Zooomr, 17 Year Old Developer Kristopher Tate Building a Photo Sharing Site to Rival Flickr

Yesterday afternoon I spent some time chatting and catching up with Kristopher Tate. Tate is the 17 year old wunderkind developer responsible for Zooomr, the latest entry into the online photo sharing space. Earlier this month Web 2.0 high priest Michael Arrington blessed Zooomr with the headline “Flickr Has Some Catching Up to Do,” and dubbed the new photo sharing service “Flickr on steroids.”

While I wouldn’t exactly characterize Zooomr as “Flickr on steroids,” I will say that I am very impressed by the technology and even more impressed by where Tate is headed with his project. Especially interesting is the fact that Tate announced informaly last night at the SF Web Innovators Network monthly meeting that Zooomr now supports the Flickr API. According to Tate, conversion for developers is as simple as changing flickr.com to zooomr.com.

Using Flickr’s open protocol and the documentation on their site, Tate has reconstructed Flickr’s API to be used with Zooomr. (What in the world did Tate’s parents feed that kid for breakfast — I need to make sure my four young ones get on that diet). Tate told me that because Zooomr is written in Python, building extensions for it by outside developers is relatively easy. Tate’s official announcement regarding the API will be made on Monday.

Thus far Zooomr has been entirely self funded by Tate, a self taught computer prodigy. Although Tate started playing with computers at age four, he didn’t really start programming until age five. He admitted to me that he was mostly interested in hardware up until about age 10 when he started screwing around with software. “I just like this stuff,” he said.

So what is Zooomr all about? First the basics. Similar to Flickr, although slightly cheaper than Flickr at $20 per year, the site offers two versions — an advertising supported free version with limited bandwidth and a paid service.

Also like Flickr, Zooomr relies on a lot of the ajaxy type eye candy that makes it super sexy. I really enjoyed their “lightbox” method of viewing photographs. With the lightbox view the photo is essentially highlighted in the middle of the screen while the background on your PC is darkened out. It feels very elegant and reminds me of being in a virtual art gallery or museum. You can see the screenshot below to see what I mean. Transitions are a little slow between photos when using lightbox but I like it a lot more than Flickr’s similar slideshow view that they offer.

Also like Flickr (and I mean really like Flickr), you can view your photos in square, thumbnail, small, medium and large views. Zooomr also generates html code to allow you to paste the Zooomer photo into your blog and share it with the rest of the world (the photos in this article are all blogged from Zooomr).

Tate plans to focus much of his attention in the coming months on developing rich and powerful new ways to share metadata associated with photographs. Already he has in place an interesting mashup with his service and Google maps that is capturing geotags where available and mapping photos on the site on a Google map. You can then click through on a user’s pin on the map and find other photos geotagged close to the same site. This would seem like interesting technology if you were going to take a trip somewhere and wanted to check out the sites ahead of time or if you were on vacation and were looking for interesting sites to go see and photograph yourself.

Zooomr also, in addition to letting you tag your photos, has kind of an interesting angle on allowing you to use a function called “add people” where you can identify people that appear in photos. There is then a section of Zooomr that actually ranks popularity and can show you all of the photos that you are in. This seems like smart technology and would seem to appeal to the MySpace crowd where kids are rapidly snapping shots of them and their friends and uploading them. Adding people specifically vs. free form tagging people’s names seems like an easier way for many to understand and group this type of metadata.

The most interesting aspect of metadata of all though Zooomr though is the ability to attach audio .mp3 and .wav files to your photos — what Tate calls Zoomrtations. While photos are easy for anyone to take and upload, video by contrast is generally difficult to take, edit and upload. By offering the ability to add recorded audio to photos, Zooomr is potentially signficantly enhancing the photo sharing experience.

One of the things you have seen emerge on Flickr is a certain type of Flickr female superstar often focusing much of their work on self portraiture. While some have criticized these photos as self indulgent they are undeniably a strong draw for the viewers of Flickr. _Rebekka, a sexy Icelandic single mother of two, may be the singlemost popular photographer on Flickr. I can imagine that many might find the _Rebekka viewing experience to be enhanced by hearing her annote her photos in her own voice. It’s an interesting wrinkle that would be sure to effect popularity.

