Flickr is way cool

Poppy centerIt took me a while, but I’ve decided that Flickr is really quite spiff. I kept seeing references to it on people’s blogs, and kept thinking that I didn’t need that because we have our own Gallery install over on our family news page. Flickr was presumably for people that didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t run their own install of something like Gallery.

Well, it’s clear that I was way, way wrong. The key mistake I made was thinking of it as a way to put your photos on-line, and not as a way to find other people’s photos.

I started playing with Flickr a little last month, and I’m completely hooked. The thing I missed was that I was thinking of Flickr as a way to put ones photos on-line (which I could already do) and not as a way to find other people’s seriously cool photos, and connect to other cool photographers. I had my pictures on-line, but there wasn’t much evidence that they were being looked at a whole lot (except for by our family). More importantly, I wasn’t finding anyone else’s photos.

In a month or so using Flickr I’ve uploaded 40+ photos, including the the poppy photo above. My photo stream’s been viewed a bit over a 100 times, and seven eight people have added me as contacts, so presumably they’ll consistently see my new photos as I post them.

incense by designdeptThe really nifty bit, though, is all the amazingly cool photographers and photographs I’ve found. I’ve only just poked around in a pretty haphazard way, but it’s been really easy to find dozens of really great images, the kind of stuff you’d pay good money for and call it happy. I’ve so far chosen 17 people as contacts because their images were sufficiently interesting that I wanted to see new stuff as they post it, and I’m sure I’ll continue to add more as I continue to stumble across little gems in the great ocean of images out there. Similarly, I’ve picked out nearly 100 favorites and counting, including this wonderful shot of an incense cone by designdept (my first contact). In one of those wonders of the web, I’m able to share photos with people in Japan, Sarajevo, and Brazil, as well as with family and friends. We’ll still use the gallery on the family news page to post family photos (trips, events, etc.) in their more complete form, and I’ll use Flickr to share shots that I’m particularly fond of as photographs.

It’s not all wonderful, of course. Just as a lot of blogging is dull minutia of people’s lives, there are lots of Flickr photos that are utterly predictable picnic shots and babies and cute kittens. But just as there are really wonderful blogs amongst the dross, there are these great images waiting to be found. It’s also worth noting that National Geographic doesn’t have much to worry about (yet). The vast majority of these people are (like me) amateurs, and that has implications. They’re not jetting off to exotic locations with expense accounts, and there are whole lot more pictures of roses than rhinos (and the rhino pictures that are there are almost entirely shot in zoos).

In many ways the advantages (and disadvantages) here are like those for things like LiveJournal, especially in the ability to link up with people and build communities. At some level I knew that all along, but I didn’t fully appreciate the differences (for me) between blogging and photos. I frankly don’t feel a pressing need to discover new blogs (or reading material of any sort). I’m already swamped with really interesting stuff to read, and don’t have time for a tiny fraction of it, so finding more just doesn’t appeal a whole lot. Sure I could spend time on LiveJournal cultivating a fascinating circle of friends (I enjoy reading Setharoo’s friends list in a voyeuristic kind of way, except there are too many Ben Folds posts). But I already can’t keep up with what I’ve got/found, so I really don’t feel the urge.

Photos are different, though (at least for me). I can process them much more quickly, skimming through dozens of photos looking for ones that catch my attention in some way. I’m sure I miss some good ones, but that’s OK – I’m not trying to be completist, and any such attempt would be doomed to failure. In theory I could skim blogs, but I’ve never been comfortable with skimming text, especially when it’s good writing. I like to go slow and get lost and think about things, and I always find skimming terribly unsatisfying. When people like pharyngula and New Kid on the Hallway take the time to write something of substance, I feel like I owe it to them to read with intent, and that takes time. For me photographs are much more immediate and visceral. Sure, there are deeply symbolic shots that probably ought to be “read” in the same way, but I’m generally going for composition and design and vision, photos that tell me something about the world and how we can see it rather than something about the artist’s ability to stage a scene. In some way I guess I’m interested in punk/pop singles rather than symphonies, and I just don’t feel guilty about that. So I skim and dash and hop and jump and find these wonderful images that make me happy, and that’s cool.

As with something like LiveJournal, there’s always the problem of putting your work under someone else’s control; that problem still exists and it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out as its popularity continues to rise and more and more people become dependent on it. Their recent purchase by Yahoo! points out the fluid nature of any such arrangement, and the possibilities that promises past can get lost in the eternal shuffle.

One thing I’m not sure about is the Pro vs. free option. I currently have a free account, and I while I understand the features of a Pro account, I’m not clear on why I’d want to pay $25/yr for those features. The only limitation I’ve run up against so far is the restriction to three albums, and I can muddle through on that for now. If anyone has anything to share on this point, I’d certainly appreciate it.

Anyway, the obsession will no doubt dim some with time, no doubt waxing and waning as my time taking photographs ebbs and flows, but it’s still a darn cool thing.

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