Web 2.0 technologies have not only revolutionized the World Wide Web, but they have also changed the lives of people all over the world. Web 2.0 technologies allow internet users to use creativity, individuality, and personalization on the internet, and also have allowed people to socialize in ways that are easier than ever before. Thanks to the convenience and ease of Web 2.0 websites, people have been able to keep in touch with old friends, make new friends, etc. Websites such as Facebook and Myspace are two of the more popular social networking sites out there, especially on college campuses like University at Albany. There are hundreds of other popular Web 2.0 websites, including snapily.com, clipshack.com and digg.com.
The Web 2.0 website I decided to take a closer look at is called Flickr.com. Flickr is a photo and video host, where users can post photos, videos, and many other things. But before we get into what exactly Flickr is, let’s take a quick look at the history of the site. It all began in 2004 thanks to the creative minds of Stewart Butterfield and his wife, Caterina Fake. Butterfield is a very intelligent man, receiving his B.A. from the University of Victoria, in Canada, in philosophy. After the invention of Flickr, he went on to win very respectable awards, such as Time Magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world (Wikipedia.org). Fake has also won several awards in recent years, including BusinessWeek’s Best Leaders of 2005 and Red Herring’s 20 Entreprueners under 35. Butterfield and Fake co-founded Flickr under the parent company Ludicorp. Also under Ludicorp, an online multiplayer game called Game Neverending was created back in 2002. The site was not very successful, but many of the tools used for Game Neverending were incorporated into Flickr. As Flickr gained popularity on the web, it was only time before a larger company decided to buy it out. Yahoo! would be the company that would do that.
In March of 2005, Yahoo! purchased both Ludicorp and Flickr for an estimated 30-35 million dollars. Considering they paid so much for it, Yahoo! obviously saw potential in the website, and felt they could help it become a lot bigger than it was under Ludicorp. After migrating the servers from Canada to the United States, Yahoo! immediately started in doing what they could to make Flickr an amazing photo storing and sharing website, and the statistics prove that Yahoo! did a good job of doing so. According to Neilson/NetRatings, Flickr's traffic grew 448%. By December 2005, there were over 3.4 million users. Immediately after Yahoo!’s purchase, the amount of people who signed up for accounts also skyrocketed to over 2 million, and by by April 2007, it claimed to have 7.2 members and 400 million photos. This was even before Yahoo! photos was closed and the membership moved onto Flickr (Cox, 2008).
So what is Flickr, and why do millions of people belong to and/or visit the website? When you first visit the website, you have a choice of either signing in, searching for photos, or taking a tour of the website. Flickr offers the tour as a way for new users to become familiar with it. Many websites do not offer such a tour, but this one does,and it happens to be a very informative one. The topics discussed during the tour are the features of the site. These include: upload pictures, edit pictures, organize them, share them with others, use maps to show where the pictures were taken, make stuff like DVDs, and lastly, the site can be used to keep in touch with family and friends. Each one of these features is then explained in better detail.
The first part explains how to upload photos. While this may seem like a simple thing to do for most college students and for those familiar with computers and technology, for others, such as elderly people, it may need some explaining. Flickr suggests using the "Flickr Uploader", which is available for both PC and Mac computers. Other ways of doing it are through email, iPhoto, or through your cell phone camera (which would then be emailed your email address and put onto the website). Once you upload pictures, the next step is to edit them. You do not have to do this, but it is a nice feature that Flickr provides in case the photo you shot is not perfect. Flickr has partnered with the website called Picnik, which offers many editing tools. Some of the things you can do using Flickr are: reduce red eye, add text to pictures, crop, resize, etc. Next, is one of Flickr’s features that many users enjoy. This is organizing your photos. Flickr allows you to create sets and collections, which allow you to organize your pictures into folders by category, to make them easier to find and display. The site also allows you to "tag" pictures, to make them easier to search. While some argue that tagging is done in a selfish manner (to get more views on their own pictures), the purpose of it is more so to allow users to accurately search for what they want to find. However, in my opinion, there is no harm in using tags to get your pictures searched, after all, that’s what Flickr is for: uploading, searching and finding!
