The strange mysteries of popular opinion

In just over 2.5 years I’ve posted 1,380 photos on Flickr. I’ll be the first to admit that they’re not all brilliant; some are silly, some I put up to support blog posts, and some seemed like a good idea at the time. I must say, though, that I am frequently mystified by the responses (or lack thereof) to photos. Sometimes I post something I really like and it just sinks without a trace. At other times I debate whether to post something, only to have it get a huge reception.

It's true
Just before we headed north for Xmas, I posted this shot of an odd little stencil I saw in Dublin. It’s a neat stencil, and a technically reasonable photo of it, but it’s hardly amazing. Yet it caught some traction (perhaps in part due to synchronicity with the season) and ended up on Flickr’s “Explore” pages. This has lead to 60 favorites in four days, over 4 times as many favorites as every other photograph I’ve posted with one exception. I’m thrilled by the response (it’s always nice when people see your work), but according to Flickr’s “interesting-ness” algorithm this is currently the 5th most “interesting” of all the photos I’ve posted, a “claim” which clearly doesn’t bear any significant scrutiny.

I realize that any algorithmic determination of “interestingness” is going to have substantial oddities and be subject to gaming in various ways. And I suspect that the “rich get richer” part of this is a common experience for anyone who posts stuff on-line or, more generally, puts any of their work out in the public. Still, it’s weird when it happens.

OK, I’m done navel gazing – you can go back to your holiday revelry.

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4 Responses to The strange mysteries of popular opinion

  1. CoryQ says:

    I have the same thing happen: Think “Oh, this is great” and then nothing happens or “Eh, it’s a toss away” and people love it.

    As for this picture, I think you hit something important. People like to be told they are kind, or good, or beautiful, and not as a ply, but by a real person. My guess is you have enough contacts (real contacts, not just names on a screen) on flickr that people took it for what it was, an honest statement that there are good people out there on both sides of the screen. This is a testament to the postive.

    According to flickr, the most interesting picture that the MonkeyRiverTown Team has taken is this wierdness and our most viewed is this throw away. Thanks for the stats pointer by the way. Now I know where all the hits are coming from.

  2. Phi says:

    Thanks for your generous analysis – it would be nice to hope that something like that might be true. I’m not at all clear on what role my contacts had in the process. There are 12 views from “” and 27 direct views to the page (some of which are likely to be from readers of some sort). The big difference, however, was obviously being high on Explore – I had 111 views from the “interesting in the last 7 days page” and probably close to 20 from other Explore pages. Three of my friends faved the photos very quickly (thanks!), which presumably helped push it onto Explore. The next five faves were from strangers, and I think that really propelled it up on Explore, and from there it just snowballed. (It’s currently got 67 faves with 349 views.)

    The two photos you linked to are quite amazing – an LP cover and a TV screen capture! That’s super weird. I’m guessing that the ladies’ legs have something to do with the response, but there’s no question that you have a fine eye for quality retro :-).

    One thing that I always wonder is what would happen if only this (or that) photo got put on Explore for an hour or two. I think we all have shots that if they only made it to Explore for a bit, would be received very well and take off, but have instead languished in our backwaters. Ultimately, I guess the problem is just the huge numbers of very good photos out there fighting for a finite amount of human attention.

  3. CoryQ says:

    Turns out a lot of people like Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) and are looking for pictures of her. I guess that settles that debate.

    I think you are right about the sheer volume of things there are to look at. I know there are stretches of pictures I miss from our contacts and I am trying to see it all. I can’t imagine having 400 contacts (we have 86, though more have marked MRT as a contact). It would be a tidal wave of pictures!

  4. Phi says:

    I promise you that my contact flow is indeed a tsunami of images – vastly more than I can track with any regularity. I’ve got about 30 people marked as friends (including MRT) as a way of helping focus things, but I still don’t manage to track but a fraction of what goes by.

    Also that set of (not quite) 400 contacts includes a lot of early contacts that have gone inactive. One of my first contacts, for example, was designdept a source of some wonderfully elegant/simple images. She last posted something back in July, 2005. I’ve kept her on my list, though, in the hopes that she might return some day.

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