Two other zooomrtations worth checking out are from Zooomr user thaumata. Here and here.

More than just popularity though, using audio annotation for online photosharing makes great sense on a much larger level. How cool would it be for my mother to be able to hear my son Jackson describe a photo he took in his own voice. And how cool would it be for Jackson to hear grandma in her own voice describe the photos from her current vacation. This is slick technology.

Unlike Flickr, Zooomr is not focusing as much of their resources at present on the various aspect of building a social community. Rather Zooomr at present is choosing instead to focus more on enriching the metadata experience. Not that Zooomr will not incorporate more social and community building in the future though. When I asked Tate about adding groups to Zooomr he said that although he has thought about it and that there is a strong liklihood of forums coming to Zooomr that he is hesitant at the moment because he doesn’t have the time to monitor them and that according to him there are “many new innovations that are on the table that I would rather get out then spend the time on forums at present.”

What are some of these new innovations that will be coming out from Zooomr shortly? According to Tate we should expect to see new mobile technologies for photo sharing, better sets as well as an online ranking system where users can rank photos on a scale of 1-5 where 5’s become your favorites and the other data is contributed towards an algorithm similar to Flickr’s “interestingness” that Tate instead calls “Awesomeness/Wickedness.” Expect to see “Awesoneness/Wickedness” in the next Zooomr release.

At present you can upload photos directly to the site or you can use bulk uploading tools developed for both the Mac and PC that you can download here.

You can use 5 different existing methods to sign on to Zooomr: Level9, OpenID, LiveJournal, Google, and Meetro. If you don’t already have an account with one of those services Zooomr prompts you to create an ID and use OpenID. The logon on process with OpenID is still a bit clunky and there are still some very basic things that need to be fixed (and I’m sure will in the next release — like being able to upload your photo icon for your personal profile), but all in all Zooomr is pretty darn impressive. Although I could never imagine ditching Flickr for Zooomr,
I suspect that I may use both for a while and follow their respective advances. They are two very different places with each having their own set of postives and negatives.

Although Tate is aware that visitors from Yahoo Corporate have been visiting his site quite recently he is quick to point out that his site is focused on different things than Flickr: “I like Yahoo! and Flickr, I think they are great people” said Tate. “What Zooomr tries to accomplish is not organizing like Flickr does so well, but actually getting at the metadata that a photo represents.” Adding, “Photos mean a lot to me — I hope that no matter which technology is at the forefront, photos get represented in the light that they deserve.”

Indeed.

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5 comments on “Zooomr, 17 Year Old Developer Kristopher Tate Building a Photo Sharing Site to Rival Flickr
  1. Anonymous says:

    As nice as Zooomr is, and it does look quite nice, it is a shame to see that so much of it is so derivative of Flickr. Of course, that is something of a backhanded compliment to Flickr suggesting that their devs came up with some winning useability and designs but at the same time, it surely smacks of something a little bit underhand to be openly following the same forms and functions so closely. Does it suggest a lack of imagination, a desire to freeload off of the existing success of the “incumbent” or the claim that this interface style is simply the one true way? Wisdom suggests competition is healthy and no doubt Flickr and others will ultimately benefit from seeing some of the innovations made by this new entrant to the field… but I’d rather each competitor attempt at the very least to demonstrate some effort at creating their own identity instead of appearing (at least) to be riding the coat-tails of success of another’s.

  2. Anonymous says:

    zoomr is awesome…if only they could incorporate face recognition like what riya.com does. This would be heaven.

  3. You have a good blog Thomashawk and unlike other blogs, you don’t have image verification which is a ++.

    Excellent post. Though Zoomr seems to have copied a lot from Flickr. We’d like to see more innovation though. The name is 100% uncreative!

  4. Raoul says:

    This is an interesting post, Tom, considering your current position! :-D

  5. Gail Higgons says:

    Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a short time now. Thanks!