Why Flickr’s Explore Sucks Donkey Balls
“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.”
“One of the things we are looking to do this year is to really dramatically improve the user experience. If you remember, years ago Flickr’s mission was to appeal to more of the prosumer photographer — and it was really about surfacing high quality photos from a niche of photos, and we’ve changed that mission.
And the mission for Flickr today is to be the premier place for sharing photos with those people who you care about the most. So we are transitioning from the former mission to a new mission. We’re learning a lot about what people want.”
When Heather Champ said that Flickr’s Explore section was a “tired old broken down Donkey,” back in June of 2009 she was right. Unfortunately, however, the “tired old broken down Donkey” is even worse today and someone seriously needs to take it out back behind the barn and put it out of it’s misery for good.
Steve Douty, I hope you’re “that guy.”
In an article entitled “The Unfairness of Flickr’s Explore Page,” Dean Shanson at Photopreneur breaks down some of the basics about how the Flickr Explore algorithm works and why exactly it is unfair. In his article he quotes former Flickr engineer Serguei Mourachov on the unfairness of Explore:
“The algorithm that populates Explore pages is not fair by definition. It’s not created to judge, but to find something that could be interesting.”
The problem is that Explore is anything BUT interesting. It’s a total and complete waste of space on Flickr. Do you really, really, really love browsing through page after page of mediocre cliched photographs by complete strangers that have all been watermarked to hell? You do? Great! Then Flickr’s Explore is perfect for you. Each day through some magic lucky charms anti-transparency donkey (or so the myth goes) Flickr presents 500 photos by members of the site.
People like getting into Explore because it brings more traffic to their photos and attention. But really, except for that little feel good thingy when you get in there (and the that little feel bad thingy when they blacklist you), the collection of photos there really point to just how stupid Flickr’s secret sauce algorithm really is.
Maybe Explore was “cutting edge” when it was launched years and years ago. But today there are so many smarter ways to present me a list of recommended photos than some dumb algorithm that knows nothing about me.
So let’s talk about how Explore could be improved. To do that we have to think about what makes a photo interesting to me. Here are several *very relevant* factors that Yahoo/Flickr could use when presenting me my own personalized Explore page.
1. If someone is my friend. There is a super good chance that I am going to find their photographs more interesting than a complete strangers.
2. If someone is my contact. There is a super good chance that I’m going to find their photographs more interesting than a complete stranger, but maybe not as interesting as a friend.
3. If I fave photos with the tag “neon” on them. I just might like seeing photos of neon signs. Likewise, if I fave photos tagged “graffiti,” I might really like photos of graffiti.
4. If my friend faves a photo by another one of my friends, that might be more relevant than a fave by an absolute stranger.
5. If my friend is actually in a photo, I might want to see that photo.
6. If I search for a certain term frequently on Flickr maybe that’s a clue?
7. If I fave a very high proportion of a certain user’s photos, I may want to see more of them — again, especially if they are listed as my friend/contact.
8. If I fave shots in a certain geographical region, maybe I want to see more of those. If I live in San Francisco, and what goes on here is relevant to me, and I fave a lot of photos tagged San Francisco, then maybe it’s better to show me those than some dumb flower macro photo with a big bee and and even bigger watermark on it taken by someone in Guam (no offense if you live in Guam).
9. If a friend and I both tag the same event tag or unique tag. I might want to see those.
10. Finally, If I’m blocking someone I probably don’t want to see those photos. AT ALL!
It’s fine if flickr still wants to use some of the basic ways that explore works. Show me photos with lots of faves, comments, tags, notes, views, etc. But personalize it! Do you want engagement? Then give me photos I will engage with, not photos by total and complete strangers.
Imagine if you went to your TiVo’s recommendation section and it said, yes, we know you’ve been doing that thumbs up thumbs down thing for 2 years now, but screw it. Here are 500 television shows that complete strangers like that you might like too.
Or imagine if on Pandora, even though you’ve been giving the system input on what sort of music you like, it just said, who the hell cares what you like or think, alot of strangers like Sammy Hagar, so I’m sure you will too. Aren’t we cutting edge and hip?
Or imagine if you went to Amazon.com and down where they recommend products to you based on other people searching for the same product, they just put some dumb stuff that 500 strangers liked. Yes I know you’re searching for DSLR sensor cleaning swabs, but might we recommend this new brand of tampon?
What Explore lacks completely is personal relevancy.
And while we’re at it. If I’m an adult on Flickr. And I’m over 18. And I specifically go to the opt in settings and say, yes please, I’m sooooo ok with actually seeing naked breasts as art, please let me see it. When I go to Explore, I should actually be able to see photos of the adult human body (gasp).
And if you, on the other hand, are not 18 or you specifically don’t want to see boobies, then likewise you should be able to check that setting and Explore should be smart enough to not show them to you.
But to just filter out all moderate/restricted content out of Explore, another way the algorithm is stupid.
One of the things I like about the photosharing 500px by the way is that they don’t seem quite so scared of the naked human body as Flickr is. I actually have been spending a fair amount of time in their recommended photos and have found them soooooo much better than what Flickr serves up.
So Flickr do us a favor. Let’s kill that broken down tired old donkey. Let’s freshen up the Flickr image a bit and do something that’s actually innovative and just plain makes sense for once. The time to revamp Explore into something so much better is upon us.