Chat & IM | Social Networks | Social Software

Unbound Spiral: Go Flickr Go Figure

February 13, 2004 07:21 PM

Final questions. Could Flickr stimulate a new visual chat language? Will cameraphoneaholics adopt it? Will it change how people share phone pictures? Will it expand and grow the market for chatrooms (they use the word forums)? Will anyone really go beyond looking at the interface and wishing that someone would solve and integrate the "chat " and "presence" problem? Who else thinks that screen space is now at a premium?

There are days when I want to rave about emerging social software and others when I want to rant. Today I realize I'm just going to have to break up my efforts. I've been playing with both Flickr and Gush side by side this morning. That's probably not a good idea for they are radically different and will serve different audiences. As always each one has a little of what I want and is not really what I want at all. In the end they both leave me feeling a little empty.

This post is only about Flickr, the emerging story of a small band of programmers launching a new product on the world. They've met their deadline and now shipped (probably) not quite sure what they have unleashed. So lets start with the Flickr announcement by Stewart Butterfield at Etech...


It is too hard to figure out how to use, even though everything is easy-as-heck drag and drop. But people aren't expecting drag and drop. When I demo it, people REALLY, get it. I worry that the people stumbling in will just stumble out again without understanding what is going on.
Sylloge: We ship!

I have to concur. See too Scobleizer . It's still at a stage where personal demonstrations matter. Ross says: "best social software at ETech" and Judith makes a very relevant connection to Greg Elin's Fotonotes It is only this afternoon that I start to get the drag and drop going when experimenting with more pictures and dragging others into conversations. Alan Reiter should introduce this to the camera phone audience. You can e-mail your pics direct to your shoebox in Flickr and then share them with friends.

The other night I posted Tom Coates entry from ETech. He said it was much better than Orkut. It's actually not a comparison at all. As I've experimented I've come to the realization that it serves a different purpose altogether. Like Gary Lawrence Murphy I'm not sure I can give it rave review.


The paint isn't quite dry and of course it is getting rave a-lister reviews --- their innofateful share-hook is that real-timeyness ... which seems to mean signing up for yet another disconnected IM. Hard to say other than the caution, "Flickr is built on Ludicorp's platform for messaging and event distribution" and Caterina's comment "today George and I were trying to greet every single person that came in ..." TeledyN: My Friend Flickr

Then "Where's my mind" see's behind the screen and get's the extra meaning. This post stopped me from abandoning it and drove me forward while eWeek gives it the quick heads up PR overview. Guess I was also lucky to get welcomed to Flickr by Frank Boosman one of their advisors today. Still how many hours should one spend on these things?

From an end-user viewpoint, Flickr is chat photo sharing social networking. If you think about it from a photo sharing-centric point of view (which is only one way of looking at it), the social networking determines with whom you want to share your photos, while the chat provides a narrative context for them. But it's subtler than that. Is Flickr a photo sharing application? Yes. Is it a chat service? Yes. Is it a social networking tool? Yes.

From a technical standpoint, Flickr is built on Ludicorp's existing engine technology, which means it's a Flash front end communicating with a J2EE back end using an XML-based protocol. pseudorandom: Flickr Launches


The thec really did impress me and yet I was instantly frustrated. Almost all the pictures I have on my hard drive were taken on high quality. The system won't upload them at higher than 500mb and I didn't have the time to convert them. An auto converter is mandatory, I'm not going to resize etc them one by one. I wanted to share some MP3's straight away but I'm betting that is not on. I'm not sure what all this photo sharing does for bandwidth and I'd bet the RIAA would have something to say about music sharing. Later I just grabbed images from Google to share. On the other hand Frank doesn't say enough about the forum component. We could see thousands of forums (PictoChat Rooms?) just like you see them on the IM platforms. "Adult" channels may pose a challenge for Flickr.

There is potential for things to come. When in a chat session with another right clicking on their name provides the typical Macromedia (cam/mic/etc) settings. If you want expansion then "voice" activation will be a must add. These functions already work in other platforms, why not here too? Bandwidth again? Flickr also provides another example of why we increasingly need a multi-screen setup on our desktops. At least it can reside on my second screen (I note Dina's added one too! - I must blog the rationale!). Otherwise it simply takes over my desktop and hides any work I may want to do.....

The net net is this. I'm not recommending my friends try out Flickr, IMHO it is too difficult and too time consuming to get them to play and little things will get in the way. This is in stark contrast to Orkut where connections are quickly made. Flickr also has a ratcheting up of relationship status. This is frustrating. Really does everyone have to start as an acquaintance?

