Flickr to Overhaul Popular “Explore” Page, Will the Magic Donkey Be Shot in the Head?

Flickr to Overhaul Explore Page, Will the Magic Donkey Be Shot in the Head?

In a move sure to upset many long-standing flickr veterans as well as to possibly please many newer users, Flickr is currently in the process of a major overhaul to their popular Explore page where they showcase and feature 500 photos each day. The Explore page was started back in 2005 by Flickr as a place to showcase some of what Flickr considers, “the most awesome content on Flickr.” Flickr has continuously referred to a “magic donkey” at Flickr that selects the images that are included each day.

In actuality, an algorithm is used by Flickr to scour popular photos by their members each day and promote these photos on the site. The algorithm largely measures activity on individual photos including faves, comments, notes, tags, etc.

The Explore page on Flickr is a frequent topic of conversation among Flickr users as they’ve tried over the years to figure out the specifics of the algorithm due to the large amount of traffic that the page generally sends to individual Flickr image pages. Many users have complained recently that a small group of users have been exploiting the algorithm to gain a larger share of the traffic generated by this section of Flickr.

Flickr Community Manager Heather Champ announced this coming change on Flickr in a Flickr forum earlier this week. From Champ:

“I can see that we’re a community divided about the Top 500. Change is coming. Big change. I don’t have a firm date, but we need something that’s far more inclusive. Is there any way that 500 photos a day could capture the breadth and depth of this wonderful community? I think not.

So, for those who are fed up with Explore, please be patient. Don’t let the tired old broken down Donkey change you into something that you’re not. And for those who currently feel blessed by the golden light the donkey sends your way. Well, I’m sorry if the changes that come upset you in that you’re going to have to share your spotlight with many more people.”

I’m not going to close this topic, but I will if I come back and find out that you’re still slapping away at one another (a la Monty Python) with big fish.

One of the first major changes made to the Explore algorithm involved adding both averaging and randomizing components into the algorithm which upset many of Flickr’s most popular users at the time the change was implemented. Killing off the magic donkey may in fact significantly reduce the traffic on Flickr to many of their most popular users currently. I suspect that when whatever overhaul is rolled out it will potentially find many vocal critics depending on how this traffic is affected.

If you’d like to see if any of your own photos are currently featured on Flickr’s Explore page you can check that out at this link at Big Huge Labs here. If you’d like to see if any of your contacts or friends photos are featured there you can use this handy little script by Drew Meyers here.

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  1. As long as I see significantly fewer macro shots of flowers I’ll be happy.

  2. Dan N. says:

    Explore is a funny animal. 11 of my last 15 uploads have made explore, one homepage, a couple top 10 and a few top 25. While I am somewhat proud, especially on the homepage, I feel like I have much better photos in my stream than the ones selected.

    The current algorithm punishes new users, users who post to too many groups, users who don’t “promote” their target image and users who aren’t actively commenting on photos. Once I figured out the formula, its been easy to get explore.

    There are certain users (aknacer?) who seem to live in the top 50 of explore. Other users are deleting and reposting older photos and getting explore (rebekka). These people have the popularity and the understanding of the donkey to their advantage. I’d like to see a more personalized “human” picked explore system. Perhaps a random voting system like jpg magazine’s website.

  3. Mark says:

    I believe that the whole thing is a setup based on who has the most contacts and friends and nothing to do with the quality of the photos. I have seen some lame photos out there with many views and comments and many very nice photos without. Hopefully this change will fix that problem.

  4. Sacha says:

    I think it was time for an overhaul. I myself have been fortunate to have a number of photos to hit explore but I do think it’s being exploited by users. I do see from time to time, users who are commonly busy and unable to “comment” or “favourite” pictures. I think we are missing out on seeing some great photos at present.

  5. Werner says:

    I’m a Flickr member since january 2005 and I have some photo’s showing up in Explore (which, at that time, made me proud).
    The last couple of months I do not care anymore, I don’t even use the Explore functionality anymore – it’s a popularity show where the same kind of photography returns again and again and nothing refreshing ever happens anymore.

  6. Eva says:

    Flickr’s Explore would be the last place I’d look for good photography.

  7. -gary says:

    No more flowers, kittens or boobs? What will the world do without it?¿

    Honestly, I wonder why half, if not more, of what makes it there does anyway. The only time I notice it is when one of my contacts has an “Explored” set.

  8. Drew says:

    @Dan … While I completely agree on a more human approach, I don’t think that would be feasible. I’m sure Flickr has stats (not shared) about the number of daily uploads… there is no real way to eyeball every photo to have humans pick the TOP500, but there needs to be a way to make sure the algorithm can catch these cheaters/gamers who work the system to their advantage.

    There are plenty of good photographers that don’t intentionally (I hope) promote their images, and seem to make it to Explore everyday. Take Dustin Diaz for example… great photographer, I believe is also a contributor on .. he has many followers, so while he may not be actively “working the system” when he posts an image, it makes it to Explore.. not necessarily fair. One day he even had 2 images on Explore…

    Really, out of the possible hundreds of thousands of daily uploads, 500 is a very small percentage… it should be hard to get in that niche everyday.

  9. Bim says:

    Great article. I do indeed hate that certain people always manage to make the front page even though most of their photos are quite similar… not complaining or begrudging their photos because they are outstanding. BUT there are soo many other photographers out there taking outstanding unique photos that don’t get anywhere near the explore Top 500 because they don’t get enough comments and not many people know about their excellent shots. I’d interested to know how flickr intend to please the masses while not upsetting the popular photographers too much.

    Personally I rarely look at Explore (perhaps once a week), I tend to try and view my contacts photos and praise n comment on their photos. There are lots of photographers on my stream who hardly get a say on explore and hopefully the new changes implemented will give everyone an equal chance.

    With the new algorithm, will we be presented with a new set of elite photographers always getting the attention? Again, not begrudging these photographers as I’m sure they’ll deserve their presence on the podium.

  10. Brenda says:

    Well I for one have never been able to figure it out, some of my shots that have made explore and then dropped later I didn’t think they belonged there in the first place. For instance, I did some work on one of my own self portraits for an icon all I did was change it to sepia and tilted it a bit, it was taken with my camera phone for heaven sake and it made it Explore, go figure!! I don’t it at all, but I have had 85 photos in Explore and I think 3 that are still there. I hope the changes will make it about the quality of the photos and not just the popularity of the photographer!!

  11. […] uses a "Magic Donkey" to decide these things. Here's a link that tells a bit of the story. __________________ Chip My flickr and My Gear Feel Free to Edit […]