Now that you should know how to upload, edit and store photos comes the exciting part, which is sharing them with others. One way Flickr suggests doing this is by joining a group! There are hundreds of groups on the site, anything from people with an interest in travelling, to pets or even sports. If you wish to create a private group so only friends and family can join, that is doable. The latter would be a good idea for those who attended a party or have personal pictures they do not wish for the public to see. Flickr is very on top of making sure their users privacy is not at stake. They have customizable privacy controls, so a user can decide who sees what pictures. This is a great feature, because nowadays there is an increase of professionals and businesses looking at potential employee’s online blogs, photo sites, profiles, etc. The last thing a user needs is to be rejected by their potential employer because the company came across a photo they were not particularly thrilled over seeing. Flickr’s privacy controls do a good job of preventing such an occurrence by allowing users to make pictures viewable by just you, your friends and/or family, or viewable by everybody on the site. The next stop on the tour is the maps feature. This was one feature that I myself was totally unfamiliar with. Turns out, I was extremely surprised by this feature because it is something I had never seen before on any other photo sharing website. The maps feature allows you to "drag and drop" pictures to a specific place on the world map, so others can see where in the world the pictures were taken. This feature can also be used in terms of search for pictures from a specific city or country. If you are doing a report on Madagascar, instead of typing it into a search bar, you can use the map to find pictures from the country, or discover pictures from countries surrounding the one you were originally looking for.
The next part of the tour is about making stuff from the photos you have uploaded. A few examples of things you can make that are shown are credit cards, postage stamps, and holiday cards. The idea of having a credit card with a picture you took yourself is a cool concept that I personally have never heard of before taking the tour. Lastly on the tour is keeping in touch with others. Flickr works similarly to social networking sites like Facebook, by allowing you to add someone as a contact. Once you add someone as a contact, you can take a look at their photos and be updated about any comments they make on your pictures, any new uploads, etc. Flickr came up with the idea of "notes" in addition to comments. Comments are left underneath the picture and are visible by all. However, notes are differnet in that only the picture owner can see what it says when they roll over the portion of the photo that was noted. This is a good feature for anyone who has an inside joke or a story that they only wish to share privately.
Through this tour, we are given a much better understanding of what Flickr is and how it works. Anyone can use the site, as long as you have a computer (or access to one) and some photos, you are welcome to use the site. Flickr is free for everybody, unless you want a Pro account, which is $24.95 per year. Pro members are allowed unlimited photo uploads and are the only ones allowed to upload videos. Videos can be up to 90 seconds in length and 150 MB. This new policy was started recently, in April 2008. If you do not wish to upgrade, you are not suffering at all. Back in December 2006, Flickr upgraded free accounts to being able to upload 100 MB instead of a mere 20 MB. Not too bad at all. The only "drawback" (as many upset users have called it), is that since January of 2007, you must have a Yahoo! user account in order to use Flickr. While this may seem like a hastle to subscribe to Yahoo! and then Flickr, both sites are easy to join and will take less than 5 minutes to do. That five minutes is well worth the hours of fun you can have on Flickr searching photos, socializing with friends, meeting others, uploading your own photos, etc.
I personally had never used Flickr too much before, but after taking the tour and exploring the site, I think I have been missing out. What makes Flickr more appaealing to many, myself included, is the unique features it offers as a photo sharing website. Facebook is a similar site people use to upload their pictures, however, Facebook is used more by high school and college kids, and Flickr is used by a typically more mature audience. That does not mean an older audience, per-say, it just means that you won’t find as many pictures containing alcohol, sex, drugs, etc., as you would on Facebook. Also, Flickr contains pictures of things that are not of people, while Facebook and other social networking sites focus more on pictures of people; and not so much pets, nature, travelling, collages, etc. Flickr is a good site to visit for those who are new to photo sharing, and also for experienced "picture-people". It has both simple and complex features, and the complex ones are very easy to pick up, thanks to the tour Flickr provides.
Out of all the Web 2.0 technologies, Flickr is the most comprehensive, fun-for-all website out there. Not only is it a way to meet people (through groups), share pictures (uploading, tagging, etc)., but it is a small community. People get to know each other and enjoy looking around to see who’s showing what that day. Flickr really is a mini community, and just like with a city, the more you become actively involved, the more you fall in love with it!
Cox, Andrew M. (2008). Flickr: a case study of Web2.0. Aslib Proceedings, 60 (5), 493-516.
Angus, Emma & Thelwall, Mike & Stuart, David (2008). General patterns of tag usage among university groups in Flickr. Online Information Review, 32(1), 89-101.