Flickr Presentation at the SF Apple Store

Heather Powazek Champ, John Curley, Deborah Lattimore, Andrea ScherI think that from now on anyone speaking at a Flickr thing should have the bright spotlights shone on them that they deserve as the rockstars that they are. I took a lot of photos last night but hate using flash and there was just not quite enough light to make most of them work — unless sometimes you hold really really really still like Heather does in this photo.

Last night I attended the SF Flickr evening at the Apple store in San Francisco. John Curley, Deborah Lattimore and Andrea Scher all local photographers shared their work with us and then members of the Flickr team were introduced and Flickr CEO Stewart Butterfield talked about some of Flickr’s new recent features and answered questions about where Flickr might be headed in the future. Local celebrity photoblogger and now Flickr maven Heather Powazek Champ coordinated.

As is usually the case for me, my favorite portion of the evening revolved around the Q&A.; Stewart Butterfield fielded a room full of interested and hungry Flickr addicts and found as might be expected more feature requests than anything. Yes, they are working on a lot of them. Stewart told us about a giant larger than life-sized post it note that has tons more smaller post it notes attached that is filled with ideas on how to make Flickr even better going forward.

Of course, as expected, the question “what’s the secret sauce” in Flickr’s newly launched “interestingness” feature did come up. And of course the answer that came back was, “ummmm, yeah, a lot of things.” What Stewart did say is that the algorithm that generates the days most interesting photos would change over time.

I asked Stewart about when we’d see the richness of Flickr image ranking moving more broadly into Yahoo!’s image search space and Stewart confirmed that this is something that we can expect to see in the future. Yahoo! and Google both lack the rich metadata provided by the Flickr community that gives a site like Flickr an inherent advantage when it comes to category and rank. On the other hand, in some ways Flickr lacks the depth of image search that you’d find at Google and Yahoo! who search the entire known internet. Stewart said if you were looking for a cat or a flower Flickr can serve up amazing results that could potentially be integrated into Yahoo! Image Search. On the other hand more obscure searches might not be as easy. Although I would assume that as Flickr’s popularity continues to grow that you will find an increasing amount of long tail tags that will be indexed into Yahoo!’s image search.

Stewart showed us a demo of a feature that we may or may not ever see that actually builds thumbnails of Flickr photos as they are added to Flickr in real time. It’s a surreal experience with a huge screen of rapid fire thumbnails being shot at you. Apparently on Tuesday mornings it picks up quite a bit of steam.

Stewart was asked by Tristan Savatier about when we’d see full high res large screen slide shows from Flickr and once again Stewart confirmed that this is something that is being worked on. One issue with high res full screen slide shows though is the bandwidth issue. These would probably work fine if people only used them when they actually watched them, but it would be easy for people also to turn it on and forget about it leaving it running for 24 hours and chewing unnecessarily through expensive bandwidth. Personally I’m looking forward to the day when I can run full screen favorites slide shows on my 43” plasma in my living room. Where is the Media Center Flickr? Someone please tell me it’s coming.

The Many Moods of Stewart Butterfield (3)The Many Moods of Stewart Butterfield

Tristan also didn’t like Flickr’s square thumbnail format that cuts off portions of photos. I actually prefer this myself but as they say different strokes for different folks.

Stewart confirmed Flickr’s commitment to an open API and Yahoo!’s support of this. Stewart confirmed Flickr’s ongoing commitment to their photographers who will continue to own their own material published on Flickr unlike other more restrictive TOS agreements with other companies. Stewart shared that Flickr is very much focused on improving search at the moment and asked how many of his team were working on search and all of them raised their hands. Stewart said that shortly people will be able to sign up for Flickr through their Yahoo! ID. Stewart said that Flickr is looking at ways to offer both photo printing and DVD publishing.

When asked about what surprised the Flickr team the most in the past year, the answer that came back was the photography. The amazing, rich, beautiful, world class photos that appear daily on Flickr and are highlighted in their interestingness section I think continue to surprise everyone daily. That Flickr has become more than just a place to share snapshots of the grandkids and has transformed itself into a world class photography gallery is also in my opinion the biggest delightful surprise of all.

I also asked about tracking incoming links and if there was a way for Flickr to show me where outside blogs might be blogging my photos similar to something like Sitemeter. Stewart said that while a good idea that the concern with this feature would be trackback spam and he was concerned that by turning on a feature like this spammers would flood flickr users with bogus trackback links. Of course Derek Powazek who was in the audience sitting in front of me was quick to turn around and hand his Technorati card out.

Stewart seemed genuinely content with the Yahoo! purchase and their role as Flickr’s new corporate master. When asked about the biggest change that he did not like since the Yahoo! acquisition he cited his commute. Instead of walking to work, Stewart now has to drive from San Francisco to Sunnyvale each day. An easy choice for a careful executive, but I felt that the feelings for Yahoo! were more than just lip service. Although many times it does not work out when a large company buys a really innovative smaller company, at least thus far I got the sense that the Yahoo!/Flickr thing is working.

Afterwards people went over to 111 Minna for a few drinks and the conversation and photography continued. I did notice that Frank Chu’s sign that was up there at 111 Minna the last time I was there was not there this time. When I last spoke with Frank about it in North Beach he had told me that they were giving him free beer. Perhaps a rift took place and he took his sign back. Personally I think getting a Frank Chu sign for free budweiser ought to be a no brainer for any bar in town.

There seems to be quite a bit of enthusiasm on the Flickr team right now and rightfully so. Flickr is on the cutting e
dge of photography and internet community and it’s not every day that you can come up with an internet product that is quite frankly as addictive as crack. As the everfaithful build a Starbucks stop each day into their routine for their caffeine addiction, Flickr is having the same effect on it’s users. As one user explained to me, “I feel like one of those little pigeons who keeps pecking at the the button to get another piece of food everytime I look again and again and again at the activity on my Flickrstream. Yep. I hear you brother.

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  1. aqui-ali says:

    Very true. Interesting post Thomas. 🙂

  2. Are you sure it was Tristan Louis? Not another Tristan? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me but that would point to another Tristan Louis roaming the streets (always possible.. I knew I must have an evil twin 🙂 )

  3. Thomas Hawk says:

    My mistake Tristan, sorry. It was Tristan Savatier. My mistake and I’ve made the correction.

  4. Tristan says:

    I’m the other Tristan, aka loupiote on flickr.

  5. lizhurley says:

    sorry, that was me who deleted the above comment cause it linked to the wrong web page.

    great summary, thomas. i am linking to this on my stream.

  6. Sam says:

    Letting photos to be organised in a way that could let good stuffs surface fills a blank market gap – I don’t think Google or Yahoo! is doing a great job in that area. Now Flickr is acquired by Yahoo it, it will be interesting to see if there is any Flickr Optimization programs.