Review of Flickr

Those of you that look at photos on my blog may have noticed that I recently switched from a self-hosted Gallery2 installation to the popular photo-sharing site Flickr.

I initially decided to try Flickr for a simple reason: digikam’s image upload to Gallery2 has never worked for me, and I hoped that its Flickr upload would work (it did).

I had heard good things about Flickr from friends and colleagues, so I gave it a try.

First Impressions

Almost the first thing I noticed about Flickr was that there are people there that are interested in the same things I’m interested in. I discovered the Anabaptist History group. I’ve been contacted by a person in North Dakota that is interested German-speaking Russians, as my ancestors were. There are groups about Debian, classic-style black & white photography on digital cameras, and really just about any topic. These groups contain both discussions and a photo “pool” to which any group member can post.

In one sense, Flickr is social networking via photography.

Flickr also seems to be a company with a clue. It has tons of open APIs, permitting everything from flickrfs (mount flickr as a FUSE filesystem) to countless uploaders, mashups, scripts, etc. Despite a couple of recent high-publicity controversies, they seem to be laid back overall and haven’t been turned into a corporate drone by Yahoo. There’s an RSS feed for just about everything, too.

What is Flickr?

Depends on what you want it to be. It could be that place where you post your cell phone’s snapshots, or a place to share photos with family in private, or just a place to find other’s work.

I found sharing and talking with others to be infectious. I went from never getting comments on photos on my Gallery2 site to wondering what people will think — and looking at their photos too.

Let’s look at its different aspects in more detail.

Uploading Photos

You can upload photos manually with a HTTP form, or you can use any of the numerous uploading tools. Most of these will let you scale down your images on the fly, should you wish to. Most will also let you assign tags and write descriptions as they’re being posted, as well as define who can view the photos. Uploaders are available for every common platform.

Flickr has a AJAX tool called the Organizr that helps you assign tags, add photos to groups, put them in sets, etc. It’s fairly nice.

Sharing Photos

Making photos available to the public is easy. You can just them them a link to your photostream. You can also tag photos and give people a link to photos with a specific tag. And you can create sets — photos around a specific theme.

Security

Each photo can be made visible to: just you, just your contacts marked “family”, just your contacts marked “friend”, any of your contacts, or anyone at all. This can be defined per photo.

On a global basis, you can define whether you make EXIF information visible on the site, default security for new uploads, who can post comments, who can post photo notes or add tags, and who can use the “all sizes” button.

You can also control how much of your profile to make public. Settings range from making everything public to concealing even your email address.

For sets, you can also send out a “Guest Pass” (GP). A GP lets someone that is not a Flickr member see non-public photos. I use GPs to share family photos, so that family doesn’t have to create a Flickr account to see them. GPs can be tied only to sets.

Groups

Flickr groups appear to have been designed for discussions, but I find them most attractive because each group has its own dedicated photo pool. Members of the group can add their photos to the pool. Some groups have tens of thousands of photos, and others a few dozen. It’s an interesting way to find images. There are a lot of group management tools as well.

Free vs. Paid Accounts

Free account holders can upload up to 100MB of photos per month. There is no cap on bandwidth consumed by views of photos or management of them. Free users can create up to 3 sets and put photos in up to 10 groups.

The photostream for free account holders will show only their 200 most recent photos. Additionally, the “All Sizes” button will max out at the Large size, which generally will be 1024 pixels along the longest side.

Paid accounts are $25/year and include unlimited upload bandwidth (10MB max per photo though), unlimited photostream size, unlimited sets, and removal of all ads on the site. Additionally, the original upload is made available to you. If you have enabled the All Sizes button, it’s also made available to the public. One nice thing is that with a free account, all that data is saved, even if it isn’t available. So if you later upgrade to Pro, it’s all there.

Prints

Flickr sells prints of your photos for $0.15 each. As with viewing, you can designate who can purchase prints of your photos. I ordered a test batch and they turned out very nice — approximately the same quality as Shutterfly, which is one of the better consumer-quality labs. They are a bit pricier than Shutterfly when buying in bulk, though the convenience of all the Flickr uploaders may make up for that.

Annoyances

There are a few things that bug me.

One is that the “All Sizes” button is either on or off. Once I upgraded to pro, suddenly my original size images were available. There is no way with a pro account to limit image availability to the 1024xwhatever size like there is with free — either you give people the medium size only (500xwhatever) or you give them everything. Those that want to have the originals on Flickr generally upload twice: once in original size, kept private; and another resized to 1024xwhatever, made public.

It is also complex for some people to join Flickr. Several of our family and friends had trouble with the signup process, since you first have to create a Yahoo account, then a Flickr one, which can use a different username. It’s a nice flexibility, but overly complex for people that just want to sign up quickly. Guest Passes have received rave reviews however — with the one caveat that the guest pass URLs aren’t bookmarkable (they set a cookie and then redirect to the real target).

There is also no built-in way to see all the new photos in the groups you’re a member of. However, each group’s pool has an RSS feed so I have just subscribed to them with bloglines.

Overall

Overall I am happy with Flickr. I will be migrating my Gallery2 install to it, and will not miss having to maintain Yet Another PHP Script on my server. The best part about Flickr is the community, which has already taught me about mpix.com, which I’ll write about tomorrow.

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