If you want to experiment with Flickr I may leave it on for awhile, although I don't think I'll be here in a week. I became frustrated as hell when I first logged in and created a profile around "stuart henshall" then logged out and created one for "stuart" and then deleted it. I wanted "Stuart" instead. Now it won't let me have it (or the old one back) and set up e-mail address conflicts. Concurrently I registered something a little less obvious, but don't know "socially" what it is best to be in under. Frankly some pseudonym seems smarter. Why's that? This is a place where you may begin by sharing many photo's with people you don't know. In such a situation where the norm already appears to be "cryptic names" I think I find my full name too revealing. I'd also say the same about Yahoo chat. This is not a place where I'd want to be taken too seriously.

Next little gripe would be around "online contacts". There is no double click functionality in Flickr. Instead hold the button and then initiate what you want to do. I find it weird. I want to double click to start a conversation with an online friend. I can right click if I want an alternate. Later you can DRAG someone new into an already going conversation. Seems you can't drag to initiate. The drag and drop the picture in is great! As noted that's a real threat to Yahoo style chats. When people first arrive Flickr should provide a few pictures or make it clear you can select some easily from the public gallery. Possibly some of these pictures will become tomorrow's smileys, more importantly it confirms the intent and the type of behavior they are trying to encourage. That is chat with pictures. Be interesting to watch what sort of visual language that becomes.



Comments (2)

You had a great deal more patience with this thing than I did, but I still don't understand why you would email your photos to your shoebox but not just email them to your friends.

I've lost my patience with the lot of them. A headhunter called up and offered me a senior "like family" position at one of these "exciting young new entrepreneurial P2P chat gaming company" and I think I got rather abusive in my reply as I deconstructed the inch-thick greasepaint on the HR-speak. She wrote back to say my email had "made her day" --- I said that post-dotbomb, we can all afford to be honest.

And as for videochat porn, well, we all know what happened to CuSeeMe (just try to find a non-porn mirror in 2004) --- then again, we also know the contents of the backpages of most vancouver club-scene newspapers and now that you mention it, maybe that is the true aim of their business model ...

For my time=money, I never got as far as noticing the beauty of drop dragging their tools built for no other purpose than to entrap, to "grab share" as they say. Hence sizzle and sex is the easy ring to grab ... only pop-diva hits turn stale really fast, and tell the truth, when was the last time you actually looked at Janet's boob?

This is why I'm out of the biz and these sorts get the VCs: my head is too focused on a space that seeks to be useful.

I already have instant communications, in several flavours of which Jabber is the least fenced, and Enigma3 uses that to deliver video-chat and filesharing. I've had H.323 for a decade, but never known anyone with another compatible endpoint --- if these YASNS crews wanted to be truly useful, they'd apply those crack hacker skills to implement an H.323 client in a browser-GUI, knitting together markets instead of "carving out a piece" of them. They should be bridging communities instead of luring gold-diggers, extending the fabric of the net instead of rending it asunder. As the crossing between heaviweight videoconfware and grandma jones' webcam'd PC, bridging bubbles between industrial communities and the regular joes, and it might have some practical use.

Posted by: mrG at February 14, 2004 5:54 AM

Hey Stuart,

thanks for all the comments, good and bad :)

What you see now is just the tip of the iceberg. We wanted to get it out there early since I think so much of this tends to get overthought. It is painful since there is so much planned but not there yet (and there are still plenty of bugs) but we will try to do a new release once a month until the core features are there and everything is stable. And then we will actually remove the 'beta' :)

So yes, it is a little weird: not quite YASNS, not quite IM and not quite p2p file sharing. But there is something else there -- if you don't like it now, come back in a month and see what you think. And if you don't like it then, wait a few more :)

To address the specifics:

* we will be bumping up the 500k limit soon (but probably only to 1MB)
* it will never be a file transfer app, so mp3 swapping will probably never happen, *however*: sharing pointers to things already happens (you can pass around 'structured references': right now, to people and photos, but later to groups, URLs and more, including streaming sources)
* I'm not sure if I understand the problem you had with email and names: you can have multiple addresses associated with one account, you can delete accounts and you can change your screen name, so it seems like all possible combinations are covered

Thanks again :) -- Stewart

Posted by: Stewart Butterfield at February 16, 2004 12:56 AM