Photo sharing websites, innovation, and online communities
The widening popularity of photography can possibly be credited to the digital revolution. Instead of getting your holiday snaps developed at the local pharmacy, you can just plug your camera, and increasingly your mobile phone or handset, into a computer to view your memories.
For years now there have been various ways to upload your photos to a website so that you don’t have to clog up the email inboxes of your loved ones. This has often proven useful, but generally didn’t enable you to spread them beyond your immediate circle.
These days, outside of just letting your family and friends see your pictures, there are a number of photo sharing websites that introduce you to a tremendous community of digitally inclined photographers.
The leading photo website by far is Photobucket, with over 40 percent of current market share and as many as 7 million photos uploaded each day. Following this is Yahoo! Photos with about 18 percent, then a number of others hanging out at 6 percent, including Webshots, Kodak, ImageShack, and Flickr.
Let’s take a closer look at the photo-sharing darling of the tech community, Flickr. It’s often cited as having not only the slickest user interface, best community engagement, and being one of the ‘stickiest’ sites – meaning that users stay there the longest – it also won Breakout of the Year at the 2005 Webby Awards. Flickr has over 228 million photos uploaded to date by over 4.5 million registered users, with 17 million unique visitors a month and an average of 900,000 new photos per day.
Flickr was snapped up last year by Yahoo!, which is currently in the midst of merging these two brands to further solidify Yahoo’s number two slot and perhaps rally for the top spot.
To check out photos on Flickr, just go to www.flickr.com and browse away by entering topics you’re interested in or just clicking on a random display of the top photos of the past seven days. You’ll note that these are more artistically inclined pictures than those found on Photobucket or Imagebank. (The latter’s pictures are at least 50 percent due to photo hosting for social networking sites like Myspace and Friendster, meaning lots of drunken party shots and cute kitten and baby antics.)
If you want to dive a bit deeper and upload your own photos to Flickr, just complete a quick sign-up form and you’ll get 20 Mb every calendar month to upload your images. Pay them $25 a year and you’ll get that limit removed and receive a Pro account. Given the purchase by Yahoo!, there is one annoying aspect to Flickr: you will have to use your existing Yahoo! email address to sign up, or create a new one.
But Flickr presents itself as more than just a photo album. It’s more of a community of new media types swapping experiences and elevating their collective photographic eye. Other Flickr members will browse new photos, pick favorites, and sometimes invite you to join their sub community or proclaim that a shot of yours has won particular acclaim in a given category. Also as part of the community there are guidelines to abide by and a simple means of flagging pictures that offend you and may offend others; Flickr staff will clamp down on members by turning their photos private or shutting their accounts down entirely.
You can tag each photo with keywords and then also give it a title. A quick search through the pictures with the word Egypt, shows nearly 200,000 results, and slightly less than that are tagged with the word Egypt. Pictures can also be geotagged so as to be searchable via a map of the Earth. These pictures are not just taken by tourists who have visited Egypt but span a wide and varied selection of photo art by local photographers.
The Creative Commons section actually lists photos that fall under differing privacy policies. The four licenses range from allowing complete use of a person’s photograph provided you credit them, to those that only want you to view their pictures on Flickr.
A symbol of the community-building power of the Internet, what could be just an image library is actually a vibrant place to see what’s going on in the world. Flickr has the reputation of being a photo-blog, not merely somewhere to leave comments about the pictures you like or document your last holiday, but to exchange information and ideas.
This ain’t your Aunt Frieda’s four-hour slide show of her trip to the Grand Canyon.